Building a new life after leaving an armed group

UNICEF, with funds from the European Union and other donors, is helping young survivors of the ongoing conflict in Borno build a new life through vocational training and psychosocial support

Katie Rice, Child Protection Manager, Search for Common Ground Nigeria
A young boy in Borno
Search for Common Ground Nigeria
06 July 2020

Auwal*, a nineteen-year-old business owner, lives with his mother and siblings in Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC), Borno State.

When he was fifteen years old, he joined the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a local group that protects local communities from attacks, alongside many of his peers.

“In those days, any young person who refused to join the CJTF was labelled as a member of Boko Haram, so I was left with no choice but to join them,” said Auwal.

But Auwal also had other reasons for joining: “My younger brother was killed in a bomb blast and my father died due to the stressful events that occurred during the conflict.”

Auwal served as an informant for the group and ran errands for them. During this time, Auwal suffered from nightmares, insomnia and an eating disorder, as he struggled to process his experience. 

After three years, Auwal was finally separated from the CJTF ranks following the signing of the 2017 Action Plan between UNICEF and CJTF to release all children from its ranks. Auwal is now supported by one of UNICEF’s implementing partner, Search for Common Ground, as part of the European Union-funded project 'Socio-Economic Reintegration of Children Formerly Associated with Armed Groups'. 

As part of this support, Auwal was provided with psychosocial counselling and an apprenticeship opportunity which he credits to changing his whole life.

“With the trauma healing and resilience sessions, I feel much better. Now I don’t have many flashbacks and I can sleep and eat well,” Auwal said.

He has now opened a shop with the seed grant he received from this project where he sells phone accessories, airtime, data, movies and songs.

“Now, I am happy because I have learnt to manage my business well. I know how to lend money to customers, how to manage profit, capital, and personal expenditure. I am also able to support my family, and I hope to help set up my siblings and friends in this business.”


*Name changed to protect his identity.