Hussaina Saleh, a 26-year-old mother, who escaped from Boko Haram den in Sambisa Forest has lamented the decision of the Borno State Government to close internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps in the state.
Speaking to The PUNCH in Maiduguri, Saleh narrated how she found herself in Bakassi IDP camp after escaping from the popular camp zero in Sambisa Forest, two years after she was abducted by the insurgents during an attack on Gwoza in 2014.
She said:“It was on Tuesday, August 5, 2014, shortly after sitting for my Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations at Unity Girls’ College Maiduguri, which is known as Government Girls College. I was at home with my mother when suddenly we began to hear sounds of bombs and gunshots. We weren’t bothered because as at that time, we were already used to hearing such sounds, as such we thought it was a matter of time before the soldiers would come and disperse the insurgents. But the shootings and bombings continued, it started at 4:30pm and continued till at 6:30pm. Then the whole place became quiet and we thought they had left, little did we know they had taken over the whole of Gwoza.
“We slept that night but very early in the morning, the shootings and bombings continued, for two weeks, we couldn’t step out of our houses . In the second week, we noticed men running to hide including the soldiers and information got to us that Boko Haram terrorists were going from house to house killing all the men including soldiers and marrying all the girls. After that, we got the chance to escape because the Nigerian Airforce aircraft had come and shelled them. My mom gave me money and instructed me to go to Madagali, the next local government area, which is in Adamawa State. She said from there I should board a bus to Abuja where my two older brothers were living. She refused to go with me because she wanted to know the whereabouts of her husband, my father. At the time she didn’t know where he was.
“So I left Gwoza along with many other women trekking to Madagali and on getting to Limankara, a border town between Borno and Adamawa States, a motorcyclist asked me if I was heading to Madagali and I answered in the affirmative. He asked me to join him. I gladly climbed the bike thinking he was an okada man. Immediately I climbed the bike he diverted from the road to a bush path and I queried him but he responded that there was a Boko Haram roadblock at Limankara Mopol Camp; that they were abducting people there. With that explanation, I remained calm but he continued in the bush path till we got to a waiting vehicle painted in military colour with seven Boko Haram fighters in army camouflage. That was how I got kidnapped by the terrorists.”
Explaining her ordeal in the hands of the Boko Haram terrorists, Saleh said that she got deflowered by the insurgents who took turns to rape her and she became pregnant in the process.
“When we got to the forest, they took me to a room which had 16 other women inside. Each day they came and took some to marry them off to their fighters until we remained three in the room. At that point, they took away two of the girls and left me. Later in the evening, three of the terrorists came and took turns to rape me. Before then I had never had sex. I never knew what sex was all about but those insurgents broke my virginity and raped me till I lost consciousness. I regained consciousness after several hours but I couldn’t stand nor do anything until one old woman came and saw me. After listening to my story, she assisted me to her compound and bathed me with warm water. I began to live with that woman until she fell sick and died.
“After her death, her son, a Boko Haram fighter who used to visit intermittently, came to take his children away and then he carried me along with the assurance that he would make a way for me to escape. It was while I was under his custody that I realised I was pregnant. I was already four months pregnant. I was delivered of a baby girl while in his house but I had the mindset of wanting to escape . When my daughter was six months, I decided to leave but I needed to have a cogent reason to leave so I waited for the rainy season to start because at that time, there was scarcity of foodstuffs. Only top commanders had food in their houses. Early in the morning on that day, I took my daughter and carried a bag on the pretext of going to get food. That was how I escaped from the camp after walking for hours till it got dark and I rested under a tree until early hours of the next day then I continued my journey till I got to a trench manned by Nigerian soldiers around Buratai town in the Biu Local Government Area,” Saleh stated.
Saleh explained that she had been living in the IDP camp since 2016, after initially spending four months and two weeks at Giwa barracks where she was screened and certified innocent of any involvement with Boko Haram.
She said several girls like her who were victims of the Boko Haram insurgency had been living in IDP camps because most of them had nowhere to go to due to stigmatization from members of their family and the society.
“There were seven of us that were released to Bakassi camp after the military verified that we are not Chibok girls. When we got to the barracks, they gave us a separate cell but what amazed me was that three different sets of soldiers came asking if we were part of the Chibok girls when we answered in the negative, they just left us there. They were so particular about Chibok girls as if we are not human beings. This same treatment continued even in the IDP camp as they kept treating us with disdain. They never cared about our wellbeing at all. The only thing they did was to give us a space after sleeping three days on the veranda.
“Also, I noticed something when I got to Bakassi IDP camp; the foodstuffs that were being distributed to us in the camp were exactly the same with those in the sambisa Forest and I remember asking one of the wives of that old woman’s son, Sheik Abakar Adama, where they get foodstuffs and drugs and she confirmed to me that Red Cross used to bring the items for them.
“The foodstuffs they were giving us in the IDP camp hardly sustained us so I began petty trading in the camp to augment my feeding while my daughter was enrolled in a Quranic school,” the lady said.
Saleh also narrated how she was admitted to the state’s College of Education and how the sudden closure of the camp would alter her educational pursuit and that of many other girls like her in the camp.
“Before I was abducted, I applied and got admission to Sir Kashim Ibrahim Imam College of Education, Maiduguri. When I got to the camp, I reapplied again and was given admission to study Physical and Health Education in the same institution. I paid the school fees from the proceeds of my petty business. At this point, my mother had come and taken my daughter with her to Gwoza after trying to convince me to return to Gwoza.
“I refused to return to Gwoza because the place was not and is still not safe as the Boko Haram insurgents still operate freely in the villages and the so -called repentant Boko Haram fighters who were released to the communities still have active relationship with their colleagues in the bush, as such I don’t feel safe returning to Gwoza with those set of people.
“I need to point out something. You see this acclaimed repentant fighters, they are not repentant. The majority of them still communicate and give vital information to those in the bush. Some few weeks back, ten farmers were slaughtered on their farms in Gwoza and it was alleged that the repentant fighters orchestrated that killing. Two other farmers were abducted but one escaped and he confirmed that the insurgents were given the information by the repentant fighters.
“And, while in Bakassi camp, some of them told us to our face that they surrendered because there was no more work for them as the military was closing in on them. They don’t want to die just like that.
“Ironically, these same repentant insurgents are those being treated with kid gloves. Government pays them allowances, trains them in vocations and skills. Government bought them phones which they use to communicate with their people in the forest while we the victims of their madness are treated as dogs without any courtesy or regards,” she lamented.
She further stated that since the closure of the camps, some of the victims who escaped from the Boko Haram captivity were already contemplating returning to the bush where the insurgents treated them with some level of respect and decorum.
“As I speak with you, some of the girls that escaped from the forest and are living in the camps want to return to the forest. Seven of those girls confided in me that they wished they never escaped if they had known they would be treated in this manner. They said they wanted to return to the bush because, in the bush, there will be food and shelter for them. They said,here, they had been rejected and stigmatised by even their family and now the government. Their only fear now is, they don’t want to be used as suicide bombers because the terrorists could feel unsafe with them and decide to use them for jihad.
“This is because while we were in the bush, all the girls that refused marrying them were forced to do Jihad by strapping bombs on them and sending them to go and detonate them in the town. They used so many innocent girls for this suicide mission,” Saleh said.
She said as things were, her education was at risk because she did not have anywhere to go, adding that even those that left the camp erected tents in Molai and Gwoza towns because the government has not rebuilt their villages and communities.