…people call me Boko Haram wife, criminal
..They rejected me, were happy when my child died
A girl, identified simply as Zara, who was abducted by Boko Haram but was later rescued by the Nigerian Army has expressed her willingness to join the terror group because of the stigma she is now experiencing after she was reunited with her family. This is just as Ahmad Salkida, a journalist known to have unfettered access to Boko Haram, said that the government’s decision to close down the Chibok school was a sign of victory for the terror group since their plan was to discourage western education. However, the story of Zara (not real name), who is a 17-year-old girl, is one among the myriad of young girls, whose lives have been “cut short” by the invasion of the sect in various communities in the North-East. Recounting her ordeal in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Zara said she was kidnapped by the Boko Haram and then freed by the army, a development that had made her sometimes wishing she were back in the forest (Sambisa) rather than suffering the stigma as a Boko Haram “bride”.
Though unconfirmed if she was one of the missing Chibok schoolgirls, Zara said until now she didn’t have her own social media hashtag, but like thousands of others – free or still captive – she is deeply traumatised. In telling #ZarasStory, being the first time she was speaking to outsiders about her “terrible experience” a year on, and the pain she still suffers to this day, Zara said: “They gave us a choice – to be married, or to be a slave. I decided to marry. One of the militants had once told her: “You are only coming to school for prostitution. Boko (Western education) is Haram (forbidden) so what are you doing in school?” But as she continued in her narration, there was so much confusion in her face and in her answers even though she claimed not being a killer, but just a child. Continuing, Zara said: “The feeling for the forest is strong now, but it will go away. I will forget the time with Boko Haram, but not yet.” She said she was in love with her husband although she believes she had been brainwashed, a development which made her feel abandoned by her faminily and stigmatised by her community. While she lamented the precarious state in which she had found herself, it became so obvious that there was little or no difference in her story, except for the fact that child she was soon to bear a child. Collaborating her story, her uncle, Mohamed Umaru, said: “Life was tough and dangerous.
The air force jets bombarded the vast Sambisa Forest where the militants have their camps and from where soldiers rescued her and eventually returned her to her relatives. “The women in our family realised she was three months pregnant. In our family it happens that some of us are Christians and some are Muslims. She was a Christian before she was kidnapped but the Boko Haram who married her turned her into a Muslim.” On whether to give birth to the unborn baby or not, Umaru said there was a split in the family over what to do and they took a vote as to whether she should abort or keep the child. The majority prevailed and she gave birth to a boy.
“She said her husband’s father is called Usman, so that is how she named the child,” Mohamed said. Immediately “Usman” was born, according to him, the insults began. “People call me a Boko Haram wife and called me a criminal. They didn’t want me near. They didn’t like me,” Zara said as a tear slowly slipped down her cheek. She now sits inside the small walled compound around her house, afraid to go outside because of the cruel insults of the neighbourhood children – messages of hate learned from their parents.
“They didn’t like my child. When he fell sick nobody would look after him,” she said. To justify this fact, Zara said last weekend, as she slept outside with “Usman” who was just nine months old because of the heat, a snake got into their compound and the boy was killed. She stated that half of the family celebrated what they called God’s will. “Some were happy that he died. They were happy the blood of Boko Haram had gone from the family,” Zara said. “They said thank God that the kid is dead, that God has answered their prayers. Sometimes she says she wants to go to school and become a doctor and help society, but sometimes, when people insult her, she says she wants to go back to the Sambisa Forest. “She always talks about her husband who happens to be a Boko Haram commander. She says the guy is nice to her and that he wants to start a new life with her,” Mohamed explained. Listening to Zara’s story, told quietly with eyes flicking down at the ground, it is hard to imagine anyone going through what she has gone though, let alone a 17-year-old girl. By implication, Mohamed said Zara’s life had become so intolerably hard that on one occasion she had said she wanted to “go and do a suicide mission”.“She will, she will, she will definitely do that if she gets the chance. She is sad, she is angry, she is confused. She is 17.
“People should understand that these children didn’t create this, but if we continue to stigmatise people with such trauma we might create something much, much bigger than Boko Haram in the future,” her uncle says. “You are creating a more dangerous thing than Boko Haram if you grow up not welcomed by society and with nobody wanting to help you. “My prayer is for the government to do something. They should come to their aid and reintegrate them and show them love,” he added. Meanwhile, Salkida who took to his tweeter handle to mark the second anniversary of the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls, said that soldiers were put on guard of the dilapidated Chibok school overgrown with weeds to ensure that reporters do not continue to show Nigerians and the world the ruins of that institution. “By this alone, government has surrendered to the designs of Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP, another name for Boko Haram). They couldn’t even demonstrate defiance by making sure the schools run even if periodically as symbolic statement of defeat of BH.” He shared that it had been two years since over 200 girls were abducted in the embattled town of Chibok. According to him, there have been several other abductions, but none is as symbolic and taken as seriously by the captors as those of Chibok girls.
“As far as ISWAP is concerned, only these schoolgirls and dozens of other men and women are regarded as their real captives.” He pointed out that in the last eight months, ISWAP has lost significant turf following constant attacks by the Nigerian Army and the other military operatives. “The captors have succeeded in keeping their most prized possession to themselves and refused the girls unconditionally. Till date the captors have insisted on their demands for the release of the girls and every rescue attempt, if there were, have failed. Investigation revealed that more than half of the girls are still alive and the majority of those alive are eager to reunite with their loved ones,” Salkida said. He stressed that since the use of force had failed to bring out a positive result and government wanted their release on their own terms, negotiated resolution would still suffer. “Today, I join parents of the girls and other wellmeaning persons to appeal to ISWAP to release the girls for the sake of Allah alone. Let’s consider the lives of these poor captives. He stated that If Nigerians could hardly bear the hardship of fuel scarcity, lack of electricity and austerity, what about fellow citizens in captivity? “Chibok girls have been able to survive two years of failed rescue, failed negotiation because people in government have no fire is their belly over this.
The only thing reasonable now is to plead with ISWAP for their release or demand a timeline for action or transparent negotiations from government.” In a related development, the senator representing Kaduna Central, Sheu Sanni, has urged the government to negotiate with Boko Haram to secure the release of the schoolgirls.
The senator, who spoke on Channels Television’s breakfast show, ‘Sunrise Daily,’ said: “I know some academic arguments that if A happens, B would happen. We all know that all over the world, when you have this kind of hostage situation, the persons holding them hostage have very little to lose. That is why I’m insisting that we should coordinate the approach because this is very necessary to protect our people, our territory and to also give them a clear message that you can’t win by bombing and other forms of violence.” When asked his view on an unnamed Australian negotiator and Salkida’s advice that the government should negotiate with the terror group, Sanni, who had also tried to broker peace between Boko Haram and the government, unequivocally favours Zalkida’s advice. “Well, I don’t know who is the Australian negotiator but I know of Zalkida, had we taken Zalkida’s advice, things should have been better by now. He’s finally fled from the country to save his life but he had given some useful advice on how this thing should be done.
And you cannot dismiss his idea when you haven’t implemented it. “I think if we don’t doubt the credibility of his involvement, we’ve not implemented what he’d suggested. We can’t just take his idea, put it on the table, look at it and close the pages and move to the next one. Then later say that we need another one again. We need to follow it through. I believe he’s a credible source whose idea should be taken into serious consideration,” he said. He expressed hope that it was not the end of the road for the over 200 girls held in captivity for a little over two years now. Sanni added: “We want the girls back. So, I think we need to bring his idea to the table again and go ahead with what he has said. All we need to do is get a few credible people to join him. I firmly believe that these girls will come back home.”