Abducted by Boko Haram: Femi’s story

When Femi travelled to visit his ailing father, he never imagined he’d be kidnapped and held captive for months

By Katerina Vittozzi
Femi provides peer-to-peer education to a group of former abductee children in north-east Nigeria.
UNICEF Nigeria/2016/Vittozzi
07 December 2016

BORNO STATE, Nigeria, 7 December 2016 – Last year, Femi's* father was sick. So sick, in fact, that Femi wanted to go and look after him.

The 17-year-old left his school in the south of the country to travel to the north-east, to Borno state, where his father lived in a small village. Femi didn't anticipate being gone too long.

He was a keen student, and wanted to get back to his books. But control would be taken out of his hands.

“Boko Haram came to our village to find me," Femi says, "They took me to their camp."

Femi says he wasn't the only boy the insurgents had kidnapped.

"We are so many that they captured.  And they used to beat us every day.  Some of things they teach you are bad things. They will teach you how to kill."

Children in conflict 

Femi's paternal home of Borno State is the epicentre of the humanitarian crisis that has been unfolding in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region since mid-2013. In Borno alone, more than 1.3 million people have been displaced as a result of Boko Haram violence, while large areas still remain inaccessible to humanitarian actors.

Security remains precarious, and humanitarian organizations like UNICEF are providing services and scaling up life-saving activities in newly accessible areas.

As each area opens up, the stories of children who have been drawn into the conflict are discovered and documented.

In three newly accessible areas in Borno State, UNICEF and partners have identified and profiled nearly 500 children associated with armed groups.

Children like Femi.

>>  Donate now to help children affected by the Nigeria and Lake Chad crisis

Captured by Boko Haram from his village in Nigeria, 'Femi' was held in a camp for four months before escaping. But he was caught soon after. The 17-year-old then escaped a second time and was able to get away. Femi is now teaching children like him.
Femi's escape

Femi says he was held by Boko Haram for four months. He tried to escape once but was caught.

As punishment, he was locked up with five other boys in the guard hut. The hut had mud walls, a fact that would become vital to Femi's escape.

"They killed three of us," Femi remembers. "We remaining three, we thought the following day they will kill us. By God’s grace they gave us some water. So we pour the water on the wall. We get a screwdriver inside the room, and use the screwdriver to dig a hole in the wall and get out of the prison at 9:30 pm."

Femi managed to find his way back to his father's village.

"I felt very happy when I saw my family," Femi says, "As I saw my father, I just smiled. He said 'You are alive!' I said, 'Daddy, they wanted to kill me, but I escaped!'"

Peer-to-peer education

Femi hopes to soon return to his studies. But for now, he's volunteering at a UNICEF-supported primary school in a town close to his father's village.

His pupils are all former Boko Haram boy abductees.

"I teach them how to read and write," Femi explains, smiling. "I teach them how to sing, I teach them how to play."

But Femi says his favourite part of the day is when he speaks to the boys about their shared experience.

"Sometimes I will not write anything on the board. I will just sit down and say to them: ‘I know, Boko Haram captured you people and you escaped and came here. Me, I'm going to teach you so many good things, I can stop you doing bad things.'"

Together with the Nigerian government and other partners, UNICEF has provided psychosocial support to over 168,000 children including vulnerable, unaccompanied and separated children, and children associated with armed forces or groups.

Femi says he feels happy to be helping others who have faced trauma and experiences similar to his own.

"I am helping 83 children here" he exclaims, "I am proud of that! And they are happy with me!"


*Names changed to protect identities