Our lives as ex-wives of Boko Haram insurgents – Former abductees
Boko Haram militants abducted teenage girls, dragged them into forests and forced them to become sex slaves in the guise of marriage. Some managed to escape, but life has been as bleak as it was under the militants, as they face societal neglect and abject poverty. Some of the girls narrated their experiences to our correspondent.
Many of the girls are now mothers, but are still under 18. They were held by the militants for between two and four years in forests, exposed to rain and sun, used as sex slaves sometimes by more than one man, and in most cases and had no access to medical care or adequate food.
The militants forced them out of their homes, and they lived with the same men who in many cases brutally killed their parents before abducting them. After long periods in the forests, many are unable to trace any surviving member of their families. They have either sacked their villages or forced survivors to relocate to unknown places. Some have opted to start new lives, without any support. Many hawk to feed.
Maryam Ali, now 17, was 14 years old and five months pregnant when she was abducted from Bama in Borno State and taken to the Sambisa forest and married out to a Boko Haram militant.
'I am from Mayanti a village near Bama. When I got married about a year before my abduction, my husband took me to Bama where we were staying. During the attack on Bama, my husband escaped to Maiduguri because the militants were looking for men to kill. When they came to our house and met me alone, they took me away. Shortly after, I delivered my first child, I took in again for my militant husband,' she narrated.
'There was no food in the camp and everybody was hungry. It was a very lawless camp. They would say you were married to someone but about three or four other men would join him to sleep with you. One day, I took my child to look for fruits to eat and escaped to where I got a vehicle that took me to a military checkpoint. The soldiers brought me to Maiduguri,' a tearful Maryam recounted.
'When my husband saw me with a child and another pregnancy, he fell down and died. I don't know if my parents are still alive or in our village. It is after Bama. Nobody can go there because of the militants. I had never been to Maiduguri. I only came to join my husband who is now late. I have nobody to help me now. I knit caps to feed myself. I will soon give birth again. There is nobody to help me. I do not go for ante-natal care because I do not have money for it,' the teenage mum added.
Sixteen-year-old Hauwa Umar was 14 and a JSS2 student in Bama when the militants stormed her home, insisted they wanted to marry her instantly and took her away. Her parents objected. She was young and yet to complete secondary school, they, said.
'Before I could say a word, they slaughtered my father instantly,' Hauwa recalled.
'They also held my mother and slaughtered her, then dragged me into their vehicle and drove away. They took me and detained me in a house in Bama where I remained for one month. Nobody talked to me within that period. It was after one month that they took me to the forest and forced me to marry the man who killed my parents. I lost my virginity to him, took in for him and gave birth to a baby girl who died three months after,' she added.
'One day, I saw them drag one young man to our camp, and my 'husband' shot and killed him. I became so afraid of him. Three days later he came in and told me they were going out on an operation. The very day they left I prayed around 3am and sneaked out of the camp. I trekked for two weeks before I got to Bama. All my legs were swollen. It was from there that soldiers brought us to Maiduguri. I want to go back to school but I have nobody to help me,' Hauwa lamented.
Aisha Ibrahim, who is 17 years old, lived with her mother and two sisters in Kirnuwa, Borno State. The terrorists stormed her village and took away all the three girls. That was three years ago. She was 14 then.
'It was in the evening, I came out of the bathroom and wanted to dress up when we started hearing gunshots,' she said. 'Almost immediately, some unarmed people came into our house and said we should all get ready and follow them to safety because Boko Haram militants were in the village and would come and kill us. Our mother was so thankful to them and asked us to follow them,' the teen girl recalled.
'We joined them outside our house where they parked about five trucks with some girls already inside. We didn't know they were militants themselves until they took us to a forest and we saw some of them carrying guns. The truck carrying my two sisters went a different direction. The same day I arrived at the forest they introduced one Sadiq to me as my husband,' she recounted.
'I lived with them for over two years. Within the period, I followed them to attack three communities. Whenever we went for attack, they would give us long black hijabs to wear and cover our faces. They would also give us socks, gloves and long boots. We would stand on Hilux jeeps. Some of us would be given guns but I never carried a gun. I was always with a knife,' Aisha added.
'The wife of the amir (commander) was always leading the women. We were always in company of the men. Our sole duty was to attack and catch women and children. My first outing was the attack on Monguno. I can remember one pregnant woman we caught who was shouting that she was the wife of a policeman,' she recollected.
'Our commander's wife kicked her and she fell down. She trampled on her neck and said she was the type we were looking for. She asked me to take her to one of the trucks but I showed the woman the way to escape,' the teenager narrated.
In a separate attack on a village whose name she couldn't remember, Aisha said they abducted a woman and took her to their camp but because the woman was not ready to cooperate with the leadership, they publicly executed her. Aisha said she became terrified.
'But my worst moment was the day I was rescued from the Boko Haram camp. It started as a normal day until there was the sound of a helicopter. We all heard the sound but I did not see it. Shortly after the sound stopped, the commander asked all of us to go into the nearby bush and pick the supplies dropped by the helicopter. I was there and picked some food items. I overheard some of the senior insurgents saying we should attack a nearby military formation,' the girl recounted.
'We returned to the camp not too long when soldiers attacked the camp with heavy artillery. The militants returned fire and there was a heavy battle that lasted for over one hour. I hid under a tree and later crawled towards the soldiers. I told the soldiers I was a captive and they picked me into their truck to Maiduguri along with other people,' she explained.
'On arrival in Maiduguri, I was taken to the camp at the GGSS. When the school resumed, I saw one of the students that was my classmate at Kirinuwa. It was that student that took me to where my mother is staying in Maiduguri. I met my mother with one of my abducted sisters who also escaped from the camp they took her to after having a serious case of VVF (Vesicola Virginia Fistula),' Aisha narrated.
'We have no access to medication. We cannot even feed until I hawk sachet water on the streets and make about N130 daily,' she added ruefully.
Dada Umar is a 16-year-old Cameroonian from Marua who was abducted by the militants at Banki, a Nigeria/Cameroon border town. Her elder sister, Fatima, was taken and remains missing. At 13, she was forced to marry one of the militants called Bana, who got her pregnant.
'Bana told me he was from Bama. I was eight months pregnant when I escaped from the camp one night and found myself in a Nigerian village and I was taken to where some soldiers had a checkpoint and they brought me to Maiduguri. I was abducted with only one dress but the militants gave me a lot of dresses. I was in a French school before I was abducted,' Dada said.
Seventeen-year-old Yakaka Babagana lived with her parents in Bama town until five armed militants stormed her home and told her father that they would either marry her or kill them and take her away. Yakaka yielded to the forced marriage to save her parents.
'I had completed my secondary education waiting to get admission into a tertiary institution. They brought out N2,000 and gave to my father as my bride price and dragged me into their vehicle and zoomed off. I was in the forest with them moving from one camp to the other until I took in for my so-called husband, Bakura, from Alagarno. Bakura left me in one of the camps and went for an attack when I was pregnant for eight months but he was killed in the attack,' she recounted.
'The commander called me and said my husband died during an attack and they would give me another husband tomorrow. That same night I escaped from the camp. I only had a wrapper on me and a scarf when I walked into the bush as if I wanted to go and ease myself. I trekked for two days and two nights before reaching a tarred road from where some people in a private vehicle helped and brought me to Maiduguri,' she added.
Maimuna Isa is 16-year-old, from Zaki Local Government Area of Bauchi State, but was born in Maiwo in Borno State. Her father was out fishing when Boko Haram raided their village and took her with a friend, Fatima, into the forest. Fatima took ill and died on their first day in the forest.
'We were in the forest for almost five months before the amir called me and some other girls and said he would give us out in marriage that day. One elderly militant was introduced to me as my husband. I stayed for another seven months without having anything to do with him until one day when three men came to force me to sleep with him. After some months, one elderly woman told me I was pregnant,' Maimuna recalled in tears.
'I escaped from the camp one night and met one man in the bush who also escaped from another camp. Both of us ran into a Fulani settlement and they escorted us to a military camp from where they brought us to Maiduguri. I never saw them kill anybody but I saw them training a lot of men on weapon handling and war techniques,' she said.
Reacting, the chairman of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Engr Ahmed Alhaji Satomi, said they were able to identify cases of such people living in IDP camps while others were outside the camps, adding that the state government was catering for some of them through his agency and the Ministry of Women Affairs.
'Government is proactive under my agency by catering for those we have been able to identify and also trying to reintegrate them,' he said.
'We have a programme to rehabilitate and integrate them. We have cases of some that escaped, and some were abducted alongside their sisters and brothers. The situation is so pathetic. But those in our midst as an agency, we cater for them, Satomi stated.
'We are also advocating for better ways of getting their lives back. I know there are a number of them in the host communities. There are some that are too shy to bring themselves to public domain,' he added.
'We are working to come out with a plan for government to look for them, call them out and get their data. We know that some of them have trauma which require both medical and mental attention. We will do everything possible to identify the others,' the SEMA boss said. - Daily Trust.