Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Boko Haram’s Devastation

Boko Haram’s Devastation

The NY Times had two excellent stories about Boko Haram and the devastation in people’s lives it has created.

Trained to Kill: How Four Boy Soldiers Survived Boko Haram,” was the first one I read. It was written by Sarah Topol, with photographs by Glenna Gordon.

Children of War

The writer interviewed twenty-five children over several days who had been held by Boko Haram. She writes primarily about four teen-age boys. Much of her article seems to be a direct transcription of what they told her.

She begins with a description of the boys’ peaceful lives in Baga. They fished, played, rode bikes, and helped their parents. But their lives changed dramatically.

“Over the course of a four-day siege in January 2015, Boko Haram carted away the boys of Baga. No one knows exactly how many were taken, but by the end, it seemed as if almost every family was missing a boy or a girl. Virtually an entire town’s worth of children vanished,” the author says. “Across Borno State in that year, Boko Haram battered villages like Baga, ransacking, burning, looting, establishing control over territory or abducting people and taking them to their bases.”

The boys were packed with hundreds of others into trucks and taken to a traditional ruler’s palace. For days they were left alone in hot over-crowded rooms with little to eat. Then they were ordered to start weapons training.

She reports on their lives during the time with Boko Haram and how they survived it. They watched others being killed. Then they were forced to kill. They occasionally thought of home and family.

The four boys escaped after many months and eventually found their way to Maiduguri.

The article is long, but brilliant and hard to stop reading once you start!

Riding With Soldiers

The other article is “Riding With the Nigerian Soldiers Fighting Boko Haram.” The photographer really did accompany soldiers. What makes someone willing to put her life on the line to report in such a situation?

She describes the city. “Maiduguri is surrounded by a security perimeter and checkpoints. Would-be suicide bombers come from the countryside and try to sneak into the city at night to blow themselves up in a crowded place in the morning,” she tells the reader.

“That night, a soldier at a checkpoint spotted something moving in the brush. The soldier fired at the movement, which turned out to be a suicide bomber who was then blown apart when the gunfire hit the explosives strapped to his torso.”

Her photographs are amazing. Let me know what you think.

First-Hand Account of Maiduguri

I’m sharing a hotel room in Chicago with Iyabo Obasanjo. She and I are board members of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women. We are here for our annual meeting.

Iyabo grew up in Nigeria. She served in the Senate and in other government positions before settling permanently in the U.S.

I told her about the two articles and sent them to her.

She looked up from her reading to say, “Even before Boko Haram Maiduguri was a terrible city.” She was there years ago and was struck by the poverty then. How much worse it must be today.

African Writer Aminatta Forna

Keeping Up With African Writers: Aminatta Forna

I was sorry I could not get to the Auditorium Event where she was featured. The more I read about her, the more I would like to read her books and hear her speak.

I’ll have to tell you about the final day of the conference at Yale soon. Now I have to prepare for the board meeting!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

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