20 August 2012

Nigeria: A Teenager's Will to Survive, Despite Tragedy

Jos — Recurrent attacks on villagers believed to be carried out by herdsmen from one of Nigeria's three major ethnic groups Hausa-Fulani, have turned many children into orphans. While authorities are mostly focused on dealing with security challenges, these helpless children in Barkin Ladi and Riyom, Local Government Areas (LGA) of Plateau State, are left to themselves. 17-year-old orphan Sabina Gyang shares her story of tragedy and ambitions with RNW.

In an attack in July this year, Sabina lost her mother. The latter was the sole bread-winner in the family. But with a strong will to survive and build on a less somber future, the teenager has resorted to doing whatever jobs she can lay her hands on.

"My mother, Josephine, was a hardworking farmer," she says. "She paid for my school fees and catered for all the other needs of the family with money from farm produce. My father has been without a job for many years and now that she is dead, I have been trying to survive on my own. It's really difficult."


Sabina says that before her mother was killed she had a large farm growing potatoes, corn and millet. But she says the Hausa-Fulani attackers harvested the potatoes and destroyed the farm. "They also stole sacks of grains from our barn," she says.

Since September 2001, Jos North and neigbouring LGAs have witnessed ethno-religious clashes between the "indigenous" Christian population (Berom, Afizere, Anaguta and other ethnic groups) and the "settlers," the Hausa-Fulani people. Sabina belongs to the Berom community and in recent years, Berom villages have suffered from uncountable attacks.

Narrow escape

Sabina narrowly escaped the deadly attack on her hometown, Maseh in Riyom LGA in the early hours of Saturday 7 July. On the previous day, she went to visit an aunt in another village, Bukuru, where she spent the night. "My aunt and I tried to travel to the village immediately after we heard about the killings," Sabina recalls somberly. But she said it was impossible. That Saturday, the situation was still tense and there were no transport whatsoever to take them there.

"We were able to make it to the village the following day for the mass burial of my mother, my nine-year-old sibling and over fifty others who were killed the previous day," Sabina continues narrating painfully. "Two of the dead bodies were lowered into the grave when we heard gunshots. People started running in different directions. Some of us ran to the next village, Kuzeng."

Will to survive

From the day her mother and her nine-year-old brother died in the attack, the 17 year old knew that she could count only herself to survive. She decided to migrate to Jos metropolis. She knew she stood a better chance of finding work there.

But life is tough out there. After having worked as an assistant mason on various construction sites, Sabina now works as a housemaid. She has long days of cleaning, washing and doing any other chores that come her way. She says she earns about 9,700 Naira (100 Euros) in a month.

However, the teenager's ambitions are loud and clear. From the monthly amount, she tries to save as much as she can. She wants to pay her school fees for the coming term in September and a tailoring course she is already enrolled in. She is also planning to sit for the Joint Admission Matriculation Board examination (standard examination for entry into Nigerian Universities) in April next year. The examination fee is 5,000 Naira (25 Euros).

"I'll appreciate any form of help from the government," admits Sabina. "Right now I don't have a home because it was destroyed during the attack." But while Nigerian authorities are still struggling to cope with these recurrent attacks, help from the authorities doesn't seem to be coming very soon. Like many other orphans in Maseh and other villages suffering from the unrest in the region, Sabina has her destiny in her own hands, more than ever.

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