A News agency recently took a trip to Gwoza, a community in Borno State to speak with children who witnessed the brutality of the dreaded Boko Haram firsthand, and compiled a report.
The field is wide and scorching under dry midday heat. Dozens of children kick up the sand underneath their sandals.
Their shrieks echo as they roll their heads back in carefree laughter. They’re playing, but not with toys or balls.
They are playing a game called “Boko Haram versus soja (soldier)”.
They scamper around screaming, “shoot!” , ramming their fingers into each other’s bodies. Their pointed fingertips are supposed to be the barrels of rifles or blade of swords.
They are pretending to kill each other. Some “die” , falling over like felled trees.
One child collapses with his hand pressed over his heart as imaginary blood gushes out.
A tall boy jumps over the “dead” body and runs into another with a yellow t-shirt, who aims straight for his head.
“Boom!” the boy shouts, a gunshot.
This is playtime at a private primary school organised by a local NGO called Education Must Continue Initiative (EMCI) in Yola, the capital of Adamawa state in northeastern Nigeria.
All of the children are now displaced after fleeing their home communities to escape from Boko Haram.
‘I saw Boko Haram chop my grandfather’s head’
These children have seen the brutality of the armed group firsthand.
“Boko Haram, I see them use knife, chop my grandfather’s head,” said Ibrahim Daniel, a 13-year-old boy from Gwoza in neighbouring Borno State.
Gwoza was, and is still, a notorious hideout for the fighters. Boko Haram captured the town of nearly 300,000, in August 2014, and declared it the headquarters of what it called its Islamic Caliphate.
The group’s black flags were mounted around the town and underneath them, Boko Haram members executed anyone who failed to obey their rules, dumping corpses in wells and streams.
Hundreds hid in the Gwoza Hills, a set of rocky outcrops on the northeastern end of the volcanic Mandara Mountains that straddle the Nigerian-Cameroonian border.
The Nigerian army flushed Boko Haram out of Gwoza nine months later, but Daniel is still too afraid to go back.
“The Boko Haram is something that you won’t like to see,”
The young teenager says in a gruff voice.
Speaking in Nigerian slang English, he continues: “I’d like to be a soldier because anything that them [Boko Haram] do, I’d like to do back to them. If me, I see them, me I go carry them. Me I kill am.”
The other kids huddle around Daniel, laughing at his last remark about killing Boko Haram. Many of them want to become soldiers, too.
They have seen the fighters invade their villages and they want revenge.
“I can help government. I can help my parents with being soja,” says Chinda John in the same slang, sitting beside Daniel.