Fears mount as miss­ing Boko Haram bride re­turns to mil­i­tant life

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

ABUJA: The dis­ap­pear­ance of a for­mer Boko Haram bride who re­cently re­turned home af­ter three years in the mil­i­tants’ strong­hold in north­east Nige­ria has stoked con­cern about the dif­fi­culty of de­rad­i­cal­is­ing and rein­te­grat­ing women seized by the ji­hadists.

The wife of a Boko Haram com­man­der, 25-year-old Aisha, was among 70 women and chil­dren who in Fe­bru­ary fin­ished a nine-month de­rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion pro­gramme, hav­ing been cap­tured by the army in a raid on the mil­i­tants’ Sam­bisa for­est base last year.

Last month Aisha van­ished from her fam­ily home in Borno’s state cap­i­tal Maiduguri, tak­ing the baby boy fa­thered by her Boko Haram hus­band and some of her clothes, ac­cord­ing to her younger sis­ter Bintu Yer­ima.

“Be­fore she left ... she had re­ceived a phone call from a woman who was with her (in the pro­gramme),” 22-yearold Yer­ima said from Maiduguri. “The woman said that she had re­turned to the Sam­bisa for­est.”

Phone calls to Aisha af­ter she dis­ap­peared went unan­swered, and her cell­phone has since been switched off, her sis­ter said.

Fatima Ak­ilu, a psy­chol­o­gist and head of the Neem Foun­da­tion, an anti- ex­trem­ism group which ran the state­backed pro­gramme, said she had heard that some of the women who were un­der her care, in­clud­ing Aisha, had gone back to Boko Haram.

“Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, rein­te­gra­tion is a long process ... com­pli­cated by the fact we have an ac­tive, on­go­ing in­sur­gency.”

Boko Haram’s bloody cam­paign to cre­ate an Is­lamic state is now in its eighth year with lit­tle sign of end­ing, and has claimed more than 20 000 lives and up­rooted 2.7 mil­lion peo­ple.

“When you have fa­thers, hus­bands, sons and broth­ers who are still in the move­ment, they (the women) want to be re­u­nited ... to go back to a place where they feel they be­long,” added Ak­ilu.

Thou­sands of girls and women have been ab­ducted by Boko Haram since 2009 – most no­tably more than 200 Chi­bok girls snatched from their school in April 2014 – with many used as cooks, sex slaves, and even sui­cide bombers.

Yet some of these women, such as Aisha, say they man­aged to gain re­spect, in­flu­ence and stand­ing within the mil­i­tant group.

Aisha said ear­lier this year that other women kid­napped by Boko Haram were given to her as “slaves” be­cause she was mar­ried to lead­ing mil­i­tant Mam­man Nur.

Se­duced by power, and dis­en­chanted with the do­mes­tic drudgery of their ev­ery­day lives, women are far more dif­fi­cult than men to de­rad­i­calise and rein­te­grate into their com­mu­ni­ties, said Ak­ilu, who called for more sup­port for the for­mer cap­tives.

“Women of­ten come out suc­cess­ful from de­rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion pro­grammes, but they strug­gle in the com­mu­nity,” Ak­ilu said. “Some face a lot of stigma. They feel like pari­ahs.”

Many Nige­ri­ans fear women ab­ducted by Boko Haram have been rad­i­calised and may re­cruit oth­ers or com­mit vi­o­lence once they re­turn home, and that their chil­dren born of rape may have been tainted by the “bad blood” of the mil­i­tants, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port by char­ity In­ter­na­tional Alert and the UN chil­dren’s agency (Unicef).

“It needs a lot of work to get com­mu­ni­ties to ac­cept women who have done the al­most un­think­able,” said Ak­ilu, who said rein­te­gra­tion can take sev­eral years. – Reuters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.