“When not used as meat canon, child soldiers are deminers spies, porters, sex slaves, custodians holdings of oil or diamonds, financing rebellions in Africa. According to United Nations estimates, the world has nearly 300 000 child soldiers under 18 years used in over 30 conflicts around the globe, civil wars marked by the proliferation weapons cheap and extraordinarily easy”
today’s culture moment it’s a topic I really care to share. Not too long ago I read a book, that got my attention because the author is a Nigerian woman, and I have never read anything by a Nigerian author before ( I have a few other my belt now!)
Well aren’t I glad I finally did. I’m not goin to spoil it in case you decide to read it, but the story was set in post independence Nigeria, circa 1960, on the eve of a cilvil war, that would turn out to be vicious.
As a child my dad used to tell me a lot of bed time stories and the majority of them were all Nigerian folklore. One story I remember him telling me about was about him being a soldier. I always thought those were make believe stories, he would tell my brother and me to try and teach some history about Nigeria and our culture. It wasn’t until many years later and not until I read this book that if finally dawned on me: he really was a soldier, in fact he was a CHILD SOLDIER.
My father was taken from his family at the age of 13 to go and fight for a very stupid war, that made no sense whats so ever, not that any war does ever make sense, but at the time, part of the Nigerians wanted the Igbos ( one of the many Nigerian ethnicities/tribes) to disappear, to be eliminated. The dumbest thing about it is that the only main differentiating factor was the language, so, for those igbo that spoke more than one Nigerian language, there was a way out.
Anyways…after reading this book…I decided to interview my dad about that experience, because I still could not believe that the guy whom I call “ciccione” (fat guy in Italian) a very outgoing, smart, funny and annoying (hey is my dad so I can say that) man…was once a 13 year old little boy that had to fight for his life. I definitely gained a whole other level of respect for him.
Interview with my father – a child soldier survivor.
ME: How old were you when u had to leave home?
ME: What were you most scared off?
DAD: No I was not scared, to me it was like an adventure, and they kept telling us they wanted to kill us, so it was the adventure of saving my life.
ME: How your parents reacted?
DAD: My father was more scared than my mom, he didn’t like the idea of me going, my mother just knew I would come back alive.
ME: Could they have helped you avoid going?
DAD: It was compulsory for me to go because I was tall and fit for my age and looked older than just 13 and they couldn’t even fake my age to make them think I was younger,
ME: Did u ever have to kill anyone?
DAD: I don’t know if I did, we were just shooting to save our lives, so the gun went off every time I was in danger, but I never stopped to look at what was left behind.
ME: Who thought you how to use weapons and fight?
DAD: They sent us to military camp and trained us for 6 weeks.
ME: How were you treated?
ME: They treated us like we were grown soldier, and part of the army, they fed us maybe once a day and sometimes twice.
ME: How did you survive?
DAD: Ha ha ha!! Your dad is a smart guy!! The fact that I speak the 3 main Nigerian languages (Yoruba, Igbo & Hausa) every where I went I was a “local” and it was to my advantage. They used me to help the people in charge talk to the locals in different villages and to translate for them, there for I was needed a lot.
ME: How long did u have to be gone for?
DAD: I was in the war front from 1968 till the end of the war in 1970
ME: How did that experience changed you?
DAD: I became very aggressive, I was prone to get vary mad and ready to physically fight someone for any kind of provocation.
ME: How others reacted to you?
DAD: When I resumed school my uncle went to talk to the principle to explain my aggressive behavior. With time and the support of the people that loved me I learned to manage my anger.
The day after the interview I was talking to my cousin, and she had a few other interesting things her mom (my dad younger sister) told her about that time, and how hard it was to make it back then. Turns out we have some what of a dysfunctional family and we talk about NOTHING, EVER, lol but when we do…whooo wheeee the crazy thing we learned about our past.
Family history lesson pt2. as told by Amaka (the cousin)
“Our family was in the east when the war started, they had to hide and added to that was the fact that grampa was already sick so it was tough.
My mom and uncle Bidoun (my dads younger sister and brother) used to go around searching for food, they kept on moving around, I can’t remember where they settled, but grandmas side of the family finally came to the east to look for them and brought them all to Lagos.
NOTE: our grandma was Yoruba therefor safe from the senseless killings.
Being able to speak Yoruba helped them survive. When they were in a situation where Nigerian soldiers came and questioned them, they told them they were yorubas. That was one of the advantages of coming from a culturally mixed family.
While they were roaming around trying to survive, my mom said she saw some soldiers that had killed a woman in the bush; on top of that they were eating the parts and when other soldiers caught them they put the parts in a basket told them to carry it and paraded them in the city. My mom also said your dad was hyper for a while after he came back.”
Of course I had to ask my mom what she thought since she married the guy.
What is like to be the wife of a child soldier survivor?
ME: When did u meet him?
MOM: I met him when he was 24
ME: How was he?
MOM: He was nice, you know how a guy is when he tries to get the girl.
ME: Have u ever seen him very angry?
MOM: Yes many times, never towards me, but I had to try and help him calm down and realize he couldn’t react to things that way anymore. He was a good guy that just needed some help and patience in dealing with is anger.
Between the book, and anecdotes from family I have learned a lot about my father. All I can say is I would have never guessed my dad went through something so dramatic and life altering at such a young impressionable time in is life.
Not all child soldiers are fortunate enough to get out of it and create a life or to get out of it alive at all. and that is something to really think about. There are a lot of ways we can help stop this senseless exploitation of young lives, one of them is HERE.
Until next time,