A former Boko Haram captive, Fatima, 18, from Geidem town, in the north-eastern Nigerian state of Yobe, has narrated her experience with Boko Haram, including how the sect sold her to a member for $70.
Speaking to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, MSF, in Nigeria, Fatima recalled that she was only 14-years-old when Boko Haram stormed her hometown.
Fatima, who was separated from her family and forced to marry, has spent the last four years living between the bush and a village in an area not under Government control.
Fatima arrived in Pulka in May and now stay in a camp for Internally Displaced Persons, along with her three-year-old son, Mustafa, and 18-month-old daughter, also called Fatima. The child is malnourished, and has diarrhoea and a fever.
Fatima said of her childhood: “We used to have a normal life. We lived in a small house made of clay with one room and we cooked outside. Geidem town was a nice place and I had some very good friends, like Zarha. Our family was large: my father married two women
“From my mum’s side, we were nine people, and from the other side there were seven. Several of my siblings died from disease before I was born.
“My parents were farmers, they cultivated grain and I helped on the farm. I also sold vegetables in the local market. I wanted to go to school because I dreamed of becoming a doctor.
“My aspiration was to help others, but after my father died, my mum asked me to help. I had no other choice but to quit school. Being with my family gave me joy. I have very fond memories of my childhood.”
Narrating the Boko Haram invasion, she recounted that the attack occurred on a Sunday afternoon in 2014.
Her words: “I had gone to the market when I saw people running around everywhere. A person next to me said, ‘Boko Haram has come to attack Geidem.’ I ran back home. Many young people dressed in jumpers, shirts and military gear took over the town for two days, requesting others to join them.
“They went from house to house, looking for young girls. They were carrying weapons and my mum was scared. They picked me and I was married off to one of them, in exchange of a dowry of 25,000 Nigerian Naira (around 70 USD).
“I can’t remember how many of us were taken, but I think there were more than 50 girls aged between 12 and 20. They put us into pick-up vans and we were brought to the forest. The journey through the desert lasted three days. We would only stop to sleep at night.
Sharing her days in captivity and how she fled Pulka, Fatima said: “The first two years after I was taken, I lived deep in the forest in Sambisa [the stronghold of a non-state armed group fighting with the Nigerian army]. When we arrived, there were other women there in a house who cooked for us. I was very sad because I had just been separated from my family.
“My husband, a 30 year-old man, was a trader in the bush and managed a shop selling cooking oil, vegetables. For a long time, there were no military operations nearby. Some people carried arms, others did not.
“I delivered my first child, Mustafa, at home, even though there was a clinic that provided some basic services nearby. In the clinic, there were drugs and they even admitted patients. I visited the clinic when I was sick during my pregnancy.
“One day, after two years, my husband decided that we should leave and we went to a village outside of the forest. It took us 24 hours to reach from the bush. The village was bigger, with a market and a hospital. But things got more difficult as we didn’t have food, unlike when we were in the forest.
“I have always missed my family, but one day I felt it was time to try and go back to find them. I had seen people leaving successfully. I left in the evening and arrived in Pulka after three days. Some people had explained to me how to leave, so I knew I could do it.
“I was scared of being killed on the way, either by Boko Haram or the military. I met some soldiers along the road and they took me to the town. Since then, I have been staying in the transit centre [where people wait in communal shelters before being given a family tent].
“I didn’t know anyone and during those first few days it was very difficult. Then I came to the MSF hospital and it started to get better. The biggest challenge is not having enough food.
“We are sleeping in a school run by UNICEF, so we have to leave every morning. We don’t have any belongings, and no new clothes. I would like to get back to Yobe state and see my mum. I just want to start a new life.”