Twenty-one-year-old mother of two, Aisha Abdullahi, who, along with her husband, escaped death by the whiskers to Lagos from Maiduguri, following a gruesome Boko Haram attack that claimed the lives of her entire family all in one day, tells Gboyega Alaka her horror story. Aisha, who is currently facing serious challenges, including feeding her two children and a threat of eviction from the shack she resides on Isolo dumpsite, also spoke of how her husband disappeared without traces over one and half years ago.
When does a young woman who witnessed the gruesome killing of her father, mother and two sisters- one of them pregnant, among several others in one day begins to heal from the trauma?
Maybe never. This may well explain why Aisha, 21, from Ismahi Bohel, a little village on the outskirt of Maiduguri, Borno State, still lives in great fear and suspicion, nearly three years after.
For minutes, Aisha was literally tongue-tied, looking furtively, as if for an escape route, as this reporter sought to have her tell her story. But for the presence of an elderly lady, who facilitated this reporter’s meeting with her; and whom Aisha later confessed her trust in; the mother of two may well have called off this interview, despite initially agreeing.
Her predicament was first brought to the attention of this reporter a fortnight ago. Then, according the Good Nigerian lady, who craved anonymity, “A Boko Haram victim, who found her way to Lagos and had been managing to get by on the dumpsite in Isolo, was about to be thrown onto the streets with two children. If that happens, I don’t want to imagine what would happen to her; please, I need you to tell her story. Perhaps, she may be fortunate to get help from well-meaning Nigerians. Already, it is bad enough that she is living in such an environment with two little children.
“I really can’t understand why she is suddenly developing cold feet. Maybe it’s because of what she has been through. Aside her experience in the North which I would leave her to tell you herself, her husband has also gone missing for about a year and half, with no traces whatsoever. Last week, it took the combined effort of some well-meaning people around to raise N12,000 for her, with which she settled her landlady. You need to see how she was crying here last week.”
Boko Haram wiped out my whole family
“It was a Saturday night that they came, the Boko Haram people. We all lived in Maiduguri. Well, not exactly. My parents lived in Sumahi Bohel (not exactly sure of this spelling), while I lived with my husband in Konge, just outside Maiduguri. Before then, they had been coming, usually in the evening and night to attack. On such occasions, everybody in the village would be scampering for safety. Most times, they leave a few deaths and cart away human and goods. They usually took young girls, whom they turn to their wives or use to carry bomb to blow themselves with other people (suicide bomber).
“On this Saturday night, they came suddenly, as usual, and started throwing bombs and shooting. It was a most gruesome night. People were running everywhere, trying to escape to safety. People were being hit by bullets and falling, just as they were being blown to pieces by bombs. Nobody could spare a second to look for anybody. Father did not care about the child; mother had no time to worry about her child. Even if you saw your brother or sister fallen, you dare not stop to look or help, for you could be hit by a bomb or bullet. After they had gone and calm had returned, I found that my father, mother and two sisters, including my own twin sister, who was pregnant, had been killed. It was a most horrific day for me. In fact, I could only recognise my mother by the ring on her nose. She was badly burnt and blown to pieces.
“Most painful was the fact that my sister was pregnant and about to put to bed. In our tradition, when you are newly married and pregnant with your first child, you are taken back to your parents when your delivery date is approaching. This is so that you are delivered of the baby under their watch and they are able to take care of you. That was why she was back at their place and was caught up in the attack. I was away at my husband’s place in Konge; otherwise, I might have been a victim too.
“As we speak, I don’t know the whereabouts of my only brother. My mother had two set of twins. He is the twin to my other sister that died during the bombing. I have looked everywhere for him. Some people said they spotted him in Katsina. Whether it is true or not, I do not know. When I tried to look for him there, they told me he was no more there. I have one cousin aunty; I asked her if she has seen him, she said ‘no.’ So as I speak, I cannot exactly say whether he is alive or dead.”
But had the Boko Haram people always attacked their community?
“The way the whole thing even started still baffles me. When I was young, we didn’t have anything like it; but suddenly, everything just changed. They would just come and be attacking and killing innocent people in our villages. And usually, they would leave many dead in their trail. It was so bad that even soldiers run away from them. We also have soldiers who join up with them. Some have hands in Boko Haram and conspire with them. Sometimes, they even give them their uniform and guns in exchange for money. So sometimes, you can’t even differentiate between real soldiers and Boko Haram.”
As the conversation progressed and her confidence grew, it became apparent that the mother of two, who though claimed not to have gone to school, spoke passable English. Even though it wasn’t perfect, she communicated quite well and even managed to string accurate sentences together. As a matter of fact, rarely did she speak a sentence of Pidgin English, causing this reporter to inquire further about her background. Her response:
“Actually, I never went to school until after I got married and had my first child, Sadiq. He is three years old now. Before then, I only went to Islamic School; but after I got married and started seeing some young girls going to school; I also joined them. Actually, it was just a lesson; but I learnt a bit before the attack scattered us.”
“In my husband’s house, where I lived before Boko Haram people scattered everything, there were many people, co-tenants. Among them, we had Igbo; we had Yoruba, who usually communicated with us in English.
The migration to Lagos
“Aside my own parents and relatives who died in that attack; probably a hundred other people, some of whom I knew when they were alive, also died. It’s as if they are always on the lookout for where there are plenty people and they would go and throw bombs there. I don’t know the delight they get from throwing bombs and killing people who have not offended them. And usually, they don’t come during the day when people would be able to run well to safety; they come in the evening or night and scatter everywhere. When my husband, Uthman, saw how narrowly death missed us and the extent of devastation these bad people were leaving behind, he decided that we relocated to Lagos. I had no objection. Everyone that I knew to be family was nowhere to be found. They were either dead or have escaped to some far, unknown places. The good thing was that he had been coming to Lagos to work before; so it was not as if we were coming to a totally strange land.
“When we arrived Lagos, me, my husband and Sadiq, lived somewhere around Mass Burial site at Oke Afa towards Canoe Bus stop. He worked as Okada rider and we were fine until one day, when my husband went to work and never came back. That was about one and half years ago. I was pregnant with my daughter, Fatima, who is now one-year old. I called his number, he did not pick; the next time I called, it said switched off. I looked for him everywhere, no traces. I even went back to Maiduguri to look for him; everybody said they had not seen him. After weeks of fruitless search for him, I went to beg cattle trailers to take me to the North, they agreed. I sold some of my things to raise some money for the trip.”
Did they have a fight the day he left?
She answered, ‘No.’
Could he be dead?
She does not know. But from the look in her eyes, one could tell that she has not given up on him coming back.
Asked if he could have gone to join Boko Haram, she shook her head with calm confidence. “No, never. I know the man I married. It’s very painful that I can’t find him. He was the only family I had in Lagos aside my son.”
Asked to talk about her accommodation problem, which caused her to be momentary eviction; she again became taciturn. Clearly, Aisha is one with a good dose of pride, who does not want to be seen as destitute, but if there is a worse word…
“Yes, I had a bit of problem with my landlady last week, but I’ve sorted it for now. I live on the waste dump at Isolo; but because I could not pay my rent, she locked me out and said she would throw my things out, unless I paid. In all honesty, she actually tried. I had to cry out to mummy here and some other kind people around, who contributed money, N12,000 for me with which I paid her.”
That N12,000, she said, was for six months. She however confessed to hunger and constant lack of money to take care of her two kids, Sadiq and Fatimah. At the moment, she said she does menial jobs such as sweeping, mopping, washing and general laundry to raise little money to feed and pay her bills.
Her elderly friend, however, insisted that she was not telling the entire story. “Many a times, she would rush to me to complain that her children were yet to taste anything, sometimes, as late as mid-day. At other times, she would rush to me to complain about one health issue or the other and I will support her or gather people to support her and take her to the hospital. But for how long will I do that? My worry is about her welfare and that of her children; I don’t want them to grow up on that dumpsite, it is not a good place to train a child. The other day, she told me how some people came to offer her N50,000 for her child. That tells you the level of danger she is facing.
As if to corroborate her elderly friends, she spoke about how some Hausa boys pester her for sex. “Some Hausa boys come to me, but I know that all they want is sex and I’m not ready for that. As it is, my two children are my love and life.” (The Nation)