I live in an area that is steadily getting quite populated by many young people from the North. It wasn’t always so.
Many of our new neighbours serve as gatemen, shoemakers, okada riders et al. I have also come to learn that most of them were victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, this explains their huge numbers in many parts of Lagos and even all over other parts of the nation.
Abu, one of my gatemen isn’t a victim, I got to know he has always been in Lagos but accommodates his ‘brothers’ who were victims of the insurgency in the north. One of his ‘brothers’ is a young boy of about 16years, a fine looking lad whos general mien I find off.
“Wetin do your broda wey he dey do like dis?” I asked Abu, one day
“Musa? He no bi like dis before, na when Boko Haram come dia village, he run and hide and escape, after dat, he no fit talk again.”
Oh My God!
“No bi only am, e get many people wey dem no dey talk, and dem dey do one kind.”
There is a ‘onekind-ness’ about people who have been traumatised! This is what experts call PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Having attended a short Trauma Counseling Training organized by the Aart of Life Foundation in collaboration with the Murtala Mohammed Foundation two years back, I have become familiar with issues of trauma and how desperately victims of Boko Haram insurgency require help. When an individual passes through a mind numbing experience like a bomb blast or Boko Haram attack; his reality is shattered and he struggles to adjust as his emotions run riot and he suffers from a range of psychological disturbances like insomnia, anxiety, stress, anger, depression and a host of other conditions and between tears of relief and cries for help, the person can easily lose his mind forever.
Abu also told of one Ahmed, a former school teacher, who talks to himself non-stop and mimics the sound of bombs and guns while running about. I imagine there will be many like him.
There are many victims living amongst us and by victims, I mean the communities, the rescue operators- members of NEMA, Red Cross and other volunteer groups that turn up to clean the mess Boko Haram always leaves behind and finally, the Nigerian Army mandated to fight the terrorist group.
The hardest hit of course, are the people living in the communities, people like Musa and many that are already stark raving mad.
In a recent interview by a national daily, a doctor at the Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri said that there are at least over 1,500 people (men, women and children) suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a result of the harsh realities borne from the mind boggling despair inflicted through violent attacks by Boko Haram.
Here’s the thing about PTSD, a doctor I spoke to at the Yaba psychiatric hospital in Lagos, said once a victim ‘snaps’, there’s no bringing the person back to normal, drugs and therapy will help manage the condition. “With mental diseases, there’s no cure, you manage the patients with prescribed drugs and therapy.”
According to experts, these kind of neurotic disorders weren’t reported pre-Boko Haram but today, there are now more and more rampant cases of post-traumatic stress disorders since the beginning of Boko Haram’s reign of terror and at least some 1500 cases have been recorded- it can be deduced that there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of unreported cases.
Why are we surprised at the numbers?
We heard of victims who witnessed their families butchered, mothers who saw their daughters repeatedly raped, fathers who watched helplessly as their sons were beheaded, siblings who lost their younger brothers or sisters in the bushes while running for their lives, men and women who endured days of extreme heat and torture in the hills running for their lives and scavenging without respite for days on end.
We’ve read of businesses destroyed in one fell swoop, streets strewn with decomposing corpses, whole villages burnt, mass murders, shallow mass graves, unchecked and unhindered mass abductions. These aren’t news to the rest of us anymore, in fact, once we are confronted with headlines of Boko Haram attacks, we simply shift to the next news items. This is madness of another sort.
Members of Volunteer groups are also victims; be they government agencies like NEMA , foreign aid groups like the Red Cross or local NGOs who’s duties include cleaning up after major strikes. They see pieces of flesh strewn everywhere, they carry off headless bodies and charred remains of people who minutes before were living, breathing human beings, they scrub off blood and chunks of human flesh splattered in street corners and homes and public places and they can’t cry anymore, many can’t sleep well or eat meat afterwards, many perform their duties like robots, they have become zombies. At the trauma training I attended, I heard stories of rescue workers who have been so disturbed that they had to be remanded at the psychiatric wards.
Finally, the military, who have recorded more hits than misses. It’s surprising the military we booed at last year are recording successes-rescuing hundreds of captives from Boko Haram and taking back stolen territories. Our fighting soldiers have witnessed enough to make any mind bend; they therefore need trauma counseling sessions.
The Boko Haram insurgency attacked our collective psyche and though there are less and less news of terror attacks, the real work of healing should begin in earnest. It’s dangerous to assume that because we have no more terror attacks, all is well with us. A Nigerian proverb says, “Only a mad man will go to sleep with his roof on fire.” Victims of Boko Haram are ticking bombs, they can explode anytime, so we must care for them and it will take more than the NGOs, more than the corporate bodies, more than the foreign aid and government agencies to clean up this mess left by Boko Haram, it’s you and me pitching in and doing our bit.