In Nigeria and across the Lake Chad Basin, conflict has plunged millions into hunger.
Kadija is only 18, but already she’s the mother of a baby girl—a baby for whom she feels deeply despite the stigma that follows the pair.
“I am her mother. I felt her pain and I won’t abandon her,” says Kadija, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. She is one of many Nigerians forced to marry members of the group known as Boko Haram. Her daughter is the product of that marriage.
In the seven years since violent conflict involving Boko Haram first started, women and girls have suffered particular horrors. More than 2,000 of them have been abducted. Rape has become a hallmark of the crisis—a weapon of war that has left thousands of women pregnant and shunned by their relatives and communities.
But that’s not the full scope of the violence Boko Haram has inflicted on families in the Lake Chad Basin, a region that encompasses Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Boko Haram, and the military operations that are countering the group have now forced 2.6 million people from their homes, sparking a hunger crisis that has plunged people living in pockets of northeastern Nigeria into famine conditions. Leaving behind their homes, their work, their fields, and their animals, millions of people are unable to grow or buy the food they need, nor can they easily get access to humanitarian aid.
Along with those who have been displaced, an additional 2.2 million people—more than half of whom are children—are thought to be trapped in areas under the control of Boko Haram.
Kadija remembers all too well the fear and misery of that reality.
In the bush
“They came on a Monday,” recalls Kadija. “They raided the town and they arrested us. . . . After a month they forcibly married us.” Though she never witnessed anyone being killed, she saw people being tortured and their property destroyed, she says.
Twice she tried to escape and head to Maiduguri, the largest city in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state where internally displaced people have fled and where her parents were. But each time, members of Boko Haram caught her and the others she was with.
“For two months we were with them in their homes as married couples and then they took us to the bush,” says Kadija. “We spent a year.”
She describes simple tents, like rooms, that were built under the trees and then being crowded together in a large hut. She estimates there were about 2,000 other girls also in the bush.
“It was in the bush I got pregnant and gave birth,” says Kadija, recalling how hard it was to survive especially as there was no food. Two weeks after her baby was born, she pressured her husband to divorce her. And when the baby was a month old and Kadija was confident her daughter was strong enough to escape, she left.
‘We have been dehumanized’
Quickly, Kadija made her way to her grandmother’s home in Shuwari where she told the older woman about everything that had happened. Her grandmother helped her move to Bama, a large town in Borno, where Kadija recounted her tale to the military—only to suffer further when they detained her.
“They kept torturing us,” she says. “They tied us down. We have been dehumanized. They called us the wives of insurgents.”
Eventually, the military released Kadija, and she settled first in a camp for displaced people in Bama. But her torment didn’t end. When members of a vigilante group returned her to her parents, her father rejected her. Her mother, however, took a brave stand.
“When my father rejected me, my mother felt there was no need for her to stay in my father’s house,” says Kadija. “She moved out and she worked for us to get into Dalori IDP camp where we presently live.”
The power of truth
Still, the taunting about having been married to a Boko Haram member continues, says Kadija, who can’t shake the trauma of all that she has been through. And she is not at all sure what will happen when the government recovers the rest of Bama Local Government Area from Boko Haram and closes the camps like the one she is now in.
But she has dreams—for both herself and her infant daughter, for whom she would like to provide an education.
“I wanted to go to school, get employed to work,” says Kadija. “Even now, if I have a chance, I would go back to school.”
And of this she is certain: her daughter will know the truth.
“When she grows up, I will tell her exactly what happened and how I think of the Boko Haram fighters.”
What is Oxfam doing?
In Nigeria, we are working in three states—Adamawa, Borno, and Gombe—providing people with emergency food support, clean water, and better sanitation services. We have also set up community protection groups for women to give them information about access to support facilities if they have suffered from sexual violence and exploitation. We are also distributing cooking equipment as well as providing seeds and tools to help farmers and traders.
We are also responding to needs in Niger and Chad.
Our aim is to reach about 1.5 million people by the end of December, 2017.
Donate now to help us meet their most critical needs.