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Captured women learn to live freely away from their ruthless abductors

1 September 2023
Reading time: 5 minutes

Since the 14-year insurgency started in Borno State in 2009, thousands of girls have been abducted by the Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS), better known as Boko Haram – many were forced to cook or were used as sex slaves, others were used to get ransom money, including food and other essential items, and some were even used as suicide bombers.

But, in the past few years, as relative peace has been restored, many of the girls – now adult women and most of them with children – have escaped or given themselves up to military authorities so that they can be reintegrated into society, even though they know they might be rejected and stigmatised, condemned and vilified.

Most of the women escaped from Sambisa Forest, notorious for being the hideout of the insurgents.

Others were rescued by soldiers and other security operatives, such as the civilian joint task force members, local hunters and vigilantes.

While in captivity, many of the girls were raped or forced to marry insurgents and had children with their abductors.

Hajja Gana Suleiman, a Jire Dole leader – a network that comprises women survivors and relatives of missing persons of the insurgents and which works under the auspices of the Allamin Foundation for Peace and Development, spoke to RNI.

“The women who escaped or who were rescued are first taken to the Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri where their details are recorded.

“Then the women and their children are sent to the Hajj centre, where they undergo rehabilitation which can take months or even a year.

“Jire Dole works with the officials at the barracks to find as many of the women’s families as possible. But, if no relatives are found or the women have no place to live, they are housed in a compound on the premises of the barracks, where a school has been built to enable the children to get an education. There is also a centre where women are taught skills, which enable them to start a small business and earn a living once they are reintegrated into society.”

She said the women and children were not held as prisoners in the compound and could move around freely.

However, the best outcome for these women was to find their relatives. Sadly, she said, in some cases, the families rejected them.

“We do what we can for these women, providing food, clothes and sanitary pads. We also give them ₦30,000 stipend to enable them to start entrepreneurial enterprises.”

Hajja Gana told RNI that when the abducted mothers were reunited with their parents or the people in their communities, it was difficult for them to survive because they often faced hostility and felt stigmatised.

Some of the women even considered returning to their abductors.

“We have community members who watch over the returned women and their children. They tell us if they think the women are being victimised. When they are reintegrated, we do whatever we can to make them feel welcomed and accepted. The last thing we want is for them to return to Sambisa Forest,” she said.

“To help cushion their hardship, we provide food, money and shelter and help to pay for their and their children’s studies. We have successfully reintegrated about 20,000 women, so far.”

Aisha Adam, originally from the Mafa Local Government Area, said she was 10 years old when she was captured and stayed with the JAS fighters for eight years.

“I was forced to marry a Boko Haram member and I gave birth to three children while I was with him. I was not rescued. I escaped because I could no longer bear living with the insurgents. I ran away with my three children a year ago. Fortunately, my parents accepted me and my children.”

Fanne Modu was abducted from her hometown of Ajire in Mafa when she was eight years old. She lived with the insurgents for five years.

“I was forced to marry a Boko Haram man. But I managed to escape with my children without him knowing about eight months ago.

“I am grateful to my parents for accepting me back. Even the camp community people have embraced me. I do not feel stigmatised.”

Falmata Mallam, also originally from Mafa, was held in captivity for six years.

“I was forced to marry a Boko Haram man and I had two children with him. I am pregnant again. Thankfully my parents accepted me and my children even knowing that I am now five months pregnant.”

Falmata Omar Lawan, the director of women affairs in the Borno State government, said her office dealt with negotiating, reconciling and reintegrating the women.

“If these women have nowhere to go, we encourage them to stay in the compound in the barracks. Our office gives them money and there is a facility where they receive training so that once they are fully reintegrated they can make money and live independently. We want them to live freely without fear or judgement.”



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