‘I miss my Boko Haram hus­band’

Preg­nant teenager res­cued by sol­diers from fun­da­men­tal­ists keeps her baby for the ‘con­nec­tion’

CityPress - - News -

Al­most a year af­ter she was res­cued from Boko Haram by the Nige­rian army, 16year-old Zara John is still in love with one of the fight­ers who ab­ducted her. She was de­lighted to dis­cover that she was preg­nant with his child fol­low­ing a urine and blood test car­ried out by a doc­tor in the refugee camp to which she was taken af­ter her res­cue.

“I wanted to give birth to my child so that I can have some­one to re­place his father, since I can­not re­con­nect with him again,” said Zara, one of hun­dreds of girls kid­napped by Boko Haram dur­ing a seven-year in­sur­gency in north­east Nige­ria.

But any de­ci­sion re­gard­ing the baby was taken out of her hands.

Zara’s father had drowned dur­ing floods in 2010, so her un­cles in­ter­vened. Some were adamant that they did not want the off­spring of Boko Haram in their fam­ily – and in­sisted on an abor­tion. Oth­ers felt the child should not be blamed for his father’s crimes.

In the end, the ma­jor­ity car­ried the vote and Zara was al­lowed to keep her child, a son she named Us­man, who is now seven months old.

“Ev­ery­body in the fam­ily has em­braced the child,” said Zara in a tele­phonic in­ter­view, ask­ing that her lo­ca­tion re­main undis­closed. “My un­cle just bought him tins of Cerelac [in­stant ce­real] and milk.”

Zara was 14 when Boko Haram mem­bers, fight­ing to es­tab­lish an Is­lamic state, raided her vil­lage of Izge, north­east Nige­ria, in Fe­bru­ary 2014.

They razed homes in the vil­lage, slaugh­tered men and loaded women, girls and chil­dren on to trucks.

Two of Zara’s brothers were out of town when the as­sailants struck in a wave of hit-and-run at­tacks on vil­lages, as well as in sui­cide bomb­ings on places of wor­ship or mar­kets.

Zara’s mother fell off one of the over­loaded trucks and tried to chase af­ter the ve­hi­cle that was fer­ry­ing away her only daugh­ter and four-year-old son, but was un­able to keep up as it drove 22km to Bita.

At the time, Bita and other sur­round­ing towns close to the Sam­bisa For­est were in Boko Haram con­trol.

“As soon as we ar­rived, they told us we were now their slaves,” re­called Zara.

Her days were spent do­ing chores and learn­ing the tenets of her new re­li­gion, Is­lam. Two months af­ter her ab­duc­tion, she was given away in mar­riage to Ali, a Boko Haram com­man­der, and was moved from a shared house to his ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“Af­ter I be­came a com­man­der’s wife, I had free­dom. I slept any time I wanted; I woke up any time I wanted,” she said.

“He bought me food and clothes and gave me ev­ery­thing that a woman needs from a man,” she said, adding that he also gave her a cell­phone and tat­tooed his name on her stom­ach to mark her as a Boko Haram wife.

Ali as­sured her the fight would soon be over and they would re­turn to his home town of Baga, where he in­tended that his new wife would join his fish­ing busi­ness.

He told her he had aban­doned his trade and joined Boko Haram af­ter his father and el­der brother, both fish­er­men like him­self, were killed by Nige­rian sol­diers.

In a June 2015 re­port based on years of re­search and anal­y­sis, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said the Nige­rian army was guilty of gross hu­man rights abuses and the ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings of civil­ians in parts of north­east­ern Nige­ria. It called for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into war crimes.

Ali was not at home when the Nige­rian army stormed Bita in March and res­cued Zara and scores of other women, tak­ing them to a refugee camp in Yola in north­east­ern Nige­ria.

The raid came as in­ter­na­tional scru­tiny on Nige­ria in­creased af­ter the high-pro­file ab­duc­tion of 200 school­girls from Chi­bok in north­ern Nige­ria in April 2014, which caused out­rage in­ter­na­tion­ally and sparked the global cam­paign #BringBack­OurGirls. The girls are yet to be found.

But Zara and Ali stayed in touch by phone un­til Nige­rian sol­diers re­alised some of the girls in the camp were still in touch with their ab­duc­tors, seized their phones and moved them to an­other camp un­til they were re­united with their fam­i­lies.

– Al Jazeera

PHOTO: AP PHOTO / JOSSY OLA

SAVED Women and chil­dren res­cued from Boko Haram ex­trem­ists by Nige­rian sol­diers in north­east Nige­ria ar­rive at a mil­i­tary of­fice in Maiduguri, Nige­ria, in July last year Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial

can­di­date Jeb Bush

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