Maiduguri was one of the most peaceful towns in the north. Home of Peace, it was called and it lived up to its name. That was, of course, before the horror called Boko Haram reared its ugly head.
I was born and raised in Sabon Layi, Maiduguri. My father has two wives. My mother is the second wife. I am the second of my mother’s four children and the eleventh of my father’s thirteen. I had a wonderful childhood. I attended Islamiyya with my siblings, visited friends and neighbours, followed my mother to the market and on occasion, followed my dad to the farm. He was a successful farmer.
When I was sixteen, my father’s friend, Alhaji Bello, came with his brothers and his first son, Munir to ask for my hand in marriage. I thought he was very handsome, Masha Allah. My older sisters were all married and I had just started to fantasize how it’d be like when I eventually get married. Munir was a very shy suitor and most of the times, I was the one to initiate conversation when he came visiting. I usually complained to my sisters about it and they would laugh at me telling me how awkward it was for a man to be so excessively shy. But I loved him. I still do. He is a good man and a wonderful husband even now that times are hard.
I got married to Munir on the 3rd of March 2012 and gave birth to my first child, Abdullah some months after. The joy I felt when I held him in my arms knew no bounds. My husband’s family and mine came together to organize a grand naming ceremony. We were so happy and so content. Perhaps we let ourselves become too happy because few months after, Boko Haram struck.
It was on a Friday. I had just prepared lunch and was attending to my son when I heard a blast. I’m quite sure the entire community and perhaps, the entire town heard the blast. I thought the world had come to an end. After the initial shock ad fear that kept me rooted in one place, I sprang up and hastily dressed my son then went outside to join my neighbours who had come out upon hearing the blast. We were all women as the men had all gone for Jumuah prayer including my husband. SubhanAllah! My husband was still out there. I don’t know what got into me. As soon as I thought of him, I went into the house and got a wrapper. I tied Abdullah on my back, ready to go search for my husband but my neighbours stopped me.
“Have you gone mad? Do you want to go out there and kill yourself? Do you even know what’s out there? We have husbands too. We are all worried!”They all said. So I stood in the group with them and waited. Praying that nothing had happened to my husband.
After hours of waiting, my husband finally came back unharmed, Alhamdulillah! He confirmed what the neighbours were already whispering, Boko haram had indeed struck. I was trembled from head to toe.
“Innalillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun.” I couldn’t say anything else. I just kept whispering the words over and over again as if miraculously, it would soothe me. Too weak to stand, I sat on a nearby stool. My husband looked into my eyes and I looked into his. Our life together had just begun, this couldn’t be happening.
Before the strike, we knew about the existence of boko haram. The group that thinks western education is illegal. We thought it was silly. Education is education, whether western or Islamic. Some of my relatives are educated and they teach in schools and some even work for the government. They live comfortably and provide for their families. I would want my children to be educated whether it was the Islamic education or the western education.
After the first strike, Boko Haram incessantly launched strike after strike after strike. They carried out raids too. Sometimes they raided an entire community and murdered more than half of its population. Men, women and children. They forcefully recruited young boys and killed the ones who refused to join them. They kidnapped pregnant women and ceased their new born babies with the intention of training them to be future soldiers. They kidnapped young girls, slaughtered people like camels; young and old, civilians, soldiers and even imams. They didn’t even allow us to bury their bodies. We couldn’t pray janazah over our dead. We just watched as bodies were thrown in the bush and left to rot. We saw horrible things. Things that haunted us at night. Some people dreamt of the dead asking them why they hadn’t been buried. Some dreamt of their sons begging to be saved from the maniacs and some of their daughters that were turned to sex slaves. So much evil was committed by these people. Evil that have left us traumatized. I can only imagine what the people they captured are going through, SubhanAllah!
Boko Haram raided our home three times. The first two times we ran into bushes and hid. Many of my neighbours were captured and many others, killed. During the 3rd raid, we were almost captured. It was in the middle of the night around 2 am. No one knew they were coming. Usually, we get informed by neighbouring communities when Boko Haram are carrying out raids and when the raids being carried out are in communities close to ours, we hide. But that night, they came directly to our’s. They barged into homes and killed people whe were still in bed. We managed to escape through the back door and ran straight into the bush. I was so afraid. I can remember how fastly my heart was beating, how closely i held my son and how tightly i held onro my husband. He was my rock all through. Urging me on and comforting me. Without him, i would have given up, I’m sure. My closest neighbour’s son was killed because he refused to hold a gun. Because he refused to kill! It was madness! Pure madness!
We ran away from our home after that. At first we didn’t know where we would go, we just knew that it wasn’t safe for us in that community anymore. Boko Haram were everywhere we went but we finally found safety in Abuja.
My two girls, Halima and Sumaiya where born here in the IDP camp. They know no life but the life of refugees. Waiting for the next meal unsure of when it’s to come.
I was a trader in Maiduguri. I used to sell materials and atamfas. It was a profitable business. My husband was a driver. He also made profit. Here in the IDP camp however, my husband and I are unemployed. We barely get food and clothing. Sometimes when volunteer organizations visit the camp, we have to line up under the sun for hours just to get something to eat. Our children cannot go to school. How can they when we can’t afford to pay their fees? We can’t even buy them decent clothes. We can’t provide decent meals for them. We live like beggars now living off one NGO or the other. I don’t even care about myself anymore. I can go hungry for days if my children get to eat. I would work for hours just to see my children dressed in uniforms attending classes. This is something I have wanted for them even before giving birth to them I didn’t get the chance to receive western education. Perhaps if I did, my life would be different, but I didn’t and I accept that. But my children, like all the hundreds of children in this IDP camp deserve to go to school. They have witnessed so much in their tender age, education is the compensation they need.
I would love to go back to Maiduguri someday. Although we have heard from many people that have gone that there is peace now, we are still wary. We don’t want to go back only to relive what we are trying so hard to forget.
We are grateful to the government for the effort they are making in fighting Boko Haram. If there is surety of peace, I will return to Maiduguri, resume my trading and save enough money to send all my children to school.
I haven’t heard from many of my relatives and neighbours who fled or were kidnapped by Boko Haram. My parents and some of my siblings are still in Maiduguri. Two of my older sisters have left Maiduguri with their husbands and children. One is in Sokoto where her husband is a successful trader and the other one is in Kaduna, her husband is educated and works as a teacher in a school there.
I hope to reunite with my family soon. I want to see my parents and I want them to meet my children, especially Halima and Sumaiya. I want my children to see their many cousins, aunties and uncles. I want us to be the one big family we once were.
All thanks to Jaruma Magazine for allowing Us to share this beautiful and educative episode
Names have been changed to protect the identity of the narrator and other individuals in the story.
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