The story of Aisha, who voluntarily returned after her liberation to her kidnappers from Boko Haram

The story of Aisha, who voluntarily returned after her liberation to her kidnappers from Boko Haram
The story of Aisha, who voluntarily returned after her liberation to her kidnappers from Boko Haram

8 hours ago

picture released, AT Nwaubani

In our series of Letters from African Writers, journalist and novelist Adobe Tricia Nwaubani spoke to a woman about her time with Boko Haram Islamist militants in their jungle hideout in northeastern Nigeria.

In 2017, Aisha Yerima shocked her family when she voluntarily returned to Boko Haram after being rescued from captivity by the Nigerian army.

After four years with the group, Aisha, now 30, ran away and returned to her parents’ home in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

Her story began when she was kidnapped by Boko Haram when she was 21 years old, from a southeastern town of Maiduguri, and married one of the group’s leaders, whom she said had managed to woo her with romance and gifts.

Her husband had gone into battle when the army attacked their camp in the Sambisa Forest, saving Aisha and dozens of other women.

The women all underwent a year-long education program to erase the radical ideas they had been taught, but after only four months, Aisha saw that her life with Boko Haram was better and told me, “It was hard for me to make a living, and I had to rely on my parents.”

She also found it difficult to secure food for her two-year-old son, whom she bore from that commander.

“I called my husband, he was pleased with my call and we agreed that he would tell me when he would come to Maiduguri to buy some fuel and gas, to join him and come back with him,” Aisha said.

On the agreed day, Aisha left her parents’ house with her child, without telling anyone, and only taking some essentials with her.

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Some of those rescued from Boko Haram captivity are being put into counter-extremism programmes

shooting celebrations

She met her husband in a secluded place, and he gave her some money to buy new clothes. Then she met him again around 19:30 in another location, where he was waiting for her in a bus, accompanied by about 20 armed men.

“They were all heavily armed,” she said.

Then they began the long journey towards the Sambisa Forest, left the bus in a remote garage, where it was to be taken by a man hired by the armed men, and continued the rest of the journey on foot.

“When we arrived at our camp in the woods, there was a celebration,” she said. “Everyone was happy to see me again and they were shooting in the air to celebrate my return.”

Aisha immediately resumed life as the wife of a commander who was treated with respect, servants were appointed to serve her from the other captives, and there was plenty of food for her and her son.

Soon after her return, she was delighted to learn that she had become pregnant, but that her baby had died at birth.

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The army had difficulty securing Borno State, which is the same size as Sierra Leone

When she was two months pregnant with another child, her husband was killed in the battle.

The militants saw that her unborn child was entitled to a portion of his father’s wealth and so they waited until the child was born before dividing the inheritance.

Aisha explained: “They wanted to know whether the baby was a boy or a girl because the boy is entitled to double the share of the girl.”

It turned out later that the newborn was a boy, but she was devastated again by the death of the newborn at birth, and Aisha collapsed.

Forced to marry again

Her share of the inheritance allowed her to continue to live well even though her situation made others jealous.

“They started asking me why I should have fun and live alone. I didn’t want to marry anyone else but they forced me to.”

Her new husband was equally wealthy, a businessman responsible for supplying goods to Boko Haram, which necessitated regular trips to Maiduguri.

When she became pregnant with another child, Aisha was afraid of losing him too in the woods.

“I begged him to take me to Maiduguri, but he refused,” she said.

Her desire to leave became even more pressing when the army intensified its attacks, with regular bombings that forced the militants and their families to move constantly.

In addition, bitter infighting has split Boko Haram, with the two factions increasingly attacking each other.

Fearing for her life and the life of her unborn child, Aisha decided to run away.

One early August morning, Aisha set out for the forest with her son and two other wives who wanted a different life.

But they were all caught on the way and taken back to Boko Haram.

To prevent her from escaping again, Aisha’s husband and gunmen took her six-year-old son and took him to an unknown location.

Aisha said, “While they were dragging my son away, my child was holding me and shouting: Mom, please don’t leave me here.”

For several days, I asked the gunmen to take him back and tried to look for him. In the end, it became clear to her that her efforts would not achieve any result, so she decided to flee without him at any new opportunity that came to her.

Escape and empathy

A fighter who knows a secret path through the woods is ready to help her and more than a dozen other women who want to escape in exchange for money.

Aisha gave him everything she had, and the gunman drove them away from the gunmen’s base, bypassing remote towns and leaving them at a point where they could continue on their own to reach an army outpost.

“The soldiers were very kind,” Aisha said. “They praised me for my courage to run away and paid me to get a car to drive me to my parents’ house. They saw no need to accompany me.”

When she arrived in Maiduguri, she asked the driver to stop so she could call her mother to show her the way, as the city had changed so much in her absence.

New suspension bridges were built and roads were paved everywhere.

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More than two million people fled their homes during the Boko Haram insurgency, and many of them moved to Maiduguri

The whole family was waiting for her. Upon her arrival, the older brother of eight siblings ran toward the front gate, and everyone rushed toward her to give her a hug.

Aisha told me that everyone had been so kind and supportive of her since she came back, with some neighbors contributing some money for her care. But the baby she gave birth to in early October also died.

So far, Aisha has not heard about her husband who left in the forest, and she has learned from some women who have recently escaped that he has been arrested by an opposition faction of Boko Haram, and no one knows his fate.

Aisha hopes to raise funds to start a perfume and incense business to make a new life for her.

“I pray to God that my son will be saved, but I will not go back to Boko Haram as long as I live,” she said.

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