Monday, June 10, 2024

Video - Hike in number of malnourished children overwhelms health facilities in Nigeria

Doctors Without Borders reported that its Nigerian health facilities are dealing with severely malnourished children with life-threatening complications. The group says the number of admitted cases doubled in April due to violent conflicts.


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Nigerian girls failed by authorities after escaping Boko Haram captivity

Girls and young women who escaped Boko Haram captivity in north-east Nigeria faced further suffering, including sometimes in unlawful military detention, and are now receiving inadequate support as they attempt to rebuild their lives, Amnesty International said in a new report.

‘Help us build our lives’: Girl survivors of Boko Haram and military abuses in north-east Nigeria investigates how girls survived trafficking and crimes against humanity by Boko Haram, including abduction, forced marriage, enslavement, and sexual violence.

After escaping Boko Haram captivity, many then experienced further abuse in prolonged and unlawful Nigerian military detention, though in recent years this practice is less widespread during the conflict that has been raging for over a decade. Those not unlawfully detained were left to fend for themselves in displacement camps amid millions of other people needing humanitarian assistance. From there, some were “reunited” with their surrendered Boko Haram “husbands” in a government-run transit camp, exposing them to the risk of continued abuse.

“These girls, many of them now young women, had their childhood stolen from them and suffered a litany of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses. They are now showing remarkable bravery as they seek to take control of their future,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

“An enormous number of girls suffered horrific abuse in Boko Haram captivity, with many survivors then detained or neglected by their government. Now, they are sending a clear message to the Nigerian government and its international partners. They urgently need increased specialist support to rebuild their lives.”

The crimes that the girls and young women endured have had long-lasting consequences that are specific to their age and gender, including health complications, access to education, the ability and desire to remarry, as well as stigma and rejection by their families and communities.

The report is based on 126 interviews, including 82 with survivors, that were conducted in-person in north-east Nigeria and remotely between 2019 and 2024. On 4 April, Amnesty International wrote to Nigerian federal and state authorities, as well as to UN offices, with its main research findings. In its response, the Nigerian military denied the allegations, said it upholds human rights in its operations, and referred to Amnesty International’s “sources”, which were primarily survivors, as “intrinsically unreliable”. UNICEF responded confidentially.

Abduction and sexual violence

Boko Haram carried out widespread abductions of children during attacks on the civilian population in north-east Nigeria. At least eight girls witnessed Boko Haram kill their relatives. CA*, who was abducted aged around 13 in 2014, said: “One day, Boko Haram… came into our house. They told our father we’re non-believers. They shot my father in the back of his head and the bullet came through his eyes. We started crying. They said if we don’t keep quiet, they will kill my mother too.”

Once abducted, most girls were then forcibly married. Child and forced marriage are common practices by Boko Haram, who generally consider girls to be “of age” to marry from early adolescence, or even before.

Girls were used in a multitude of ways as “wives”, including being made to serve their “husbands” in sexual slavery and domestic servitude. At least 33 survivors of forced marriage told Amnesty International that their “husbands” raped them. HA* was a teenager when she “agreed” to be married to save her father from being killed. She told Amnesty International she was beaten when she refused her “husband”, and that he frequently raped her.

A total of 28 interviewees said they bore children of sexual violence, and at least 20 were children themselves when they gave birth.

Punishments and suicide bombings

All those abducted were threatened into living under strict rules with severely limited freedom of movement. Any real or perceived breaches of these rules were met with physical punishment and, at times, prolonged periods of imprisonment.

Boko Haram meted out punishments publicly to instil fear and exert control. At least 31 girls interviewed were forced to watch forms of punishment that included lashings, amputations and beheadings.

GH*, now in her early 20s, spent around a decade in captivity. She was often forced to watch violent punishments and said: “Sometimes I dream about the corpses that I saw or the stoning of the women that I saw. Once I open my eyes, I can’t go back to sleep again.”

Boko Haram also used girls as suicide bombers on a large scale. Between mid-2014 and 2019, the majority of Boko Haram suicide bombers were female.

Violations in unlawful detention

Nearly 50 girls and younger women told Amnesty International they risked their lives and the lives of their children to successfully escape Boko Haram. Many experienced harrowing journeys lasting up to 12 days, where they survived on what little food and water they could find.

Some were “rescued” by the Nigerian military or members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), a state-sponsored militia, who later unlawfully detained many of them. Throughout the conflict, the Nigerian military has arbitrarily detained thousands of children for prolonged periods.

Thirty-one girls and young women said they were unlawfully held in military detention for anywhere between several days and almost four years between 2015 and mid-2023, typically because of their real or perceived association with Boko Haram. Some said soldiers insulted them, calling them “Boko Haram wives” and accusing them of being responsible for killings. Several described beatings or abysmal conditions in detention which amount to torture or other ill-treatment.

NV* was around 20 when she escaped after eight years of Boko Haram captivity in 2021. She was unlawfully detained by the Nigerian military in Madagali, Adamawa State for about two months. She said: “When they [soldiers] brought food… they gave us a portion in our hand and soup in one bowl for all of us to share… As a toilet, they gave us a plastic bag.”

Many young women were detained with their children. Two interviewees gave birth in government detention, while others witnessed children die.

In violation of international human rights law, no interviewees had access to a lawyer or were charged with a criminal offence. BZ* was detained as a teenager in Giwa Barracks, an infamous military detention facility in Maiduguri, from around 2017 to 2020. She said: “Nobody explained anything to us. They just brought us there and nobody told us anything.”

Since 2016, most of those who had been unlawfully detained in Giwa Barracks were brought to Bulumkutu Interim Care Centre (BICC), where they were able to access some services.

‘We need support’: aspirations after Boko Haram

Many interviewees were reunited with their families by government authorities and their partners. All are now in overpopulated internally displaced persons (IDP) camps or communities across Borno and Adamawa States. Interviewees expected and requested specialist government support, but instead felt neglected.

AV* returned from Boko Haram captivity in 2021 aged around 15, and now lives in Madagali, Adamawa State. She said: “Most people in [the] government don’t care about us. We need support.”

Whilst the stigma of being a “Boko Haram wife” remains a barrier to reintegration for girls and young women, the situation has improved in recent years. Many interviewees said that community members insulted them, looked at them suspiciously, and voiced fears they would kill them or infect them with diseases.

ZC*, aged around 19, lives in an IDP camp with her formerly Boko Haram “husband”. She said: “They [the host community] always abuse us. They don’t give us anything. We always feel we are a burden to them.”

After years of oppression by Boko Haram, followed by unlawful military detention and neglect by government authorities, many interviewees valued freedom most of all. They expressed desires to become financially independent to support themselves and their families and to enrol their children in school.

Many identified access to education as their top priority and said they wanted to become doctors, nurses, teachers, and lawyers, or to work for non-governmental organisations. SB*, who spent around 10 years in Boko Haram captivity, said: “I want to start my life afresh. [There are] so many things I need, I don’t know where to start.”

Access to mental health and psychosocial support services is extremely limited throughout north-east Nigeria. The Nigerian government has an obligation to ensure that healthcare facilities and services are accessible.

“The Nigerian government has failed to uphold their human rights obligations to protect and adequately support these girls and young women,” said Samira Daoud.

“Along with their international partners, the Nigerian authorities must support these girls and young women as they fully reintegrate into society by prioritising access to healthcare, education and vocational training. They must get the assistance they need to rebuild their lives with dignity and in safety.”

Amnesty International is calling on the Nigerian government authorities, UN agencies and donor governments to urgently make available tailored reintegration services for these girls and young women, whilst ensuring other affected groups are not left behind. Amnesty International is also calling on the Nigerian authorities to ensure girls and young women have a meaningful alternative to being returned to their Boko Haram “husbands”, and given necessary support to rebuild their lives.


The non-international armed conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian forces has affected millions of lives in north-east Nigeria since it started more than a decade ago. The conflict has resulted in a humanitarian crisis leaving millions of people internally displaced. All sides to the conflict.

Premium Times

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How sextortion scammers in Nigeria targeted my son

Sextortion is the fastest-growing scam affecting teenagers globally and has been linked to more than 27 suicides in the US alone. Many of the scammers appear to be from Nigeria - where authorities are under pressure to do more.

It has been two years since Jenn Buta’s son Jordan killed himself after being targeted by scammers who lured him into sending them explicit images of himself, and then tried to blackmail him.

She still can’t bring herself to change anything about his bedroom.

The 17-year-old’s basketball jerseys, clothes, posters and bedsheets are just how he left them.

The curtains are closed, and the door is shut to keep memories of him that only a parent would understand.

“It still smells like him. That’s one of the reasons I still have the door closed. I can still smell that sweat, dirt, cologne mix in this room. I'm just not ready to part with his stuff,” she said.

Jordan was contacted by sextortion scammers on Instagram.

They pretended to be a pretty girl his age and flirted with him, sending sexual pictures to coax him into sharing explicit photos of himself.

They then blackmailed him for hundreds of pounds to stop them sharing the pictures online to his friends.

Jordan sent as much money as he could and warned the sextortionists he would kill himself if they spread the images. The criminals replied: “Good… Do that fast - or I'll make you do it.”

It was less than six hours from the time Jordan started communicating until the time he killed himself.

“There's actually a script online,” Jenn told BBC News, from her home in Michigan, in the north of the US. "And these people are just going through the script and putting that pressure on.

"And they're doing it quick, because then they can move on to the next person, because it's about volume.”

The criminals were tracked to Nigeria, arrested, and then extradited to the US.

Two brothers from Lagos - Samuel Ogoshi, 22, and Samson Ogoshi, 20 - are awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to child sexploitation charges. Another Nigerian man linked to Jordan’s death and other cases is fighting extradition.

Jordan’s tragic story has become a touch point in the fight against the growing problem of sextortion.

Jenn is a now high-profile campaigner on TikTok – using the account Jordan set up for her – to raise awareness about the dangers of sextortion to young people. Her videos have been liked more than a million times.

It’s feared that sextortion is under-reported due to its sensitive nature. But US crime figures show cases more than doubled last year, rising to 26,700, with at least 27 boys having killed themselves in the past two years.

Researchers and law enforcement agencies point to West Africa, and particularly Nigeria, as a hotspot for where attackers are based.

In April, two Nigerian men were arrested after a schoolboy from Australia killed himself. Two other men are on trial in Lagos, after the suicides of a 15-year-old boy in the US and a 14-year-old in Canada.

In January, US cyber-company Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) highlighted a web of Nigerian TikTok, YouTube and Scribd accounts sharing tips and scripts for sextortion. Many of the discussions and videos are in Nigerian Pidgin dialect.

It’s not the first time that Nigeria’s young tech-savvy population has embraced a new wave of cyber-crime.

The term Yahoo Boys is used to describe a portion of the population that use cyber-crime to earn a living. It comes from the early 2000s wave of Nigerian Prince scam emails which spread through the Yahoo email service.

Dr Tombari Sibe, from Digital Footprints Nigeria, says cyber-fraud such as sextortion has become normalised to young people in the country: “There's also the big problem of unemployment and of poverty.

"All these young ones who don't really have much - it's become almost like a mainstream activity where they don't really think too much about the consequences. They just see their colleagues making money.”

African human rights charity Devatop has said the current methods of handling sextortion in Nigeria have failed to effectively curb the practice. And a report from NCRI said that celebrating sextortion crimes are an established part of the internet subculture in the country.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, the director of Nigeria’s National Cyber Crime Centre (NCCC) defended his police force’s actions, and insisted it was working hard to catch criminals and deter others from carrying out attacks.

Uche Ifeanyi Henry said his officers were “hitting criminals hard” and said it is “laughable” that anyone should accuse Nigeria of not taking sextortion crime seriously.

“We are giving criminals a very serious hit. A lot have been prosecuted and a lot have been arrested,” he said. "Many of these criminals are moving to neighbouring countries now because of our activity.”

The NCCC director pointed to the fact that the government has spent millions of pounds on a state-of-the-art cyber-crime centre, to show it was taking cyber-crime seriously, especially sextortion.

He said Nigerian teenagers are also being targeted, and he argued that the criminals were not just a Nigerian problem, with other sextortionists in south-east Asia. Tackling them would require global support, he said.

With that in mind, the director and his technical team are this week visiting the UK’s National Crime Agency, which last month issued a warning to children and schools about a rise in sextortion cases.

The visit is designed to improve collaboration on sextortion and other cyber-crime investigations. It follows similar recent meetings with Japanese police.

Meanwhile, Jenn Buta continues to campaign alongside Jordan’s father John DeMay. They regularly give advice to young people who may become victims.

Advice that Jenn and many law enforcement agencies regularly give people targeted by sextortionists includes:

. Remember you are not alone and this is not your fault

. Report the predator’s account, via the platform’s safety feature

. Block the predator from contacting you

. Save the profile or messages - they can help law enforcement identify and stop the predator

. Ask for help from a trusted adult or law enforcement before sending money or more images

. Co-operating with the predator rarely stops the blackmail and harassment - but law enforcement can

By Joe Tidy, BBC

Related story: Two arrested in Nigeria for sextortion after Australian boy's suicide

Drowning of Nollywood start forces industry to look at safety

The last video that Nigerian actor Junior Pope made for his more than two million Instagram followers eerily foreshadowed his death.

“You see the risks, people, we take to entertain you,” the 42-year-old shouts above the noise of a small motor boat as it speeds along the River Niger.

He laughs - it is not clear if it is out of joy or nervousness - and tells the driver to slow down.

“I am begging the captain, that I’m the only child and I have three boys,” the actor - whose real name was John Paul Odonwodo - booms as he notices with alarm some water coming into the boat.

The next day the Nollywood star was dead. He drowned in the same river, after a boat he was travelling in collided with a fishing canoe.

Four others, including film crew members, were also killed.

The death in April of one of the biggest names in Nigeria’s renowned movie business - he had more than 100 films under his belt - sent the industry into shock.

Actors have since been speaking out about Nollywood’s poor safety record and calling for change.

Nollywood is the third largest film industry in the world - after Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.

It produces more than 2,500 films a year: some are by large, established production houses, but there are dozens of smaller companies riding on the coat-tails of one the country’s huge success stories.

After the fatal accident, the Actors Guild of Nigeria immediately responded, saying that all filming in and around rivers would be suspended indefinitely.

It then called for safety standards to be implemented and observed.

A preliminary report into the capsizing from the Nigerian Safety Investigations Bureau released last month found multiple failings:

. the driver was not certified to operate the boat
. the boat was not registered
. only one person was wearing a life jacket
. that passenger, one of eight survivors, had brought the life jacket on board themselves.

In a now-deleted Instagram video posted soon after the incident, the film’s producer, Adanma Luke, said she had been told there were life jackets and Junior Pope was offered one but did not take it.

“I have been so traumatised. I have been so cold. This whole thing still feels like a dream to me. I wish I could still wake up from this dream,” she said in the video.

She later wrote: “My heart is shattered in pieces as I write this… I find myself praying, how can we turn back the hands of time?”

Ruth Kadiri, a top actor, producer and screenwriter who knew Junior Pope well, says he tended to be happy and "extremely hyper".

“He always brought in the positive energy… and I think he was really loved by all,” she told the BBC’s What in the World podcast about her friend.

She went on to say that incidents like the one that killed Junior Pope are far too common in Nollywood.

Kadiri remembers an incident when she almost drowned during filming - making her think about the fear the actor “must have felt at the last minute of his life”.

“I had to shoot a movie so we couldn’t use life jackets," she says.

“I asked the team if everything was OK and they said the canoe was fine. So I got on the boat, they started to paddle, and the canoe just tumbled into the river."

She was saved by a colleague who grabbed her in the water.

The star, who has more than six million Instagram followers, is now calling for change.

However, she says she understands the temptation for actors who want to get on to do something that is potentially unsafe.

“We all do crazy things for the love of this job. We do things we normally would not do.

“As you grow, you learn to put your needs first. Not because you don’t like the production, but because if something goes wrong, that’s the end of it.”

Kadiri says that safety is an industry-wide issue but whereas the bigger, well-funded productions can take measures, many smaller operations are unable to afford the extra costs.

In order to improve things, she suggests that a safety regulatory body should be established that can have people on film sets.

“The director is thinking about creating the content, the actor is thinking about getting in character, so let us create an extra body. It might save a lot of stress.”

Actor Chidi Dike says Junior Pope’s death was “an awakening to all”.

He agrees that “safety hasn’t been taken very seriously”, but notes that there have been some improvements.

He has noticed that directors and producers are now trying to make sure filming does not go late into the night, which in the past has meant dangerous night-time journeys home.

“Everything is risky... driving very fast. There was one time I was coming home really late and I almost got into an accident," he told the BBC.

"But it is better now."

It is an unexpected legacy for the effervescent actor with a huge catalogue of films, but Junior Pope’s final video may well turn Nollywood into a safer place to work.

By Hannah Gelbart, BBC

Friday, June 7, 2024

Video - UNICEF fights malnutrition in Nigeria

The United Nations Children's Fund's effort involves training women in nutrient-rich farming and cooking techniques. This program aims to reduce food expenses and address the region’s persistent malnutrition issues.