- A 36-year old widow, Hamsatu Mustapha, who survived Boko Haram attack said she will never return home
- She said the thought of returning home makes her feel unsafe
- Empowered with a small grant by an international agency, Mrs Mustapha, resolved to continue living in Maiduguri with her eight children
Hamsatu Mustapha, a 36-year old widow, said she has no option than to forget about her home after Boko Haram attacked her village, Konduga, and forced her family to flee to Maiduguri, Borno state capital, about three years ago.
Premium Times reports that Mrs Mustapha is among the few internally displaced persons (IDPs) that were able to initially come out of such situations with their family intact, which gives her a lot of joy, even though she lost virtually all her property in Konduga.
She said nothing, of all the things she and her late husband had worked for in their nearly two decades of marriage, means anything to her anymore.
Mrs Mustapha said: “When we were in Konduga, we thought it was the best place anyone could live and raise a decent family.
“But it was later when Boko Haram came to attack our village that we came to realise that Konduga was never on the list of the best places one could live peacefully.
“The only thing that is of essence to me now is my life and the well-being of my eight children.
“Nothing in Konduga, my birthplace endears me any longer. I lost everything, including my dear husband to the insurgency. I think that is enough sacrifice for Konduga.”
She agreed that Konduga used to be one of the most resilient villages in Borno state that did not easily fall to the Boko Haram gunmen. It was attacked severally by the insurgents who were resisted by a strong force of the Nigeria military deployed there.
It was in Konduga that the Nigeria military declared that Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Boko Haram, was killed in September 2014. A claim that later turned out to be wrong, as the character paraded was just a lookalike of the deadly sect leader.
During the last attack that forced most of the villagers to flee, Mrs Mustapha said her husband sustained a serious injury but managed to escape, despite his critical health condition, to Maiduguri.
“Boko Haram chased us to live here in Modusulumri suburb of Maiduguri. The gunmen killed many people and burnt our houses,” she said.
“We lost virtually everything that we ever possessed. It took us three days of wandering in the bush before we finally made it here. The Bulama of Modusulumri knew my husband, so he gave us an apartment in which the ten of us, comprising my husband, the eight children and I, have been living.”
Life as a widow
Like many displaced women, Mrs Mustapha would later become the head of her large family as her husband could not survive the injury he sustained while escaping the invasion of their community.
She recounted her ordeal: “My husband sustained a major injury from a gunshot and I continued to attend to him for about three years before he eventually died and left me a widow and mother to eight orphans.
“It would be an understatement to say that we suffered all through.”
She explained that her family saw life at the lowest rung of human indignity where feeding and putting on decent clothing was a dreamed luxury.
“We continued to live by the mercy and kindness of neighbours who don’t usually have much to offer at all times,” she said.
“I go out every day to seek for menial jobs to feed the family; and as a caring mother, I do not want my teenage daughters to go out to seek means of getting food for us, because I have seen many girls being taken advantage of or even go out of their way to sell their bodies for money or food to feed the family.
“Each time I set out to look for what to do in people’s house where I wash clothes or do other chores, I had to prepare myself to take any kind of insults or ill-treatment as long as I can keep my family’s dignity,” she said.
The turning point
“Life did not smile at us for over three years until recently when one of the international non-governmental organisations called NRC (Norwegian Refugee Council) came to our neighbourhood to carry out some kind of training for very poor people with interest in entrepreneurship.
“I and other women were trained on how to do small-scale business and then handed the sum of N43,500 as a free grant to enable me to set up a small scale business of my interest,” Mrs Mustapha said.
She said the money given to her by the NRC became a major turning point for her and her children. In less than a year, the little provision stall she opened in front of where she lives with her family has grown and has become the main means of sustenance for her family.
“Now I no longer have to go out scouting at people’s homes to get menial jobs,” she said.
“We may not be living on a standard that everyone wishes to have, but at least God has removed us from the list of thousands of other persons, especially women who are highly indigent and starving. Now we eat relatively well, and we even put on decent clothing with what we make out of the small business we are now managing.
“Above all, my kids are all going to the public school, which I can afford to pay for,” she added.
Premium Times reports that last month, the Borno state government announced the official return of IDPs from Bama town to their reclaimed communities that is being rebuilt by the state government with support from the federal government.
Konduga lies 37km along the highway that links Maiduguri and Bama; which means folks from Konduga too can return home as well.
Though there are a few people living in the IDP camp in Konduga, the main settlement is still desolate.
However, Mrs Mustapha was not excited by the news of IDPs returning home.
“We have suffered so much and lost everything back there in Konduga; but honestly I do not hope or even wish to return to that place, because even the thought of the village makes me feel so unsafe. I no longer have any of my relations there.
“The only relative I had was my husband and he is no more today. So, even if I choose to return today, in whose house am I going to live? I have since resolved to spend the rest of my life here in Maiduguri where I feel safe, and I would not want to put my children in any harm’s way again.
She said the news of continuing attacks around Maiduguri have also not encouraged her to return.
“I love my community because that is where I have my ancestry.
“But anyone who passed through what I experienced and saw what I beheld in the bush while running for dear life, would not be eager to rush back there especially at a time when Boko Haram fighters are still bringing attacks from the bush to the township here.”
Mrs Mustapha said she counts her misfortune as an act of providence.
“Maybe it is God’s wish that the next generation of my family will spring up from Maiduguri and not Konduga,” she said, eyes filled with tears.
“We were forced by Boko Haram to come here, and here shall we tarry for a very long time to come. Besides I see my children having a better and secured life here than back there in the hinterlands”.
A 2017 report on the humanitarian situation in the north-east tagged ‘Not ready to return; IDP Movement Intentions in Borno’ showed that the stance of Mrs Mustapha of not returning home was common among many IDPs, Premium Times states.
NAIJ.com gathered that the report was jointly released by the NRC, the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and REACH.
The report stated that “a significant proportion of the IDP household can be expected to remain at their current locations in the nearest future.”
It explained further that about 23% of the IDPs would rather want to reintegrate in their current places of displacement; while about 67% of them who indicated the intention of returning to their liberated communities have no idea on what to do with their lives after they might have returned home.
Many outside IDP camps in dire need
Mrs Mustapha said she is just amongst the very few lucky ones who could get a semblance of a second chance at life after passing through years of trauma, pains and lack.
According to her, “there are many other widows whose stories are worse than hers’, who are yet to get help.
“Here in our new community, Modusulumri, I heard that about 200 households have been assisted with the N43,500 cash for the small-scale business, but there are many others who are still in difficulty that also needed support.”
IDPs like Hamsatu Mustapha have chosen never to return to her attacked community, Konduga, not because she was officially informed of likely dangers that she might face out there. She actually made such decision because she is lucky to be amongst the few IDPs of the over 2.7 million in the host community, who had gotten some kind of financial support that is currently making living as an IDP, a bit easier.
NAIJ.com previously reported that the Nigerian Army, on Monday, May 7, announced through a statement that its troops of 22 Brigade taking part in the operation Lafiya Dole have rescued over 1000 hostages from the Boko Haram terrorists enclave.
The statement was signed by Brigadier General Texas Chukwu, the Director Army Public Relations.
The Nigerian Army urged Nigerians to be reminded of its resolve to rout out Boko Haram and rescue all hostages.
It also urged citizens to report any suspicious character to the appropriate authority for prompt action.
Exclusive: Freed Dapchi Girl Recounts Her Ordeal with Boko Haram (Nigeria Breaking News) NAIJ.com TV