Saturday, 11 June 2016

Face-to-face with a Boko Haram wife

Face-to-face with a Boko Haram wife

It was during a visit to Maiduguri for the launch of a Kanuri radio station, Dandal Kura Radio last week that along with another media executive, we had an encounter with the wife of a senior Boko Haram member. The experience became possible when a senior Borno State official offered us an opportunity we could not resist, to visit some recently rescued women and children from deep in Boko Haram territory.

Of course we grabbed the opportunity and we were driven to a well-guarded compound within the Maiduguri GRA, where soldiers, policemen and the Civilian JTF are keeping guard. Inside an expansive compound, with a lot of open areas surrounding a bungalow and several tents, we met the women and children sitting on mats in a shady area of the compound. Among the women are some 3 elderly ones that may be 70-plus in age who we were told were liberated from Boko Haram areas during an incursion by the Nigerian military. The elderly women are said to be mothers of Boko Haram members, whose sons took along when retreating from Bama, which at one time was one of their strongholds. These elderly women look inscrutable and they also hid behind the convenient cover of not understanding any language other than Kanuri, which we did not speak. 

In the guarded compound we also met Aisha, a girl aged between 9 and 12, who we learnt has been married twice while in Boko Haram captivity. Looking at her, she could pass off as someone in primary 5 or 6 but whose innocence has been taken away at such an early age. Tears welled in my eyes as the social welfare officer working with them tells us that Aisha is still keen to be reunited with her Boko Haram ‘husband’. She answered most of the questions asked with just a word or two and tries to put a brave face.

The star of the camp is a woman who seems to be in her early twenties but whose name escaped me and is said to have been married to a senior Boko Haram member and they have 2 children. One of the children was pointed to us among many others sitting around and the other is living with her parents, natives of Bama but who now reside in Maiduguri and have come to see her in the camp. She took time to explain to us that her husband until the time they were liberated by Nigerian soldiers from the village they were living under the insurgents’ rule, is more senior to the commanders and amirs that have been mentioned among those killed or captured by the military.
She spoke to us in Hausa and some English words, saying her husband was like a district head and at some point the bloodthirsty leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, came to where they lived. When we asked her how she knew it was Shekau, she smiled knowingly, and replied that there is no way she would not know.

As she tells her story, there seems to be no effort to apologize for anything. She got married when she was doing her A levels at the state College of Arts and Science, dropped out of school, got divorced and married the man after her heart even though she knew he was tied to the burgeoning Boko Haram sect. She lived with him in Bama and eventually moved out into the surrounding villages after the town was recaptured by the military. She says she will not mind going to school but all she wants now is to get married again. She does not seem to think that the wariness with which Boko Haram returnees are being viewed could be an obstacle to her getting a suitor.

For now, Aisha, the 9-year-old Boko Haram bride and the other 60-odd women and children in the camp are being closely monitored and are not allowed to step out of the premises. In fact, the Civilian JTF are wary of people aside from officials who visit them. They are concerned that all the visitors who are carefully screened are not there on a spying mission for the insurgents who in their hey-days made much out of their captured ‘wives’ and children. Something going for the Civilian JTF, however, is the fear they instil among insurgents who are said to be more fearful of them than of actual soldiers and other security officials. The insurgents are said to believe that when soldiers kill them, they go to heaven but when Civilian JTF - some of whom are Kanuris like them - kill them, they will go to hell.

Here on earth, in the guarded compound, one cannot fail to notice among the women and children, two teenage girls who have also been married to their Boko Haram captors, but who said or did nothing all through our one-hour stay in their midst. All through, they were busy with their needles and cloth, as they stitched the Borno caps made famous by First Republic son of the soil, Zannah Bukar Dipcharima. We were told that they are both mute, and prefer each other’s company, and of course their sewing, and in this case doing it as if their lives depended on it. 

Much earlier, someone had pointed out that in addition to the feeding of the displaced people and the traumatized women we met, the army of do-gooders flocking to Borno should make it a duty to provide all those poor women at least 5-10 sets of fabric for making those caps. Doing that could help provide the doubly wretched of the earth something to do and earn small change to carry on with their lives as they try to come to terms with the horrors of their immediate past.

Culled from Daily Trust