Women and children are usually the worse hit during wars and conflicts as was experienced during the reign of terror by the Boko Haram insurgents in the North-east. In this report, ENE OSANG captures the experiences of female survivors of the sect’s onslaught in Borno state, who despite their experiences remain optimistic that the situation would return to normalcy.
Sitting with other female victims of Boko Haram insurgency at the NYSC Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) Camp, Palmata Yusuf, a mother and grandmother, recounted her experience in the hands of the insurgents.
Palmata, who feared she may never see her daughter and children, was one of those selected by the Paged Initiative team to watch the video screening of a documentary on survivors of Boko Haram attacks; this was aimed at spurring the victims to share their experiences.
Narrating her ordeal, Palmata, whose daughter and her six children were abducted by the terrorists, said she was performing ablution when the insurgents stormed their community that fateful day in 2015.
She said three members of the sect entered their compound and came right inside her bedroom and told her to wait outside while they searched the house for other members of the family.
She recalled that her husband had gone out for his daily business at the time the insurgents came calling.
She said when they couldn’t find any male member of the family they scaled the fence into her neighbour’s house and their search didn’t yield any result as well.
The incident, she said, made her blood pressure to rise having been diagnosed with hypertension and managing same, adding, “My blood pressure rose so high and I fell sick immediately.”
Speaking further, she said the sect came back to my compound and finding just herself, her daughter and her six young children they took her daughter and the children to their camp not withstanding that “I am elderly and sick.”
“My daughter begged them to let her check on me because she knows I was very sick and fortunately they accepted, but they attached her to an armed Boko Haram member.
“When they came, my daughter was only able to make kunu (pap) for me because her escorts didn’t allow her to stay long. I managed myself until I felt better, then I began to go into people’s farms to harvest produce such as Yakuwa and Okra to use at home because I didn’t have any foodstuff.
Palmata said food was minimal and her daughter and grand children were starving and this made them cry. Her children had never starved in this manner and all she could think about was how to remove them from the camp.
They were in captivity for about three months when luckily her daughter requested to come and check on her as she normally did, but this time the Boko Haram member who always accompanied her said she should go alone.
“That was how my daughter was able to escape with her children to visit me alone. So, I hid them and after a while I advised them to run away and we agreed I would join them when I felt much better.”
She said her daughter and grandchildren ran from their village in Gwoza, spent the night in a neighbouring village before they got to the NYSC IDPs camp at dawn.
According to her, it was after three months when she felt much better that she joined them at the camp.
“When I got better, some other women and children and I travelled throughout the night till daybreak, and got to Kunduga from the village at about 9 o’clock in the morning.
“We travelled throughout the night, and when we arrived at the camp, they took me to Naspoint and ran several tests on me; luckily, I was told that my blood pressure was now normal and that it was fear that was making me have heart attacks.”
Zara shares experience
Zarah Umar Mustapha, a 22-year-old mother of two; three-year-old and two- month-old, had her childhood interrupted as she had to be married off after fleeing the terrorists’ attack.
Zara, who was in JSS 2 when she ran away from Gwoza with her parents, said as a show of appreciation and a way of relief and providing security for their daughter, her parents married her off.
According to her, she had to drop out of school because of the school timing, child bearing, and other burdens from the home front.
“It was when we relocated to Maiduguri that I got married. While we were staying in the camp, he said he liked me, he was not the only man that was interested in me, and there were three of them. So, I said he was nicer to me, he does this and that for me and if I needed to do something he gives me money – that is how my parents allowed us to get married.
“They placed me in Junior Secondary School (JSS) 2, but classes were in the evenings while the Senior Secondary School (SSS) classes were conducted in the morning. So, my husband said since they have converted the JSS to evenings and it is until 5 o’clock that I will come back home late and he will not allow me to do that.
“That is why I stopped school, but I really want to go back. If I get any school that is in the mornings and women can attend I will attend.”
Another IDP, Fatima Abubakar, a mother of three, recalled that she had to run away with three young children.
“I can never forget, it was around five o’clock in the evening, I went to my younger sister’s house I was on my way back with my younger sister when we saw some people, five of them, three on one side and two on the other side.
“They were speaking in Kanuri, and what surprised me was that mostly if you see people speaking in Kanuri in the town they are most likely visitors because people speak in Hausa.
“I was telling my younger sister that these people were speaking in Kanuri language and she was like really and I said yes. As we were walking she was turning to look back at them, and not long after we got home, we started hearing gunshots and explosions.”
Speaking further, she said: “I sent her to go buy recharge card for us so we could make necessary calls. She came back and informed me that they, Boko Haram, were approaching, they were making takbir and were about to enter the school that was around our area which they burnt down.
“After a while, the whole town became chaotic; there were shootings and explosions. We spent three days; my husband did not come home. I called his number and it did not go through. But God in his infinite mercies made it possible for them to open the roads after days and he came back.
“It was immediately my husband came back he said we should pack our things and move to Kunduga Town because it was safer at that time. We spent two years there before we came to Maiduguri.”
My experience – Aisha
Aisha Mustapha, resident of Gwoza, said she decided it was better to run away with her family due to the stories of terrorists’ attacks around them to avoid being victims because her husband was sick and she has seven children.
She has an older son in Maiduguri; she took the rest of the family to her son’s house – the only place they could find solace at that time.
Just like they predicted, not long after they got to Kunduga their village was attacked and lots of people were killed; those who stayed back suffered before they could run out of the village.
“We were hearing of what was happening in other places close to us and we feared that same could happen to us since they were gradually entering our village. That was how we ran away, later they now entered the town and the people that stayed back suffered more than we did before they eventually came here. We ran away in 2015 on one Monday evening and at dawn Boko Haram members attacked the village.
“There were two of my younger siblings’ children that we have not seen and up till now no news about them. We can only thank God for life. Their father, her husband, is sick and it is just me and seven children now.
“Up till now there is no news on the two young girls – Zainab and Aisha. As for feeding, we can only be grateful to God. I am a farmer and also do petty trading, but now we don’t have anything doing. Our father, her husband, is sick and it is only what God provides for us that we eat.”
Taking refuge in son’s abode
Getting to Maiduguri, she realised her son didn’t have a comfortable place, only a single room he shared with his friends; so life continued to be difficult for them.
“This child of ours, he too didn’t have a place that was comfortable; it was just one room, but that was how we all went there. We were sleeping outside while the children slept in the room.”
Exploring business opportunities
Sharing similar experience running from Boko Haram is Aisha Dinoma, against all odds decided to venture into another business in order to cater for her children.
Dinoma learnt cap sewing and is thankful she can at least feed her family while hoping for the best.
“Before all of us used to go to the farm in the morning, we would farm and come back, but now if we get the chance we sew caps, we do our petty businesses at home and people patronise us and we are able to take care of the needs of our children.”
Similarly, Hauwa Hussaini Mohammed who lost three of her relatives due to attacks, now has a new business and is happy she does.
She said her village –Gwoza – was attacked and for three days the terrorists closed the roads, there was no phone network or any other means of communication.
She said the roads were later opened around 12 o’clock in the afternoon on the third, her husband moved the family to Maiduguri and they have spent some years in the town.
“Unlike when we first came to Maiduguri that we were just suffering, there was hunger and the stress of the long journey on foot was also there, but now it is not that bad. Some organisations are also bringing some things for us.
“We have learnt how to sew caps, the Bama types and the Maiduguri types. Some of us are making beans cake for sell, some are working as maids in people’s houses, everybody is up and doing now, nobody goes hungry now.”
PAGED initiative’s Uprooted
Recently, the PAGED initiative, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), through its media advocacy programme, Report Gender for Inclusive Development (RGID), sensitised the IDPs by screening a documentary titled Uprooted.
The PAGED team noted the importance of having the IDPs share untold stories of survival with an aim of bringing the issues to the limelight for national discuss, particularly to spur the powers-that-be to help alleviate the problems facing these citizens.
The documentary, Uprooted, is about women who have survived Boko Haram attacks and how they have been able to pick up their lives gradually, and how women against all odds are now helping their families to stand in the most unfavourable conditions unlike the stereotype placed on women by the society as weaker vessels.
Managing Director of the NGO Ummi Bukar said their major aim “is to encourage the media to tell human interest stories that depict the true conditions of the voiceless people in the society.” According to her, the NGO has screened the documentary in various IDPs camps in Maiduguri.
For IDPs like Zarah Umar Mustapha from Ganufai Kaga local government, who witnessed people being murdered in her community at the young age of 10 and still suffering the trauma, the documentary is an inspiration.
“I was 10-years-old when I saw people being killed, I remember my mum was holding my hand and since that time because of the fear I am still having heart problems.
“Being privileged to watch this documentary, I am inspired and now believe that one can still be successful after going through a difficult phase of life.”
According to her, “I started school here and now in JSS 2, but unfortunately the timing is not conducive, so my husband asked me to stop.
“There is a difference between my life in my village and here; I wasn’t eating tasty meals at all, but since I came here, NGOs are helping us and we are getting good meals like rice and so on. Even now if I tell my father that I want to buy a drink he will give me twenty naira or even fifty naira to get the drink I want; I want to finish my school and become a doctor.”