Boko Haram rapists im­preg­nated them. Now, they love and hate their chil­dren at the same time

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IBRAHIM ADEYEMI spent a month comb­ing the length and breadth of Borno in search of chil­dren sired by Boko Haram rapists as well as the vi­o­lated women. In this four-part se­ries, he tells the love-hate story of women left to suf­fer af­ter the death of their rapist-hus­bands and do not know whether to love or hate the chil­dren born of the un­holy af­fairs.

When­ever Alte Us­man, 21, sets eyes on her only child, a smol­der­ing anger con­sumes her con­torted face. What usu­ally fol­lows the bouts of anger is a stream of tears.

Alte’s two-year-old daugh­ter,

Umaymah Adamu, is a si­mul­ta­ne­ous prompter of her sor­row­ful past and her tear­ful present. On the one hand, Umaymah re­minds her of her dreary days of slav­ery, tor­ture and gang rapes

in the cap­tiv­ity of Boko Haram in Sam­bisa For­est. On the other hand, the daugh­ter puts a smile on her face, be­ing the only rel­a­tive she can count on. Oth­ers — fa­ther, mother, sis­ters and broth­ers — van­ished in the mid­dle of the in­sur­gency.

A GORY STORY OF TER­ROR — AND HOR­ROR

This is the first time, af­ter many years in cap­tiv­ity, that Alte will tell her story to a jour­nal­ist. This is also the first time that Umaymah, her only child, will hear the tales of how, when and where she was born — even though she is still too young to make any sense of her mother’s nar­ra­tive of mis­ery.

“I have been to hell on this earth,” Alte says, tears cours­ing down her wrin­kled face.

Se­conds into the con­ver­sa­tion with Alte, she buries her head in her armpit, takes one long re­gret­ful look at her daugh­ter, then looks away. Si­lence.

She shakes her head piti­fully be­fore break­ing the si­lence.

Any­one fa­mil­iar with the level of havoc wreaked by Boko Haram on Borno, a state in Nige­ria’s north­east, can recre­ate Alte’s pains as a mother in her prime age.

It was here in Borno that Boko Haram started vis­it­ing de­struc­tion on mil­lions of peo­ple in the north­east, start­ing from 2009. Now, the armed group has grue­somely killed tens of thou­sands of peo­ple, ab­ducted at least 2000 and forced more 2 mil­lion to flee their homes.

It was in this same Borno that the killer in­sur­gents launched a tra­di­tion of killing kid­nap­ping, bomb­ing, loot­ing and burn­ing in­no­cent civil­ians.

Towns and vil­lages have been pil­laged, and schools, churches, mosques and other pub­lic build­ings de­mol­ished. The ter­ror­ists con­tinue to de­hu­man­ise civil­ians trapped in ar­eas un­der their con­trol, dis­rupt­ing the pro­vi­sion of health, ed­u­ca­tion and other pub­lic ser­vices by the Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties.

A LIFE OF SOR­ROW

Alte is mad again. She is mad at her daugh­ter for cry­ing in her arms. Any­one who has watched closely can eas­ily spot her de­spon­dency. Clad in a faded red-coloured pur­dah, Alte de­sires to re­turn home — to re­unite with her fam­ily mem­bers. But, for now, that prospect is sui­ci­dal. The fam­ily mem­bers are nowhere to be found, even.

And, oh, her daugh­ter! What sad­dens Alte about her is not only the sir­ing of the girl by a ter­ror­ist-rapist but the bleak­ness of her fu­ture.

“When­ever I see my daugh­ter, I see her as an or­phan,” she says, tearily lock­ing eyes with the girl. “She has no fa­ther and has no fu­ture. And even if she has her fa­ther’s rel­a­tives, they will scorn him be­cause he’s a killer; they don’t love him nei­ther do they his daugh­ter.”

Alte’s ges­tures de­pict the ter­ri­ble con­di­tion she and her daugh­ter have been sub­jected to since nar­rowly es­cap­ing from cap­tiv­ity. No good food. Mother and daugh­ter live in aus­tere plague and gnash­ing of teeth.

“I hate to see my daugh­ter hun­gry but I have no choice,” she says. “Some­times we go out in search of food. I want my daugh­ter to go to school so she can be­come a doc­tor but I have no means to spon­sor her ed­u­ca­tion.”

Mother and daugh­ter live their dire lives in­side a bound­less row of tar­pau­lin shel­ters, hous­ing hun­dreds of In­ter­nally Dis­placed Per­sons (IDPS) at Bakassi camp — a makeshift ac­com­mo­da­tion set up for peo­ple am­bushed by the ter­ror­ists — em­placed in the downtown of Borno.

Away from the fuzzy blue sky deck­ing the red-and-blue alu­minum roofs of the camp, Alte and many oth­ers en­dure the waspish stings of mos­qui­toes at night and the swel­ter­ing ray of the day­time sun that vis­its the door­less tar­pau­lin shel­ters.

There and then, as dark­ness of the dusk takes over the sun­ni­ness of the day, Umaymah’s mother sits on her tat­tered mat — to un­veil, chap­ter-by-chap­ter, how she and her daugh­ter live a life of sor­row. It is a tale of trial with­out any tri­umph in sight.

A DEADLY DAY IN GWOZA

The day Alte lost con­tact with her fam­ily mem­bers was a deadly one in Gwoza, a town in south­ern Borno. Blood­blem­ished bodies rolled on the streets of Cikidea, be­hind Dutse Sau in Gwoza. This was not the first time Gwoza would be turned to the hell­hole of Boko Haram’s am­bush.

In April, 2014, the in­sur­gents caused the dis­place­ment of hun­dreds of civil­ians in Gwoza. Later, in Au­gust, they de­clared the town their head­quar­ters of ter­ror­ism. The bru­tal­ity of these killings had ru­ined lots of lives be­fore the Nige­rian Army took over Gwoza from the ter­ror­ists in 2015.

“When they came to Gwoza, I ran to Mada­gali with my mother and oth­ers. There my mother got lost,” says Alte, re­count­ing her ordeal. “So, one of our in-laws in Mada­gali, a man, told me to stay in his house… that he would go in search of my mother and older broth­ers. I stayed there with him but the money on him was not enough to get him to Yola.”

Up till this moment, six years af­ter, Alte has no idea of the where­abouts of her mother, fa­ther, sis­ters and broth­ers. “It was once ru­moured that they had all fled to Cameroon,” she says. “But no one knows if this is true, es­pe­cially as they have never been in touch since.”

One evening, Alte left Mada­gali — 280 kilo­me­tres north of the Adamawa State cap­i­tal, Yola — and headed to Gwoza in search of her lost fam­ily mem­bers, only for her to dis­cover the ruin of hu­man wreck­age. There­fore, she re­turned to Mada­gali emp­ty­handed, to seek refuge with an ally.this would only be the be­gin­ning of her doom.

SEEK­ING REFUGE IN A TER­ROR­IST’S ABODE

At Mada­gali, ev­ery­body was afraid of hous­ing any­body, thus Alte had no choice when asked by her ally to take up an of­fer of tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion with a strange man — in a shal­low, muddy room.

“I stayed there. But un­for­tu­nately for me, he was a Boko Haram mem­ber,” she says. “So, when the Army came to re­pel the at­tacks in Gwoza, he be­came scared and asked us to flee. They took us to one thick for­est in Sam­bisa.”

Alte has lost count of how many times she was gan­graped in the forests by the ter­ror­ists but she vividly re­mem­bers how she was forced to marry one Abu Su­fyan, who would later die dur­ing one of his sui­ci­dal in­sur­gent mis­sions in Borno. She was with him for more than a year.

Af­ter be­ing se­verely and re­peat­edly vi­o­lated by Abu Su­fyan, what fol­lowed was an­other forced mar­riage to an­other killer-ter­ror­ist sim­ply known as Adamu.

“I was di­vorced by my sec­ond hus­band but I didn’t know that I was al­ready preg­nant for him,” she says.

Mean­while, the preg­nancy gave rise to her only daugh­ter, Umaymah, who is now two years old. She adds: “Im­me­di­ately af­ter I gave birth, an­other man forced me to be­come his sex slave; I fell ill and my breasts were hurt­ing me.”

Abu Luk­man, his name, was the third and the last man to en­gage Alte in sex­ual slav­ery and forced mar­riage. But the more bru­tal part was that while the ter­ror­ists forced her and other sex slaves to farm, all the har­vests went to their wives.the sex slaves were left to starve.

‘KILL YOUR PAR­ENTS’ —THE MES­SAGE OF HATE

How and when Alte and her daugh­ter es­caped Boko Haram’s ter­ri­tory of ter­ror is in­ex­pli­ca­ble. “It is quite mys­te­ri­ous and mirac­u­lous,” she says of her es­cape from Sam­bisa for­est. “I can’t even ex­plain how it hap­pened; I just know I saw my­self with sol­diers who brought us here.”

But there was a significan­t oc­cur­rence while in cap­tiv­ity: the in­sur­gents preached ha­tred of fa­ther­land to them.

“Day and night, they urged us not to be­lieve or love the peo­ple of Nige­ria,” she re­calls. “This is be­cause at that time, there were pic­tures of peo­ple be­ing med­i­cally cared for by the Nige­rian Army; pic­tures of chil­dren be­ing treated at hos­pi­tals by sol­diers and other aid work­ers. These pic­tures were poured into Sam­bisa by the Nige­rian sol­diers.

“If you’re caught look­ing at the pic­tures, you could be killed. Some­times they gath­ered these pic­tures and burnt them. They would say, ‘Don’t be­lieve in what the peo­ple in Nige­ria say. Don’t think about go­ing home. Don’t re­veal our se­crets. And even if your par­ents are against this move­ment, kill them. Do not do any­thing out of the lines of Is­lam.”

AT BAKASSI CAMP, THERE IS HUNGER, THIRST AND DEATH

At just 22, Aisha Has­san’s sight is fad­ing. This is a plague that even a sex­a­ge­nar­ian may deem too soon to hap­pen. “Look at me! Am I not look­ing too much older than my age?” she asks the jour­nal­ist, teary-eyed, but with­out wait­ing for an an­swer.

Ac­tu­ally, she isn’t wrong. Aisha looks at least twice her real age. Her face has wrin­kles of old age. She’s dying of ne­glect af­ter be­ing de­hu­man­ised by Boko Haram ter­ror­ists.

Those who wit­nessed her ar­rival at the Bakassi camp say she came al­most naked, tee­ter­ing on the brink of mad­ness, her breasts flap­ping left and right as she ral­lied around the camp.now, one year later, she is re­cov­er­ing from the acute neu­ro­log­i­cal dam­age but hasn’t yet slipped out of the op­ti­cal dam­age. When asked to de­scribe the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in her tem­po­rary home, she says, in Hausa: “In this camp, there is dearth, hunger, thirst — and there is death.”

RAGED, CAGED, DERANGED

Aisha’s rare love for her fa­ther is glar­ing, even as she speaks of her tra­vails. This love was what stopped her from flee­ing while her mother and two broth­ers ran for their dear lives dur­ing a bloody Boko Haram raid.

The may­hem mas­ter­minded by the in­sur­gents in May 2015 caught the sick fa­ther and daugh­ter in a vil­lage called Jayi Garin Sarki in Gwoza Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area of Borno State.

“When they got me, I was alone with my fa­ther who was sick; his legs were hurt­ing. My mother and oth­ers had es­caped,” she re­counts. “Peo­ple were run­ning but I couldn’t leave with­out my dad. He had done so much for me; I couldn’t leave him when he needed help the most. I pre­ferred dying with him to flee­ing.

“The in­sur­gents took us cap­tive and I was with them for five years. They took my fa­ther and I to Sam­bisa. They asked me to get mar­ried to them but I re­fused. I told them I had my sick fa­ther to look af­ter.

“I was taken with other ladies to a place called Handa; there, we were caged for a week. Every morn­ing, they came to ask if we were ready to marry. Some­times we were flogged 10 lashes. The can­ing was called tanzil (rev­e­la­tion).”

THE ‘MAR­RIAGE’, THE WRECK­AGE

Threats upon threats and frus­tra­tion-in­duc­ing cru­elty over­whelmed the for­est. Those who re­sisted the rapists were threat­ened with death. Forced mar­riage en­sued, swiftly fol­lowed by wreck­age of the vic­tims’ bodies and souls.

“We were threat­ened to get mar­ried or be slaugh­tered. When I asked them what would be­come of my fa­ther, they said I must aban­don him,” says Aisha, “We were force­fully mar­ried, just by word of mouth. I was taken away from my fa­ther and pro­nounced the wife of a Boko Haram man called ‘Baba Labba’.

“And even with Baba Labba, we did not stay in a place. We were taken from one place to the other. They gave us a gown that was so long it dragged be­hind us when we walked. We were warned not to es­cape. We were taken to a place called Garin Abu As­mau. They kept us there and most times, they would go out for war and leave some men be­hind to guard us.

Aisha con­tin­ued cry­ing, as the ter­ror­ists promised to slaugh­ter any­body who didn’t co­op­er­ate with them.

“I had to com­ply,” she says. “I stayed there with other women. When­ever they re­turned from the bat­tle­field, they brought us gifts if they had the up­per hand over sol­diers. But on days they were not suc­cess­ful, they brought us noth­ing.

“I tried to es­cape with my dad but it was im­pos­si­ble. He and other aged cap­tives were later killed. My fa­ther and many oth­ers were killed in my pres­ence. One day, the man who force­fully took me as his wife went to war but never re­turned.” A MARCH TO ‘MAD­NESS’

Aisha can still re­mem­ber how she be­came psy­cho­log­i­cally trau­ma­tised and how she slipped from trauma into in­san­ity. As a 17-year-old, her vir­gin­ity was stolen by the cruel Boko Haram rapists. But that is not all.

“I was psy­cho­log­i­cally dam­aged by my suf­fer­ing and

that of the peo­ple who were slaugh­tered in my pres­ence,” she re­calls.

“Even here in camp, I still think about ev­ery­thing. We were not well-fed when we were in cap­tiv­ity. And also we trekked hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres. You can see I am older than my ac­tual age. There wasn’t good food, shel­ter or bed­ding. The rain beat us and the sun burnt us.

“I lost my dad and later fell ill; I could not walk for two months. No­body cared for me. I was alone in the bush with no hope of es­cap­ing. I could nei­ther pray nor eat. There was a younger brother of mine who was ab­ducted with us, I lost him too and I sud­denly be­came men­tally re­tarded.”

TRAINED TO KILL

Baba Laba’s years of hav­ing il­le­gal sex with Aisha were not fruit­less. Even if the ter­ror­ist had died on the bat­tle­field, he never died with­out hav­ing a kid who was to take up his man­tle of ter­ror­ism in the fu­ture.

“My child was named Abubakar; he was two years old when I left him. But as young as he was, he was trained to kill. He was al­ways join­ing their train­ing ses­sions where chil­dren and women were taught to kill Nige­ri­ans,” re­veals Aisha.

“I used to try to take care of my child even though I gave birth to him in tears and agony. When­ever I ate some­thing good I would breast­feed him. He was an in­no­cent boy. It’s his fa­ther who wronged me; not him. I don’t know what be­came of him,” he says.

“When sol­diers at­tacked us, most of us fled leav­ing our chil­dren be­hind.and be­cause it was dif­fi­cult to get good wa­ter to drink, most chil­dren died there. But I left my son healthy, so, who knows, maybe he is still alive.”

‘ONLY THE TOP TER­ROR­ISTS MAR­RIED CHIBOK GIRLS’

Aisha beams a smile briefly for the first time in 35 min­utes of the in­ter­view. Some­thing vi­tal just struck her mind, she says. It is about her en­counter with the ab­ducted Chibok girls.

Chibok girls are first-class women in Sam­bisa For­est, she ex­plains. They are treated dif­fer­ently, with soft hands. Un­like other girls who re­ceive daily beat­ing from their cap­tors, Chibok girls are kept in a more pleas­ant set­ting in the for­est. They are well-fed and clothed.

“And they don’t al­low us to min­gle with them,” she adds. “I don’t know why, but only the big­wigs among the ter­ror­ists could marry the Chibok girls. Even at that, the men were warned not to marry them if they were not strong enough to pro­tect them.”

What Aisha prob­a­bly does not know is that the Chibok girls have since been used as ne­go­ti­at­ing pawns in ex­change for huge ran­som and some of their com­man­ders in the gov­ern­ment’s de­ten­tion.this must have been a fac­tor in pref­er­en­tial treat­ment the Chibok girls re­ceived from the in­sur­gents.

April 14, 2014 was a reg­u­lar day in Borno un­til the Boko Haram ter­ror­ists came in the dead of the night to kid­nap 276 school­girls from their school dor­mi­tory in Chibok, a pri­mar­ily Chris­tian vil­lage with a Mus­lim mi­nor­ity. The in­sur­gents had pre­sented them­selves as Nige­rian sol­diers seek­ing to pro­tect the girls from a Boko Haram at­tack by ask­ing them to leave the school. In the en­su­ing hours, the ter­ror­ists took the girls in a con­voy to­ward the group’s base in Sam­bisa.

Mean­while, 57 of them im­me­di­ately es­caped from the group’s con­voy when they sus­pected the “sol­diers” were really Boko Haram. The re­main­ing 219 were taken away.

The 57 girls who es­caped in the days af­ter the kid­nap­ping, the 103 girls re­leased in these two ex­changes and three other girls who were found separately with in­fants out­side of Sam­bisa For­est are the only Chibok girls to have re­gained free­dom since the April 2014 ab­duc­tion. About 10 girls are how­ever be­lieved to have died in airstrikes, from dis­ease, or dur­ing child­birth; there are about 100 re­main­ing in Boko Haram cap­tiv­ity.

A LONGWALKTO FREE­DOM AND FREE DOOM

Af­ter Aisha’s in­sur­gent ‘hus­band’ Baba Labba went to the bat­tle­field and never re­turned, she was forced to ‘marry’ an­other fighter by the name ‘Ni­jale’.

“It was at night when I was asked to go with Ni­jale,” she re­calls.

One­weekaftern­i­jalestarte­d force­fully sleep­ing with Aisha, the Nige­rian Army laid siege to the­for­est.nextwastor­un,ni­jale told Aisha. So, that evening, they moved, trekking a long distance in or­der to set­tle else­where. But half­way into the jour­ney while Ni­jale led the long walk in the bush, Aisha and some other women es­caped.

“We found a way of tak­ing an­other road with some of the women; we kept walk­ing for three days be­fore we met with sol­diers, who took us to Chibok where we spent two months and then we came to this camp.”

But un­for­tu­nately, Aisha’s long walk to free­dom led her to noth­ing but free doom. De­spite the tor­ture she en­dures in Boko Haram de­ten­tion, she’s had to put up with more suf­fer­ing at the Bakassi camp, where she lives, with hun­dreds of other in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons.

“I used to run a busi­ness but now I’ve lost ev­ery­thing,” she laments.

“I can’t trace any­body that is re­lated to me. I lost my dad, my child and my wealth. In the camp, I lost my sight; I can no longer see well with these eyes. I slept here for two months un­able to eat prop­erly. I couldn’t even wear clothes. I be­came men­tally ill.

“I don’t do any­thing here and the food is in­suf­fi­cient for us. Even the small we have still get stolen. My bag has been torn thrice here. It makes me sad. I go out to labour for peanuts at times. I farm for even N200. The peo­ple scare us with Boko Haram at times just to avoid pay­ing us.”

In 2018, a farm some kilo­me­tres away from Bakassi IDP camp was quite a dan­ger­ous place but the farm own­ers didn’t no­tice on time, says Taminu Tahir, the Spe­cial As­sis­tant on Me­dia to Borno State Gov­er­nor Baba­gana Zu­lum.

“The farm­ers shout­ing ‘Boko Haram are com­ing’ to IDPS work­ing for them might not just be mis­chie­vously scar­ing them.

“We’ve heard cases of peo­ple be­ing slaugh­tered in their farms. Some of the IDPS who have farms were liv­ing fine while some oth­ers were bat­tling with hunger. Dur­ing that, the gov­ern­ment had to strate­gise on how to dis­trib­ute food for the masses. From then, things have been bet­ter con­cern­ing food.”

A PLEA FOR HELP

“I am go­ing blind and I don’t want to be blind,” says Aisha, wip­ing off the tears on her wrin­kled face. For now, she needs not just good food or shel­ter, but re­gain­ing her lost sight.

“If you asked me, the first thing I would want the gov­ern­ment or any­body to do for me, it’s my two eyes. If I can get med­i­cal care for my eyes, I will be very glad,” she says. “Now, I can’t go back home any­more. Where will I go, and who will I meet? So, all I want now is my eyes.”

Alte, though, has other needs.

“I want my daugh­ter to go to school,” she says.“even though I hate to re­mem­ber how I gave birth to her, I want her to be­come a med­i­cal doc­tor. I don’t want her to be like me and I don’t want her to go through what I have gone through in life.”

L-R: Sun­day Ham­man, di­rec­tor of fi­nance and ac­counts, Na­tional Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (NEMA); Akugbe Iyamu, di­rec­tor of search and res­cue; Muham­madu Muhammed, di­rec­tor-gen­eral, NEMA; Musa Bun­gudu, rep­re­sent­ing min­is­ter of hu­man­i­tar­ian af­fairs, dis­as­ter man­age­ment and so­cial devel­op­ment, and James Aku­jobi, di­rec­tor, gen­eral ser­vices, NEMA, dur­ing the maiden meet­ing of the new NEMA di­rec­tor-gen­eral with di­rec­tors of the agency and the me­dia in Abuja, yes­ter­day. NAN

L-R: David Shon­owo, vol­un­teer, Slum Art Foun­da­tion; Tunji Disu, deputy com­mis­sioner of po­lice,lagos State/com­man­der, Rapid Re­sponse Squad, and Ade­tun­wase Adenle, co-founder, Slumart Foun­da­tion, dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of paint­ings done by Slum Art chil­dren in Ijora Ba­dia in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the RRS Team in Lagos.

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