INVESTIGATION: Untold story of how Skolombo street children terrorise Calabar residents

Calabar, a city terrorized by Skolombo boys

When Nduma Wilson flagged a cab on December 11, 2015, she had only one thing in mind: how to get to the Federal Psychiatric Hospital, Calabar, where she worked.

However, things would not go as planned. As soon as she paid the driver and alighted from the vehicle opposite the hospital gate, she recalled, two teenagers accosted her.

“Before I knew what was happening, one of the boys kicked me on the ankle and I lost balance and fell to the ground,” she told PREMIUM TIMES, describing the boys as aged between 12 and 15 years old.

“As I landed on the ground, the other boy snatched my bag and ordered me to surrender my mobile phone. And I did. I lay on the ground helplessly and shouted for help but none of those who were passing by came to my rescue.”

It was after the marauding boys went away with her valuables that a man walked up and told her to thank God she was not raped or injured.

“I wanted to report the incident to the police but the man who witnessed it all told me I would be wasting my time because the police won’t do anything to the boys,” she said.

The boys who attacked Mrs. Wilson are popularly called “Skolombo Boys”, a name residents of the Nigerian city claim was derived from a Jamaican slang, “Skolo,” meaning, “to obtain.”

An unlucky victim

While Mrs. Wilson was lucky to get away alive, losing her phone, money, jewellery and getting a slight cut on her finger, a pregnant mother, Emilia Etim, died after her ordeal.

Popularly called Nne, the 33-year-old lived along Edgerly Street, Calabar South Local Government Area.

A witness, Usoro Akpanika, told PREMIUM TIMES Mrs. Etim had, at about 7 p.m. on a day in March 2015, gone to buy foodstuff at a shop near her home when members of the dreaded gang apprehended her.

“We were around on the day the boys stormed our area and met Nne on her way to buy foodstuff to prepare the evening meal,” Mr. Akpanika recounted.

“Numbering about eight, the boys surrounded her and demanded she surrender her money and phone but she resisted.

“Before one could count three, a member of the gang, who looked not older than 10, pulled a knife and stabbed the woman on the chest.”

Apparently overwhelmed by the fatal cut, Mr. Akpanika said the woman shouted as she collapsed.

It was Nne’s cry that attracted many residents and caused youth in the neighbourhood to confront the gangsters, who seemed to have gone unchallenged before then, while they terrorised the community.

Seven of the gang members reportedly escaped but one was caught, beaten to a pulp and set ablaze by a mob of local youth.

Sokolombo Calabar
Location where Nne was murdered by Skolombo Boys in Calabar

When PREMIUM TIMES visited Nne’s compound, the place was deserted.

Residents and visitors shared bitter stories about the ruthless gang.

A resident of Calabar South, where the street gang is said to have begun, said the name, “Skolombo” was first used after members of the bloody gang, consisting of street boys and girls, numbering over 30, robbed a busy filling station in the area in 2014.

“It was like a thriller movie,” the resident said.

“Over 30 street boys and girls swooped on the filling station in a commando style, shot sporadically into the air and within minutes, collected all the sales proceeds from the cashiers.”

After successfully robbing the station, the source said the leader of the gang, whose face was masked, fired into the air and shouted, “Skolombo” and the gang members responded, “obtain by force,” and they disappeared just as they came.

The changing face of Calabar

Calabar is first in many historical narratives in Nigeria. It was the first seat of Government of the Niger Coast Protectorate, Southern Protectorate, and Oil River Protectorate.

It also boasts the first public hospital in Nigeria, St. Margaret Hospital; the oldest Post Office; and the first secondary school in the former Eastern region, the Hope Waddell Training Institute, established in 1895 and where Nigeria’s first President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, had formal education.

Sokolombo Hope Wedell
Hope Waddel Training Institute, one of the oldest institutions in Nigeria located in Calabar

Besides its rich history, the annual Calabar Festival and the warm and friendly nature of its people have attracted tourists from all parts of the world to savour its serene beaches and hills, its mouth-watering cuisines and its breathtaking dances and masquerades.

But in the last two years, Calabar seems to be losing its endearing peace and ambience; especially with the menace of street children.

One of such street children is Abigail Orok, an 18-year-old who has spent seven years of her life on the streets of Calabar.

Miss Orok said she was born into a middle-class family in Calabar. Her father had substantial income and was able to provide for everyone in her family and even the extended family.

However, trouble started when her parents separated and her father remarried.

“I had a little misunderstanding at home and my dad’s wife chased me out of the house. None of my relations allowed me into their homes and so I found myself on the street,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.

On her first night outside, she said she met no fewer than 30 other children consisting of boys and girls who had been living on the streets.

By the time she spent a year on the streets, Miss Orok said she had encountered hundreds of kids who lived in motor parks, marketplaces, uncompleted buildings, and unoccupied public buildings.

She maintained that one interesting attribute of street children is a sense of communality which enables them to fight and defend one another from intruders and other hostile street kids.

But that did not insulate them from disagreement and fights which she said were regular within their community.

“We had no food and shelter. To keep ourselves from cold, we slept in uncompleted buildings and market stalls in the night and very early in the morning we go round begging for money,” Miss Abigail said.

“When some of the spiritual churches preached that people should not give money because we’re witches and wizards, we started searching for discarded plastic materials and sold them to make money. Some of us washed plates for food sellers in Bogobiri Street and they gave us remnants of food eaten by customers.”

Miss Orok gave a chilling account of how she and other female street children were constantly raped by men in the night.

“I went through a lot on the streets of Calabar. It is very difficult for me to say everything that happened but the truth is I got raped five times. During the first time, I was sleeping in an uncompleted building with two other girls in the night when a man came and threatened to kill us if we don’t allow him have his way.

“We were afraid he could hurt us and so we allowed him take turns and raped us as much as he wanted and then left us before sunrise. We fled that area because we believed the man had been monitoring us for some time before he came to rape us.

Another former street girl, who gave her name simply as Mary, said on several occasions, their male counterparts turned on female members of the community in the night, raping and assaulting them.

“It was a common thing for the boys to wake up in the night and forcefully have sex with us. They beat up any girl who resisted their advance and so at a point, we had no choice but oblige them anytime they want to have us,” she said.

Asked why they still bonded with people who raped and assaulted them, she said it was better to cohabit with the street boys than go back to face the stigma from members of their families who branded them witches and maltreated and chased them into the streets.

Another street boy, Essien Aye, said he was forced out of home by his stepmother when he lost N3,000 being the proceeds of an entire day of hawking foodstuff on the streets.

He said some street kids who are expert pickpockets might have stolen the money.

“When I got back to tell my stepmother, she insisted I must produce the money or leave the house. I pleaded that I did not steal or use the money but she would hear none of that,” Mr. Aye told PREMIUM TIMES.

“I thought my father would prevail on her to let me in but that was not to be. When he came back and my stepmother told him I lost the money and that I should leave home, he supported the wife and asked that I either produce the money or leave the house.”

He left home and joined hundreds of Calabar street children.

Helping street kids

A child rights activist and member of a Calabar-based group, Child Protection Network, Arikpo Williams, said as far back as 2003, it was common to find large number of children living on the streets of Calabar.

“As at 2003 when I discovered we had uncomfortable number of children on our streets and tried to do something about it, I met some children who told me they had been on the streets for over seven years,” Mr. Arikpo told this newspaper.

“If somebody says he has been on the streets for seven years at that time, it means he had lived outside home as far back as 1997. It was unfortunate we had such an ugly situation and we didn’t even realise it. So it is an old problem.”

Before 2013, Mr. Arikpo said, hardly was any of the children involved or arrested by the police for committing crime.

He said the Skolombo menace started when members of adult gangs in Calabar South Local Government Area lured street children into the underworld and later used them as tools for wielding economic and political influence.

“It pains me that I have to keep repeating this and people are not getting it. What has come to be known as “Skolombo Boys” is a cult formed by “Area Boys,” Mr. Arikpo told this newspaper.

The first known children’s cult emerged in 2013 and started spreading during the build-up to the 2015 general elections.

The situation further degenerated during the build-up to the 2015 general elections when adult leaders of the street gangs increasingly pushed more children to stoke conflict thereby forcing politicians to recognise and settle them with huge amounts of money.

With so much to gain from the ugly trend, what started as Skolombo Boys later multiplied into several smaller cult gangs including Blackskin, Skylo, among others, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

Officials react

In his reaction, the Security Adviser to the Cross River State Governor, Jude Ngaji, said criminal elements in Calabar recruited and used street children to perpetrate crimes including rape, armed robbery and killings.

To underscore the seriousness of the problem, he said the state Governor, Ben Ayade, commissioned a security outfit christened, “Operation Skolombo” to deal with crimes associated with deadly gangs, which had multiplied and were operating in many parts of the city.

While the activities of the streets gangs have largely been curtailed with the massive arrest and prosecution of some of the adult perpetrators, he admitted that some of the street kids still lurk around parts of the city.

Barely two weeks to last year’s Calabar carnival, Mr. Ngaji said eight members of the street gangs were arrested around North-West filing station in the city.

The Operation Skolombo is a joint security outfit comprising a detachment of Police, Navy, Air Force, State Security Service, SSS and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC.

The Cross River State Commissioner of Police, Henry Fadairo, also told PREMIUM TIMES that the command was collaborating with other security agencies in the state to address the menace of the street gangs.

Mr. Fadairo said the Skolombo Boys started from Calabar South Local Government Area before it spread to many parts of the capital city.

This is the first of a two part report. The investigation was done with the support of Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.


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  • revolutionary

    Nigeria is in the middle of a revolution. You call it AREA BOYS in Yorubaland or call it BOYS OYE in Igboland.

    They call it SKOLOMBO in Calabar. Choose what you want to call it in your patois. Nigeria is inside a revolution.

    The youths are armed to the teeth and do not fear Police action anymore. The youths see thefts of state treasury.

    The youths see President Buhari immorally appointing treasury thieves as Federal Ministers; in praise of stealing.

    They see that ‘big men’ simply stole their wealth and do no work, and therefore, the youths resolve to do likewise.

  • Truth Sayer

    why make the videos private?

  • musa aliyu

    See failure of a system, if there was any? Why can’t they establish Social Welfare to overlook issues bothering on addressing filial irresponsibility, which, according to the report is a major cause of the malaise? Is punishment the only way to curb this type of menace? Are there no Sociologists in Nigeria any more?

    • Julius

      You know why. You know whatever amount of fund budgeted to take care of those children has already went to some people’s bank account. They care only for their children, nobody else.

      • Otile

        Your English is very week. Why not stop writing nonsense and read what others are writing? Must you always display your_stupidity?

        • Julius

          I know that YOU is not YOUR like you do. Oloshi ado furo !

          • Otile

            What are you struggling to say? Dummy

  • Julius

    We are a wicked people in a wicked country ! I hope one day those children will turn against the people in government. Shameful !!

    • Otile

      Odua fraudian,

      Ifa ba omo yin oo. What kind of double standard is this? You oduafraudians encourage yaran almajiri to beg for the benefits of your Fulani imams and marabouts, but incite children east of the Niger to rise up and attack the government. They should not listen to you, you want them to be slaughtered by the cruel jihadi government of Buhari.

      • Julius

        I know your gay ass loves those boys in the street. Easy picking for you. Oloshi

        • Otile

          You are a hopeless tadfoo. You know nothing well but gay ass. Pathetic.

          • Julius

            I was told that homos like you loves the street boys !. Shame on you Otile the fag !

          • Otile

            Take your mind off homosexuality, you are lost. Fucking_Islamist.

          • Julius

            lol@Islamist !. Chei, I told you , you are the dumbest biafraudian I ever has the opportunity to slap silly. Faggot u !

          • Otile

            Are you embarrassed of your Islamic religion? Why do you pretend to be Julius? Most Oduafraudians are half-moslem half-Christian but still retain their moslem names. Why are you pretending?

          • Julius

            Lmaooooooooo, damn, you are a dumb ass 4real ! Julius is a moslem name ?. Yea, like you said that Maria is also a moslem name to you. Stop trolling for boys online, get your life straight. I’ll be praying for you Otile.

          • Otile

            You are a dumb_ass with no commonsense at all. Julius and Maria are Christian names, but you and your egbo prefer to hide your moslem names and go by Julius, and Maria. Shame on both of you.

          • Julius

            lol@you are a dumb_ass. Hahahahahahahaha, da hell is dat. Help me Lord !. I think I know what your problem is. Tell the truth, you just finished some human meat soup, right ? . Vulture Cannibal u !

          • Otile

            You are now using al-Taqiyya to change the topic. Are you a moslem or not? Why do you answer Julius? Islamist pretender.

          • Julius

            What topic ? That you a cannibal and a predatory homosexual ?. Here you are putting moslems down. What a shame. 1st time I heard that Julius is a moslem name. You are a dumb Ibo man 4real ! You know what they did to your family in the North. Slaughtered your them like a lost goat in the street . Keep disrespecting and calling them names and they will do it again.

          • Otile

            So, you don’t understand what word topic means. Wonderful. Stop mocking me about the vandalism of your masters, you yoruba traitors equally took part in that genocide. Where is the Oba of Ilorin? Were you people not slaughtered by your Fulani masters when they took over Ilorin? Where is Oba Ajonja?

            Give up your pseudo name Julius, it is not a moslem name, and you know it. Answer your moslem name. Pretender.

          • Otile

            First of all correct your bad English. “I told you , you are the dumbest biafraudian I ever has the opportunity to slap silly.”

            Are you not ashamed of your bad English? You are a disgrace to your tribesmen.

          • Julius

            Otile the faggot. You are a disgrace to humans. Period. A faggot is the worst kind of a bhuman being on the planet. You are one

      • Sparzo

        Still cranking that empty box between your ears.
        I guess you are too dense to understand much.
        Children are vulnerable and are the same and equal to any sane human,
        except of course for in bred tribal bigots, religious charlatans, confidence tricksters and the moral bankrupt, who exploit them.

        • Julius

          He do exploits them sexually Thats why he is was upset about my comment that one day those children will revolt against the government. He is a homosexual bigot

          • Otile

            Correct your first sentence. Will you?

          • Julius

            Otile loves young boys !!. How is that ?

          • Otile

            Still per-occupied with homosexuality? No hope for this dunce!

  • I did It 4 Love.

    Those kids are abandoned children accused of witchcraft and dropped on the streets of calabar/Cross River state. They are helpless, have no homes or parents and have become hungry hyenas roaming around in human skin. Many of them are killed in infant while some survives, the most amazing thing amongst them is that they look after their members and believe that the only way to survive is attacking people and collecting their valuables. I have witnessed them in action with my friends in Calabar, Lima Peru and Venezuela.

    To be honest, I blame the politicians who don’t give a damn about those social vices and the governor of Cross River is aware of those kids but decided to look away.

    Those kids are crying out for help and I can’t blame them for their actions, our leaders have failed them including Pastors who always feed their parents with fake prophecies that their children are witch and should be thrown out or killed.

    How can a gentle and innocent baby be a witch for christ sake?
    Why can’t the government of cross river start a programme that will change the thinking of their people towards the so called witch babies?
    I will never ever believe that anyone is a witch including babies and elderly people until I have irrefutable evidence to prove one is actually a witch.

  • teflonjones

    “Lil hommies” in Pac’s voice. This sad development depicts Nigeria’s failed state as constantly reliable power supply remains the antidote to non industrialization and joblessness.