Forced to protect his community from terrorists, Aliko is on the verge of having his youth snatched away. Before the insurgency in northeastern Nigeria, he was a schoolboy. Today he is a no-nonsense kid responsible for the arrest of dozens of insurgents. During an interview with Aliko in October, he admitted he had been involved in the arrest of several suspected Boko Haram fighters. One night, he said, he tied two people together and held them for hours before handing them over to the military the next morning.
Though Aliko and his colleagues in the CJTF may have recevied deserved accolades from the Nigerian government for their brave efforts in the fight against terror in Maiduguri, many Nigerians believe that for children involved in this effort, a generation is gradually being lost.
Top-level CJTF members admit that children make up nearly a quarter of the more than 10,000-strong self-defense forces fighting Boko Haram. The CJTF justifies its use of child soldiers as a necessity following increasing attacks by Boko Haram. ‘‘The insurgents are many in number, and we need as many people as we can to fight them,” says Bukkar, a senior member of the self-defense militia. ‘‘These kids have lots of energy and are very important in this fight.”
“We’ve lost our kids to the war,” says Shettima Kunduli, a local leader in Maiduguri. “Our young ones are no longer children, they are commanders who despite their brave efforts have lost their childhood, their education, and maybe their future.”