Washington Post | Danielle Paquette, West Africa bureau chief | Sept. 14, 2019
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Four hundred nights. Fatima counted each one as she lay on the ground with her toddler, crammed between strangers, swatting away mosquitoes in a room that stank of feces. She remembers thinking: Why did I escape the terrorists for this?
“Boko Haram treated us better,” she said, tears sliding down her cheeks.
Fatima, now 18, is among thousands of children detained in recent years by Nigerian armed forces — including many who had fled extremist captors — amid a decade-long conflict that often turns victims into suspects.
Defense officials deny claims of abusive confinement and say they must vet everyone who emerges from the restive countryside: Boko Haram and other Islamist groups in Nigeria’s northeast are known for sending children to carry out attacks. But human rights advocates say conditions in the holding centers are so appalling they thwart the military’s goal of protecting — and deradicalizing — young people by breeding resentment of the government.
In interviews with The Washington Post, seven children who spent time in the Giwa barracks near the city of Maiduguri, as well as other military facilities, said they were allowed no outside contact. None of the seven, now ages 10 to 18, met with lawyers. The Washington Post is using only their nicknames because they fear reprisals.