LEFT TO SUFFER (III): The Woman Who Lost 14 Children For Refusing To ‘Marry’ Boko Haram Insurgents
In the third part of this series, IBRAHIM ADEYEMI tells the story of a woman who watched Boko Haram kill 14 of her children, one by one, for repeatedly refusing to sleep with insurgents — an action she reasoned would amount to betrayal of her husband’s love.
Kalo Sani, 54, is the mother of 18 children and the mourner of 14 of them. Love, after life, she says, is the only pride left for her as a human and a woman.
Not even her only two surviving toddlers.
Fourteen of her 18 children have been gruesomely murdered by Boko Haram; she isn’t sure if two more are dead or alive after they were caught in one of the many Boko Haram raids.
”Boko Haram members made a video coverage of their slaughtered bodies, they were cut into pieces and put in sacks. When they brought the video, I lay down crying and asked them to kill me too”
Meanwhile, Kalo herself, her husband Sani Adamu, 62, and their two surviving toddlers Habiba, 4 and Zahra, 6, are now displaced. They dwell in a temporary abode at the Bakassi camp, in Borno state.
“I love my husband so much and he loves me too. I can’t trade him for anything else and I don’t want him to die,” she says slowly, lovingly.
LOVE IN THE HOUSE OF TERROR
It is easy to curse the fate of the two faithful lovers but they see each other as the best gift from above. Even as a sexagenarian dying in the shadow of neglect at the Bakassi camp, Sani confirms the unbeatable love between him and his beloved wife.
“I had three bicycles. We had 18 children. Then Boko Haram took all what we had”
“Even in difficult times,” he says, “my wife stood by me and showed me rare love and affection. If not for her, I would have no reason to be alive today. The only reason I haven’t killed myself is her honest love for me.”
By “difficult times”, Sani is referring to the torture in Boko Haram’s den. Before the serial killers laid siege to their community in Gwoza, Borno State, everything was fine. Sani himself was well-to-do, farming and harvesting bountifully, and providing for his large family.
“They came here and stole all my farm produce with my animals and my money, over N100,000,” says Sani, slipping into a melancholic mood. “I had three bicycles. We had 18 children. Then Boko Haram took all what we had. We suffered and starved for four years under them.”
After the attack, the villagers were held at a small rebel base in Gaje, near Sambisa, the site of fierce artillery battles between the terrorists and the Nigerian army. They were subsequently all herded “like cows” to Sambisa.
In the forest, Kalo remained loyal to her husband. “Life is not worth living without my husband,” she says. “He is indeed a husband in need.”
ONE, TWO, THREE… 14 SIBLINGS KILLED
Strange as it may sound, Kalo mourned 14 of her own children for defying the marriage advances of the killer-terrorists in Sambisa. She watched as the Boko Haram demons slaughtered 14 of her children, one after the other, in just a few months of their arrival in the forest. Her husband was bludgeoned into burying them all. That was her punishment for spurning the marriage proposal of the terrorists.
But that was not enough, the lovebirds were separated for two years, after the killing of their children right before them. The separation would, however, not hinder the honest wife’s love for her husband.
“They tried to get me married to their members three times but I told them that I wasn’t stable because I had just lost my children and couldn’t find my husband. They threatened to hurt me more. I didn’t choose from any of the men they brought; I was always promising to choose the next day,” she recalls.
“We saw hell in their hands. One day, my other male children who were married came to see me at night, so some of the insurgents trying to marry me saw them and lied that my sons were vigilantes working for the government. They slaughtered them”.
“Before they were slaughtered, one of my sons did ask for a favour: he would love to do a video to send a message to me. In the video, he asked that I forgive him. Boko Haram members made a video coverage of their slaughtered bodies, they were cut into pieces and put in sacks. When they brought the video, I lay down crying and asked them to kill me too.”
But they wouldn’t kill her, they would only enslave her instead and rape her violently. One day, the embittered Kalo would find her way out of the bush where she was caged. She escaped to another bush in the forest but couldn’t find anything to eat or drink”.
“We had to come back helplessly to our former bush, into their hands. I continued working for them as a cook,” she says. “One day, the soldiers came to capture our village; we were freed. I started asking the people if they had seen an old man with a white beard. Was he dead or alive?”
‘CHASE HIM, CATCH HIM, KILL HIM’
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, Sani, the husband, was languishing alone. His children had been killed and his wife was nowhere to be found in the bush. The old man became weary and worried. He was starting to prefer death to frustration.
“I am only lucky to be alive today,” he groaned. “They once tied me with cable wires. You see, they started cutting me from here but one of their elders stopped them. I saw hell that I preferred death to life. I ran out one night praying to meet anyone who would take my life.”
One evening, when darkness had overwhelmed the brightness of the day, Sani decided to flee the forest, single-handedly, leaving other victims to carry their own crosses. But he was almost caught.
“One of them caught me fleeing, and called others but I didn’t stop. As I ran, I heard one of them say ‘chase him, catch him and kill him.’ So I sped further.
“I kept running until I met some soldiers at about 9am in the morning. I raised my hands to surrender, then the soldiers took me and fed me with bread. They brought me to Giwa Barrack, where I stayed for two years. I had nothing; I had to be clothed and fed.”
Every day after fleeing the forest was filled with fury for Sani; living without his wife, he says, was hard to survive. He then decided, one good day, to hunt for the mother of his only two surviving kids.
“When they brought me to the Bakassi IDP camp during the time Zulum was elected Governor, news reached me that my wife had escaped from captivity with two of my children. I went in search of her but didn’t find her at first,” he says.
“After searching for the third time, I found her in the Gwoza camp in kofar Sarki. I told the people there that I couldn’t stay in that camp with my wife; it was too close to the bush. I took her to Maiduguri.”
VICTORY AT LAST? NOT REALLY!
Saying that Sani, his wife and their surviving toddlers are now living a better life is an oversimplification of a complex story, say the couples when asked about their life after Boko Haram captivity.
Even as they speak in their terrifying abode at Bakassi camp, the lovebirds still feel the excruciating pains of neglect. They dwell in the camp but are not doing well; they’re not only living from hand to mouth but also in tears and fears.
“No food, no money,” the man says. “My life has been terrible. Our homes were burnt. They slaughtered my children and forced me to bury them myself”.
“I still cry very well whenever I remember what I have gone through. What can I do with my life now? I have no power. They say the government is going to empower us but I haven’t seen anything.”
MEANWHILE, SOME IDP COUPLES ARE DYING…
It is a bright Tuesday in mid-March at Delwa IDP camp in Borno, but there is no atom of brightness in Konto Alhaji Moudu’s tattered room. Apart from living in a dark, rotten room, the 60-year-old lives in another world of darkness: he is blind and can’t move out of the camp without having a prop in his distress.
“Let’s move out so we’re talking in a brighter atmosphere,” Konto tells the reporter.
But the outside is only brighter, it is not better than the inside. The roofs covering the exterior of the bamboo-made room are leaky and the walls are cracked. Awful as it may be to dwell in, it is the abode of a family of eight, headed by the blind Konto, 45-year-old Halimah, 30-year-old Konto’s younger brother Kajamu and five children: Falmata 16, Aisha 14, Mal-Moudu 12, Ali 6 and the three-year-old Maryam.
Like Sani, Konto’s travails exemplify the tragedy faced by displaced couples after being ambushed by the terrorists. Thus the cause of the calamity that befell Konto is not far-fetched: Boko Haram has ruined him and destroyed his properties. Now, he lives in another cell-like home tagged informal IDP camp in Delwa, Borno.
“They came to our home, stole my farm produce, slept with wife and…” Konto says, sobbing as he narrates his ordeal.
He hates to remember how his wife was raped. “But there is nothing I can do. She is my wife, she stood by me through thick and thin.”
The stunning side of Konto’s story is how deeply his wife expresses love for her blind husband. In a brief interview with the reporter, she vows that despite her husband’s terrible condition, her love for him “remains unshakable”.
… IN THE DARKNESS OF LOVE
When the insurgents besieged Konto’s house in Kwaram village, Damboa in Borno, he had every opportunity to escape the ambush. But he wouldn’t.
He wasn’t willing to lose his wife and children, he says. But right before him, Konto watched as his wife was gang-raped by the terrorists. “I couldn’t resist the rape because I was powerless,” he says.
The incessant attacks continued and traumatic Konto was always in sadness and tears. Tears, at its peak, faded his sight. Boko Haram’s continued attacks denied him adequate healthcare. And later when they were displaced from their homes to live in the terrible Delwa camp, Konto became totally blind. Till this moment, even as you read, he lives in the world of darkness. And nobody cares.
Konto now begs for food every day to feed his family, but it is something he isn’t happy to do. “Please help us talk to the government to help us,” he pleads.
‘YOU, NOT OUR LEADERS, ARE THE GOVERNMENT’
Sani and his wife say there isn’t any government anywhere. Things are tough for them. Their past was perilous and their present isn’t any pleasant. Yet they can’t find government help.
“You are our government — not the leaders,” Sani mutters when asked about the government’s contribution to lives. “You are the ones, not the government, that have come to check how we are doing here.”
According to the National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria, the IDPs have general and specific rights such as right to protection from displacement and right to protection and assistance during displacement. The policy also explores the rights of internally displaced children, rights of internally displaced women, rights of internally displaced persons with disabilities, rights of Internally Displaced Persons Living with HIV (PLHIV), rights of Internally Displaced Elderly Persons and the rights of IDPs during Return, Resettlement and Reintegration.
Multi-purpose Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was established by President Muhammadu Buhari on August 21, 2019, to coordinate all humanitarian affairs in Nigeria.
Findings revealed that the Minister of the Ministry, Sadiya Umar is yet to develop clear-cut plans for displaced persons in the northeast. Comments were sought from the ministry in this regard, but Halima Oyelade, Special Adviser on Media to the minister, is yet to respond to the reporter’s email, almost two months after.
Editor’s note: All photos were taken with the consent of the subjects involved. In case you missed the first and second part of this series you can read with the links below;