One of these people, Lami*, is now 29 years old, and for the past four years, she’s been living in the New Kuchingoro Internally Displaced Person (IDP) settlement in Abuja, Nigeria. Her village, Gwoshi, was under attack by the insurgents in the northeast. For them it’d been a matter of time, as all of the surrounding villages had been raided and attacked. Gwoshi was expected to fall soon. Then, in June 2014, when Lami was 24 years old, it happened: The village was attacked.
Lami, together with others, had escaped, and run toward the mountains, eventually entering Cameroon. She was with her youngest son, at the time a baby — her eldest was 4 years old — and they were with some family members, who scattered too. Scattered, but not before seeing how the attackers took her husband, beat him blind, fitted a tire around him and set him on fire.
… The insurgents reached them by dawn, their dogs leading them to where the women were hiding and forcing them out.
Clutching her baby to her breast, she ran as far and as fast as she could. She found refuge in a cave where others were already in hiding. But the insurgents reached them by dawn, their dogs leading them to where the women were hiding and forcing them out. All the women were taken to their camp in Sambisa Forest. While in captivity, they were all asked to convert to Islam. Those who refused were tagged as slaves and kept in a separate enclosure.
They were taken to the “reserve,” an area where the captive women were enclosed. Here they would wait until they agreed to convert in order to become a Boko Haram wife. Next to them were the actual wives. They had the most freedom: They could eat without restraints, sit, delegate jobs to others — mainly the ones tagged as slaves — and sleep in abandoned cars that were their homes.
The women in the reserve would sleep on the floor, within a fenced area, and would be fed once a day, with whatever food was available at the time. Upon arrival at the camp, Lami’s child was taken from her and moved to the area where children stayed. A few months passed before she was told where the children were.
Finally, after almost eight months of captivity, the camp leaders rounded up the women who were soon to convert and become Boko Haram wives. The women were given 10,000 nairas, at the time about $500, and were told that in the morning they were to convert and marry. That night, Lami saw an opportunity: By chance the padlock hadn’t locked completely, and among the confusion of their marriage-to-be, she had a small window to escape.
In the middle of the night, she carefully opened the padlock and left the enclosure, heading over to where the children were. When she found her son lying there on the floor, she put her hand to his mouth and woke him, lifted him up and ran as fast as she could, without looking back. Lami didn’t want to get caught midway, and she was ready to die before being captured again, for the simple reason that she was not willing to convert no matter what she was told.
After endless hours, she reached a small town, and the villagers helped her to leave right away for fear of reprisal by Boko Haram. She arrived in Mubi, part of the state of Adamawa, and found some of her family. Her eldest son was there, and so Lami and both of her children finally left together after she’d given money to her family members to help her. With the money she had left and the help of a good Samaritan lady who realized her condition and paid for her and her boys, she got tickets to the capital city of Abuja.
She was safe. But she was also lost and hungry, with two kids who felt the same, and her clothes were torn apart. At the bus station, she found the name of the area where the IDP from her state were staying, but she again had no money to reach it. A small girl selling peanuts saw her and asked what she needed. The little girl, who must not have been even 10 years old, felt so much sadness and pity that she was moved to give Lami the little money she had, about 500 naira, or $2.50, and she blessed her, wishing her to be protected in the name of Allah the great.
“Those animals do not act in our faith; they act from hatred,” she told Lami.
So it was that Lami finally reached the New Kuchingoro IDP settlement in Nigeria’s capital, where she still lives after four years — she and her two sons in a one-room tent right next to a small generator that powers the water pump for the camp. With memories that she wished she never had. But at least she’s safe.
* Lami’s last name is not given in order to protect her identity.
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