Africa: ‘I am a broken woman in the corpse of a child’…Stolen, bruised, raped: Borno girls recount horrid spells in Sambisa forest
THE girl died in Maryam Alhaji-Wakil on a sunlit afternoon in Bama, Borno. That fateful day in 2014, insurgents of the deadly terrorist sect, Jama’atulahl al-sunnah li da’awatiwal jihad (JAS) a.k.aBoko Haram, invaded her town and burnt her home.
They killed her relatives and decapitated her neighbours. Then they abducted her. She was nine years old. Maryam’s abductors whisked her to Sambisa Forest, their terror enclave. There, she was forcibly married to Modu, a ‘violent’ member of the sect. Hence in two days, little Maryam was violently thrust into womanhood.
Modu, 35, forced his way into her unripe orifice, robbing her of innocence and the mystic pleasure of first adult sexual experience. Modu was hasty and rough thus making her ‘first time’ bestial and replete with pain. She screamed in agony but Modu didn’t care. “The louder I screamed, the more violently he shoved into me until I passed out.”
When she came to, the nine-year-old from Bama had transformed into a broken woman in the corpse of a child. Maryam remembers Sambisa Forest like a purgatory for sins her nine-year-old heart could make no sense of. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I was playing with my friends when they came to kidnap me,” she said. Speaking exclusively with The Nation in Maiduguri, sullenness crept into her eyes, rendering it weary and wan in split seconds. “They stormed our village at noon.
They shot and stabbed at everybody in sight. They lined up our neighbours and killed them. In the mayhem, I could not find my parents. I heard they escaped before Boko Haram could kill them,” disclosed Maryam. As she recounted her grisly past, her tired gaze burned into some mythic distance. Her shiny eyelids blinked as if to shut out her dismal past. But she couldn’t. Vignettes of blood and hastily carved corpses stole from her lips into the air. The effect was numbing, spine-chilling to be precise. Bitterness bulged from convulsive theatres of blood that brutally marred her past, into the russet radiance of the day. “They forced me to marry Modu. He was a nasty man. He forced himself on me. He raped me. He was a very mean man,” revealed Maryam.
Life as Modu’s wife was hellish. Modu was a very poor man. He was an ordinary foot soldier of Boko Haram, hence unlike the sect’s commanding officers, he had no means to cater for his wife but he aggressively sought to assert his conjugal rights. Maryam relived the excruciating nights that she laid captive and helpless under his massive bulk while he plowed into her. “Because I was an unwilling bride, he always raped me,” revealed Maryam.
Reprieve, however, came her way two weeks into her marriage with Modu; in the wake of Boko Haram’s feverish recruitment of underage girls as suicide bombers, Maryam volunteered to serve as one of the terrorist sect’s agents of death. Predictably, Modu flew into a rage. “He didn’t want me to do it but he was too proud to beg me. So, he divorced me. He said, ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish. I don’t need you again anyway. Go and die.’ But I didn’t care because I had achieved my wish. I was getting out of the marriage. I was leaving Sambisa,” she said. ‘They forced me to marry Modu.
He was a nasty man. He forced himself on me. He raped me. He was a very mean man. Because I was an unwilling bride, he always raped me.’ Thus Maryam was dispatched with a bomb to neighbouring Cameroon. She was taken on a motorcycle to blow up any soft target military post in Mainana, Cameroon. But Maryam had other plans. “When the rider dropped me, I approached the soldiers and told them, ‘I have this thing on my body. It is a bomb. I was sent to kill you. Please, help me remove it,” she said. Instantly, the soldiers sprung into defensive position but realising that she had come to surrender, they approached her and unstrapped the explosive from her body.
Maryam spent several months in the custody of the Cameroonian gendarmes until she was handed over to the Nigerian military. Hard as it was to picture the extent of bitterness devastating Maryam’s heart, an intense gape into her eyes indicated a girl utterly torn apart. Beneath her pretty face lurks a battered soul. Now 12 years of age, Maryam is yet to break out the jailhouse of her past. She is still the starry-eyed nine-year-old that got whisked off to Sambisa Forest, while her relatives and neighbours fell in a bloody heap, to the bullets of Boko Haram’s terror squads.
The 12-year-old girl recounted with grief and a mien that suggested, among other things, a visceral lust for vengeance, her ordeal in captivity of Boko Haram. Then she fell silent, staring ardently into the distance. It was a macabre silence replete with spasms of blood-curdling angst, misery and discontent, three-years old. Like Maryam, AishatuBuba’s pain transcends the passing tribute of a sigh. Buba married her husband, Ba’ana, in 2005. She was eight years old. But she was abducted three years ago from Bama, just after she turned 17, by Boko Haram. Until Boko Haram stormed her home in Bama, Buba lived in peace with her husband and two-year-old son, Shettima. But no sooner did the terrorists invade her neighbourhood than her world crumbled. Foot soldiers of the group snatched Buba from her home and whisked her away to Sambisa along with other abductees. They took her away with her infant son.
In Sambisa Forest, Buba was forcibly remarried to Momodu, an infantry soldier of Boko Haram. Momodu, like several of his peers, had no means of catering to his new wife and stepson’s needs. “Momodu was a very poor man. He couldn’t take care of me. He could not even feed me and my son. All he knew how to do is to sleep with me. Because of the harsh conditions in Sambisa Forest, my son, Shettima, died barely six months after our abduction. He died of dehydration and malnutrition. The hardship was too much for an infant. When he died, I was heartbroken, but Momodu didn’t care.
“I am not sure my first husband is alive. One year after I was taken to Sambisa, Momodu went on a raid and he came back to tell me that they had killed everyone in Bama. He told me Ba’ana was one of the casualties. He said they killed them all and dumped them in a well,” she said. Buba said her captors returned to Sambisa Forest to rejoice. “When the Nigerian Army approached to dislodge them, their commander instructed them ‘Kill them all!’ He told them to kill everybody in sight. So they killed my people in Bama and dumped them in a well,” lamented Buba. Despite the harsh realities of being Momodu’s wife, Buba couldn’t prevent him from sleeping with her. Thus besides keeping her hungry and subjecting her to incessant sexual and physical abuse, Momodu got her pregnant. By the time she was rescued from Sambisa Forest, Buba was with Momodu’s child, a six-month-old infant girl. She named her Fatima.
Being Fatima’s mother..Playing mom to a child born of rape
Fatima reminds Buba of a past she would rather forget. Every day, she struggles to renew her resolve to love the infant girl. It’s so hard to love the child whose father, Momodu, abducted her from her home in Bama, killed her husband and starved her first son, Shettima, to death. Until she put to bed, Buba dreamt of ripping her belly apart to rid it of the child whose immense bulk tilted her wiry frame forward as if she would keel over.
But she couldn’t. She silently bore the pains and demands of pregnancy on her lean body. At full term, she viewed her unborn child like a vulgar cyst, jutting from her belly, impeding her steps. But no sooner did she put to bed than the revulsion she felt vanished from her heart. “At first, it was so hard to love her. There were times I wished she would come out stillborn but immediately I set my eyes on her, the rage I felt vanished from my heart. I fell in love with her. Right there, I named her Fatima,” said Buba. But that momentary surge of love vanished sooner than she imagined. To Buba’s chagrin, as Fatima grows, she reminds her of realities she would rather erase from her memory and past.
“It’s so hard to love her. I have been constantly scorned and abused because of her. My people abuse me for keeping her. They blame me for getting pregnant for a Boko Haram soldier. But it’s not my fault. Who wishes to get abducted, beaten and raped by a terrorist? I never wished to have a child for Momodu but it is Allah’s will. What am I to do?” said Buba.
Where children are Annoba (Epidemic)
Far from the ugliness of their world, a different kind of cruelty is meted out to an eight-month-old and his mom. His name is Abuya. This minute, Abuya grows into a boy. The eight-month-old is different from what he looked like when the midwife took delivery of him from Ba Amsa, his mother, on Dalora refugee camp. Ba Amsa, 18, welcomed him with mixed feelings. Every day unfurled as a fresh struggle to accept Abuya. But she is learning to love him, even as you read.
She dreads the day he will begin to ask why the neighbours call him ‘Bad blood.’ She is terrified of the moment that Abuya would ask why they call his mother ‘vampire’ and “Annoba,” (epidemic).Ba Amsa will respond in pain. She will couch the sordid details of his conception and birth in a clutter of woe and earnest tears. Despite her anguish, she would tell her son to ignore the neighbours’ hatred and unkind words. She would probably tell him that there is a garden in his face where roses and white lilies grow. She would never call him the living proof of her shame. “This child does not even know of its own existence…so he has no blame. All the bad things that happened to me are because of his father, not him. This child is innocent,” said Ba Amsa.
On Ba Amsa’s due date, she went into labour with hostile feelings, in a hostile environment. Before she put to bed, Ba Amsa dreaded that her child would become a burden to her. Now that she has put to bed, the 18-year-old regrets that her beautiful child is born to strife and ugliness. ‘Momodu was a very poor man. He couldn’t take care of me. He could not even feed me and my son. All he knew how to do was to sleep with me. Because of the harsh conditions in Sambisa Forest, my son, Shettima, died barely six months after our abduction. He died of dehydration and malnutrition…’ “Children are like flowers.
They are like roses. Roses are poisoned with ugliness. The situation in the northeast is too ugly to raise a child. Life here is very ugly. Very, very ugly for the Nigerian child,” lamented Halima Sule, a Borno-based social health worker. Indeed, no child should be born into ugliness. Not Abuya, Fatima or any other child. But the eight-month-old was sired in pain and utmost cruelty. Ask his teenage mom. Due to a limp she suffered as a result of childhood polio, she couldn’t run fast enough to escape when the dreaded terrorist sect, Boko Haram, stormed her neighbourhood in Bama, in September 2014.
They abducted her and her sister and took them to an improvised women’s prison for three months. “They would tell us, ‘Men are coming to look at you,’ and told us to stand up and show our breasts, then they would pick five or 10 of us. More than 20 had been taken away before they came for me. You couldn’t resist, because the men were armed with guns, and if you did, they took you to the bush and killed you.” The man who picked her was someone she knew from Bama and they stayed in a house in the village. “He was under 30 and didn’t seem to know anything about religion…I couldn’t resist him, he was armed,” said Ba Amsa. When the Nigerian Army recaptured Bama, Ba Amsa was pregnant.
This time she managed to get away. Her son, Abuya, now eight months old, was born in the camp and she was reunited with her parents. Her four siblings – three brothers and a sister – are still missing. Ba Amsa said she is lucky because her family still supports her but she would give anything to change the tide of public opinion about her and her infant son, Abuya. There is no gainsaying the fact that she nurses her baby in an hostile environment – both mother and child endure each day on the Dalori refugee camp.
‘How my Boko Haram husband starved my three-month-old brother to death
AMINA YUSUF’s story also incites deep empathy and grief. Hardly anyone knows that, as she picks up the pieces of her life, the 17-year-old former suicide bomber, who was recently apprehended by security operatives in Maiduguri, struggles with grief she had never spoken, every day. Nobody knew that Amina was abducted along with her parent’s last child, who is also her youngest sibling. His name was Sadiq and he was three months old. Soon after Boko Haram abducted her entire family and took them to Sambisa and then Gobarawa training camp.
Her parents tried to escape with them from the camp but they were killed by infantry soldiers of the terrorist sect. Her mother, who was nursing Sadiq at the period, was shot in the leg and in her belly while trying to escape. Despite that, she clung tenaciously to Sadiq, Amina’s three-month-old brother. Seeing her cling obstinately to life infuriated her assaulters. As Amina and her siblings pleaded for mercy, a gangly insurgent stepped forward, cocking his gun; swearing out aloud, he shot her in the head, at very close range. Amina watched in horror as her mother’s brain spattered through fragments of her bashed skull and Sadiq slipped from her grasp into the dust and scorched earth.
Quietly, she stepped forward to retrieve her infant brother from her dead mother’s arms. Then without a struggle, she followed her captors back to the camp in Gobarawa. Immediately after her arrival in the camp, she was married off to Abu Mohammed, a senior officer in the terrorist sect. But despite earning a ‘fat salary,’ Mohammed refused to provide for Amina and three-month-old Sadiq. Three months after her forced marriage to Abu Mohammed, Sadiq died of malnutrition and dehydration. At his death, something broke in Amina. ‘Quietly, she stepped forward to retrieve her infant brother from her dead mother’s arms.
Then without a struggle, she followed her captors back to the camp in Gobarawa. Immediately after her arrival in the camp, she was married off to Abu Mohammed, a senior officer in the terrorist sect. But despite earning a ‘fat salary,’ Mohammed refused to provide for Amina and three-month-old Sadiq.’ “My younger siblings, Umar, Fatima, Fauziya, Abbas, Maryam and Faiza, were all held hostage. The girls among them were married off to Boko Haram men in Gobarawa. And my parents had been killed while trying to escape. I was bitter and very angry. Soon afterwards, they transferred me back to Sambisa, I wanted to leave that place at all cost.
I was too far away from my siblings. I knew no one in Sambisa and I hated to live with Abu Mohammed. I hated to be his wife,” revealed Amina. According to her, Mohammed soon lost patience with her. “He was tired of me because I became a bitter bride,” said Amina. Hence when the sect’s leadership embarked on a recruitment drive for suicide bombers, Mohammed offered to enlist Amina as a suicide bomber. Amina was only too happy to seize the opportunity to leave his house although she stubbornly stated that she would not detonate her bomb.
Amina was eventually dispatched with a mate, Zainab, to attack soft targets in Maiduguri. It took Amina and Zainab three days to get to Maiduguri, travelling on a motorcycle. She said: “We were directed by the sect members to detonate our explosives anywhere we saw any form of gathering…They said if we press the button, the bomb would explode and we will automatically go to heaven. I was scared, so, I told them that I could not detonate any explosive. But Zainab said she would do it.
So, they said if Zainab detonated her own, it would serve the purpose.” However, things didn’t go according to plan in Maiduguri. At 6.45 a.m., Amina and Zainab were accosted in the city, after a bean-cake seller alerted NSCDC operatives about their suspicious moves. But while Amina balked from the mission, Zainab decided to go ahead with it. She ignored Amina’s counsel that they flee into the city and seek help. Fortunately, the bean-cake seller noticed their suspicious moves and male accomplices and she alerted NSCDC officers in the vicinity. Promptly, the latter marched up to the girls to interrogate them. But no sooner did they accost them than their male handlers disappeared. Instantly, Amina revealed that she was strapped to a bomb.
The security operatives scurried backwards and cocked their rifles to shoot. In the scuffle, Amina unstrapped her bomb and tossed it away. Zainab ignored the NSCDC’s sharp orders that she stood down and proceeded to detonate the bomb. This attracted a warning shot from the NSCDC to her limbs. The shot was meant to demobilise her. But even while she writhed in a blood pool from her bleeding leg, the teenager stubbornly sought to detonate the bomb. This earned her a ‘kill-shot,’ this time around, from a soldier’s rifle. It was either Zainab’s life or the lives of several innocent folk citizens.
Amina looked upbeat and remarkably more robust than she was at the time of The Nation’s first encounter with her. Her cheeks have become flush and her skin has lost the pallor that made her seem withered and malnourished. The 17-year-old attributed the improvement in her state to the Nigerian military. “They give us good food. They counsel us and give us medicines and clothes. They give us sanitary pads too. I feel safer with them,” she said. Like Amina, Buba and Maryam are enthused about the care and support they receive at the detention facility in which they are held.
Buba is particularly thrilled that through the intervention of their military caregivers and counsellors in the army’s deradicalisation and rehabilitation programme, perceptions about her and Fatima, her child, are beginning to change for better. “They no longer call me Boko Haram wife. They don’t call my child Annoba (epidemic) or suicide bomber again,” she said. The centre for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) fleeing Boko Haram terrorism is located outside the Borno State capital of Maiduguri, and it is home to over 21,000 refugees from Bama.
There, rather than the safety she sought, she is facing a new nightmare: fellow IDPs on the camp do not think too highly of former Boko Haram sex slaves like Ba Amsa and the products of their unfortunate relations with members of the terrorist sect. Hauwa, 17, also recounted her experience in the captivity of Boko Haram. She said the youngest victim of the killings in her hometown, Bama, was her one-month-old baby whose head was bashed with cudgels and the butt-end of a rifle while strapped to her back. His name was Ahmadu and he died while his mother, Hauwa, survived. The bereaved mother was abducted with her younger sister, 13-year-old Saratu.
Saratu was forcibly married to a Boko Haram soldier as a third wife, while Hauwa was taken as another soldier’s second wife. The morning after Saratu’s wedding night, revealed Hauwa, “She told me: He has broken me. I am not your innocent girl anymore. I feel like dying.’ But I begged her not to die because she would leave me alone in the world,” she said. Saratu eventually committed suicide by trying to kill her husband. The latter manically shot her in the head. She had committed an unforgivable sin by trying to poison him, simply because he killed her parents, abducted her and made her his sex slave.
Life as a social pariah
Although Buba and co claimed to enjoy a better deal in the Nigerian military’s detention facilities, The Nation investigations revealed that a worse fate awaits those that are currently living in official and unofficial resettlement centres for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The communities are wary of accepting children sired by Boko Haram fighters. They are scared of reintegrating with their teenage mothers and women too – it doesn’t matter that they were abducted, forcefully married and serially raped by members of the terrorist sect.
Nobody wants to be seen with offspring and ex-wives of the dreaded terror sect. Thus infant children of Boko Haram fighters and their mothers arriving IDP camps from newly liberated areas in the northeast face extreme stigmatisation. Popular cultural beliefs about ‘bad blood’ and witchcraft, as well as the extent of the violence experienced by people at the hands of the terrorist sect form the basis of this fear. This general perception has been exacerbated by stories of women and girls returning from captivity and murdering their parents.
Such accounts give rise to the fear that “If we accept sons and daughters of Boko Haram, they (the mothers) may come back to kill us.” Women and girls who spent time in captivity are often referred to by communities as “Boko Haram wives,” “Sambisa women,” “Boko Haram blood” and “Annoba” (which means epidemics). The description of these girls and women as an ‘epidemic’ reveals fears that their exposure to the terrorist group could spread to others. This infers that these girls and women were radicalised while in captivity, and if allowed to reintegrate into their communities, they might recruit others. However, excluding some cases in IDP camps, communities expressed the belief that over time, relations could be rebuilt and that the women and girls could gradually be accepted and trusted by the displaced community.
However, acute fear and suspicion persist of children born of sexual violence, whose fathers are believed to be Boko Haram fighters. It is unlikely that such fears and suspicion will decrease, according to Dr. AbubakarMonguno of the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID). Monguno, working with a team including Dr. Yagana Imam, YaganaBukar and BilkisuLawanGana from UNIMAID, and in collaboration with the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, International Alert and UNICEF, authored a report on the crisis. Findings revealed that hostile perceptions place children conceived of rape and violence on Boko Haram terror camps “at risk of rejection, abandonment, discrimination and potential violence.” “While women and girl victims of sexual violence, and to some extent their families, have more nuanced views, most of the conflict-affected communities are not prepared to accept children born of sexual violence by Boko Haram,” explained Monguno.
‘Hyenas among dogs’
Further findings revealed that the children are called “hyenas among dogs,” as one community leader described them. Entrenched hostilities fueled by bias among communities in the country’s northeast refer to “bad blood” transmitted to children by their biological father – “a child of a snake is a snake” is a common saying.There is a belief that, like their fathers, the children will inevitably do what hyenas do and ‘eat’ the innocent dogs around them.” In addition to the immediate risks to these children, it is likely that they will be stigmatised throughout their life, thus increasing their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation.
Moreover, the fears that these children may have the blood of their fathers in their veins and will therefore be a risk to communities may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as communities reject and discriminate against them, in turn increasing their vulnerability to radicalisation in the future,” noted Monguno and company. “People believe those who were abducted by Boko Haram have become sympathisers with the terrorists and had a spell cast over them,” explained DrYaganaBukar, a lecturer at Maiduguri University who also comes from Bama, and who interviewed dozens of these women in camps across Maiduguri for a recent report by the charity International Alert and Unicef.
“Because camps are organised by village, everyone knows your story and no one wants to associate with those taken by Boko Haram. So after everything else they have been through, they end up ostracised,” noted Bukar. ‘He’s my destiny’…Another mother’s perception of her child born of sexual violence. “People can think the worst of me, I do not care,” said Hannatu Ahmedu, 16, who has a 10-month-old baby by her Boko Haram husband. “I have this child now and I can only love him and care for him. People want me to dump him. My childhood friend wants me to kill him. If I didn’t abandon him while running in the forest, why should I abandon him now? I can only love him. He’s my destiny,” she said.
Even though girls and women face rejection by their families and communities as well as the trauma of the sexual violence they have experienced, many of them expressed a willingness to keep their children. The majority of the mothers, many of whom are barely teenagers, are displaying natural affection for their children. However, not all of the mothers are willing or able to care for the children, and some of those interviewed had tried to abort the pregnancy. For instance, Nimat Abdullahi, 15, allegedly tried to abort her pregnancy and almost died of complications arising from her attempts.
The Global Terrorism Index ranks Boko Haram as the world’s deadliest terrorist group. In its ever more violent quest to create an Islamic caliphate in Northern Nigeria, the group has killed over 17,000 people, razed villages and forced more than two million people to flee their homes over the past seven years. Living up to its name, which translates as “western education is forbidden,” it has also forced more than one million children out of school, according to UNICEF. The group burns buildings, abducts thousands to work as cooks, lookouts and sex slaves.
Those are the lucky ones. The refugee camps have noticeably few young men. Findings revealed that when the terrorist sect storms a village, it forces the teenage boys to dig trenches, where their bodies are dumped after their throats have been slit. This is common knowledge because the terrorists film the dastardly acts. They also film schoolgirls being raped over and over again until their screams become silent. While the Chibok case raised awareness about Boko Haram’s kidnapping spree, it was one of hundreds of such raids across the region.
Amnesty International estimates that at least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted since 2014, along with many more men and boys. Amina is understood to be one of just two living children of her widowed mother and was reunited with her in the family’s village near Chibok before both women and the baby were taken to a military camp. In his first Presidential media chat in December 2015, following his electoral victory on March 28, 2015, President MuhammaduBuhari, told the world that he had no credible intelligence on the girls location. The statement came as an answer to people who questioned why the girls hadn’t been rescued despite promises made by the All Progressives Congress (APC) Buhari’s party, during the campaigns that culminated in the March 28 Presidential elections.
The APC promised to ensure speedy release of the girls if voted into power. Having passed on the message of lack of credible lead, Buhari set up a panel to investigate the circumstances leading to the disappearance of the girls. That was the case until May 10 when some soldiers working with local vigilante members, spotted and rescued Amina with her four-month-old baby—evidence of sexual assault on her person in the forest. Recently, Amina Ali DarshaNkeki was discovered wandering with her baby on the edge of the Sambisa Forest, one of the last strongholds of Boko Haram, by a vigilante group set up to tackle them. Amina and her fellow captives were forcibly converted to Islam, made to wear hijabs, married off to their captors and bore them children as well as cooking and cleaning for them.
It is believed that she spent two years in the custody of her captives. Amina, according to her family, is “traumatised” by her time with the deadly terror group. She told her rescuers that six of the 219 girls still thought to be held by the group had died, and others were being held “under heavy terrorist captivity” in the vast forest 40 miles south of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State which has been at the centre of Boko Haram’s operations. More than 50 girls escaped during the Boko Haram raid on their boarding school on the night of April 14, but Amina is the first to be freed since that day. Natives of Chibok thronged its dusty streets to cheer the military convoy that brought Amina into town.
The school’s vice-principal confirmed the girl’s identity, prompting more cheers. Aboku Gaji, the leader of Chibok’s vigilante brigade, recounted her mother’s ecstasy as he escorted her home. The moment her mother saw her, she reportedly shouted: ‘Amina, Amina!’ and crushed the returnee in a warm embrace. Idriss Danladi, the village doctor, revealed that Amina’s mother had tried to commit suicide some months after her daughter was seized. Now, neighbours believe Amina’s mother dwells in heaven on earth. But that is as good as the story gets, the rescued girl and her child, Safiya, has to overcome the misery of trauma and social stigma. This harsh reality has been known to punctuate the feelings of joy and fulfillment felt by the girls and their families with narratives of pain and sorrow undiminished.
Psychological expert opinion suggested that it’s about time the government and other humanitarian actors enhanced service provision and access to services for women and girls who are survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. They should ensure that the services are survivor centred. In particular, they should integrate support for children born of sexual violence and their mothers into existing programmes on gender-based violence (GBV), child protection and women’s empowerment. ‘I was in JSS 3 when Boko Haram kidnapped me. I want to go back to school. Someday, I will become a teacher.
What happened to me is not the end of the world. Boko Haram took everything from me but I have Fatima.’ They should continue to provide medical and psycho-social support during pregnancy and after birth for the current returnees and make preparations for a potential influx of new survivors over the next few months as more Boko Haram strongholds are retaken by the JTF.
The support efforts should also integrate social workers into health clinics (including at the point of registration) to provide a comprehensive assessment and response for women, girls and children born of sexual violence. And where families are identified as being at risk of breakdown, social workers should ensure that follow-up home visits are conducted together with religious officials to provide guidance to husbands and family members and that family mediation is carried out, according to Dr. Monguno and his team. But that is in the long run. In the short run, urgent steps need be taken to assist victims like Maryam, Buba, Amina and Ba Amsa to pick the broken pieces of their lives.
To many, their struggles blend into the hobbling steps of the northeast’s brutal ethno-religious re-awakening, as the country limps towards some vague promise of a better future. The fate of the children Fatima, Abuya and Safiya however, resonates a tragedy so overpowering that it becomes a torrent of feelings. Buba, for instance, struggles through feelings of hatred and guilt. She feels intense loathing for Fatima’s father, and Fatima for being a sad reminder of the man who killed her husband, starved her son to death and repeatedly raped her. Beyond that there is guilt. Guilt for hating a child so innocent and pure for a crime she did not commit.
“It is difficult to hate her. I love her so much. But every time I look at her, I get sad,” said Buba, who wishes to be a teacher. “I was in JSS 3 when Boko Haram kidnapped me. I want to go back to school. Someday, I will become a teacher. What happened to me is not the end of the world. Boko Haram took everything from me but I have Fatima,” she said. At the backdrop of her disclosure, Fatima cried. She babbled in a language no school could teach. Then Buba leaned over, her lips pursed as if to bestow a kiss. She would not kiss her. She stayed suspended above her wiry frame, staring at her the way a child bride views dead foetus extracted from her womb. But the child did not know that.