Zara Ali

A night in late 2014 will forever remain indelible Zara’s heart; she remembers looking at the clock at 7pm and within seconds there was a loud bang at the door and facing her was her worst fear – her community, her home, her household had just been invaded by Boko Haram insurgents.

Zara said amidst sobs ‘‘the attack on my household happened so fast and I felt every bit of the pain my 2 eldest sons experienced while they were being killed with a machete. I saw humans killing humans like they meant nothing. My 25 and 23 year-old sons were brutally murdered for no cause. My husband was taken away and never returned.’’

Amidst intermittent sobs Zara continued ‘‘I gathered my other four children and we joined in the chaotic race for our lives with other Dikwa residents, we ran with no direction through bush paths till we were tired. I had my 2 year-old on my back all the while and it was a relief to finally lay him down for all of us to rest and thereafter continue the journey at dawn. Hundreds of us slept on bare grass in the bush till morning.

Sometime at night, my 2-year old son cried so much and not knowing why he was crying I just held him close till he slept off again.  I woke up to realise I was clung on to a dead child. He had blood gushing from his nostrils and ears, I was confused and I was determined to give him a befitting burial while also curious on the cause of death.  Strapped to my back again, we continued on the long walk towards Maiduguri; we stopped over to seek for food and shelter in a very small community and I sought to see the local herbalist who confirmed my son had died of snake bite. There I buried my son according to the Islamic rites.’’

Zara arrived Maiduguri and like many others, were hosted by a family, she calls him her ‘good Samaritan.  Some of her neighbours from Dikwa community were also lodged with host families around Maiduguri while others went to the IDP camp for succour. One of her friends from the camp came visiting to commiserate with her on the passing of her sons; it was during their discussion she heard about ActionAid proposed training for displaced women from Dikwa community.

Zara is one of the 9 women ActionAid trained on groundnut oil production and provided with a grinding machine, frying pan, local stove and a bag groundnut amongst other things. She said ‘‘this is a life changing moment for me. ActionAid is helping me smile again. I look forward to the start of a new life.  Thank you ActionAid’’

Zara, 1st left with her start up equipment: grinding machine and bag of groundnut

Saadatu Musa 45 years

Many years ago, Saadatu at the detriment of being disowned by her parent went ahead to marry the man she loved in Gwoza and convert to Christianity. ‘‘Moving to Gwoza was a very easy decision for me because I truly wanted to be with the man I loved. I didn’t mind converting to a Christian. It was fun living in Gwoza until Boko haram started infiltrating the community, then my husband and I decided that with our 12 children in tow, it was time we moved to safety before Gwoza becomes fully invaded; hence our soujourn to Legodisa started.’ Said Saadatu

Unfortunately for Saadatu and her family, they journeyed right into the den of the insurgents as Legodisa had just been attacked. Saadatu’s, her first loss to the insurgency was her 20 year old son who promptly refused to be cajoled to join the deadly group that had invaded Legodisa, faced with two choices – join them or be killed, he choose the latter.  Within a quick succession, she also lost her second to the last born who died of starvation while in captivity.

Saadatu said ‘‘loosing 2 children was very hard on me and my husband also became very ill, surprisingly the leader of Boko Haram where we were in captive allowed us to leave to seek for medical attention for him; it was our freedom and opportunity to escape. Our first thought was to return to Gwoza to get medical attention but returning home was the biggest mistake we ever made.’’

Sobbing Saadatu recounts how Gwoza who now had a civilian joint task force to tackle Boko Haram in its community labelled her husband a member of Boko Haram and she as an abettor. ‘‘We called on neighbours to come out to identify us but seeing that we had being out of Gwoza for a while unannounced, no one trusted us enough to stand for us. My husband was handed over to the military, I learnt he was taken to Abuja and till today, I haven’t seen him nor heard from him. They called me the Boko Haram wife and my children were called Boko Haram children. The military moved us to Giwa Barracks where I was subjected to various counselling and supposed re-orientation on my stance as a boko haram supporter and wife. Those counselling sessions were horror; I cried all the time but for all the wrong reasons opposed to what the military and counsellors thought. They asked me questions in relation to Boko Haram that I didn’t have answers to. No one believed us and I gave up.’’

In November 2017, 47-year-old Saadatu was selected alongside 60 other women from various communities particularly from Dikwa community to participate at the livelihood/skill acquisition training organised by ActionAid and funded by UNFPA. Here she learnt the making various drinks such as zobo, kunu, soya milk and other local juice. Saadatu shares her excitement at her new skill acquisition – ‘‘the three weeks of intensive training were the best days of my life in the last 3 years. 9 of us actually learnt drinks production. On the day of our graduation, ActionAid provided us with freezer, coolers, zobo leaves, sorghum and bottles for packaging as our start-up pack for each of us. What more could I have asked for? I am getting back on the right track now. I am starting production immediately! The only challenge I foresee is lack of electricity but I have a back-up plan, to buy ice blocks to cool my drinks for sale when there is no light. This is the beginning of financial stability for me and the end of hunger for my children. I just want to say thank you to ActionAid!’’

Saadatu Musa (in black hijab) with her start up materials.

Fatima Musa, 40

2013 began like every other year for Fatima until her husband was diagnosed of kidney problems early that year. She was now saddled with raising money and getting a donor to save her sick husband and fending for 7 children and 1 niece.

Fatima said ‘‘I knitted caps, the local Kanuri cap; so I increased the number of caps I was knitting for sale daily hoping that one day, it would make enough sales to accommodate my husband’s surgery while also praying he held on till when it will happen. My husband never had an opportunity to go through the surgery. Boko Haram attacked our community that same year. As if their presence in my house was not exasperating enough, they made my husband negotiate of the kind of death he wanted; after dragging him out of hiding from one of the rooms, they asked him if he wanted to be macheted or shot. My neighbour who used to live right next to our house but suddenly disappeared was one of the Boko Haram men that attacked my household and he was the one that pulled the trigger.’’

Following the killing of her husband, one of her daughters and her niece were abducted by the Boko Haram gang; their whereabouts remain unknown. Fatima and other residents of Gwoza trekked to Maiduguri through Biu. They were initially settled in Giwa barracks before the military conveyed them to Bakassi IDP camp where she and her family now live.

Fatima said ‘‘I miss my girls, I wish to see them again, I know they are alive because I got a call sometime last year, 2016 from a man who claimed to be a soldier saying if I wanted to see my girls alive, I should pay thirty thousand naira to an account he would send me. I didn’t have that kind of money so I ran to a military officer in our camp to help me beg since they were supposed colleagues. When the camp soldier spoke with the man using some military slang, he couldn’t respond so we knew it was a Boko Haram member that gave me the call. The caller mentioned that my niece was pregnant already. Seeing them will give me closure. My niece would be 26 now my daughter 21.’’

Fatima is one of the women ActionAid trained on fashion designing who opted to specialise in bed-sheet making with pillow cases, throw pillows and duvet. She said ‘‘Today is a very happy day for me. In less than 2 months that I met ActionAid, they turned my life around suddenly. Providing me with sewing machines and everything I require starting up make today the beginning of my own new year. Thank you ActionAid. My priority is to firstly get 2 of my children to school. My life and my children’s will definitely change from today.’’

Fatima with her packaged final exams product (duvet cover, pillow cases, bed-sheet, throw pillow cases.)