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Survival tales from the victims of Boko Haram insurgency

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Boko Haram terrorists have for over 10 years launched a devastating insurgency campaign against the Nigerian State, leaving in its wake trail of deaths and destruction especially in some parts of the North East. The disruptive terror organisation and its splinter group, Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) have not only halted development and destroyed the socio-economic lives of most people, it have also led to the death of almost a million people with over three million others either missing or rendered homeless. Those who survived from the carnage, millions of whom are living in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camps across the country, sometimes in squalid conditions shared their experiences with Maureen Okpe…

A survey conducted by the United Nations International Emergency Fund (UNICEF) indicated that each year, about 262,000 babies die at birth in Nigeria, amounting to the world’s second-highest national total, with also high rate of under-5 Child mortality. These indicators are more severe in Northern Nigeria states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa where Boko Haram insurgency has disrupted a lot of developmental activities that includes but not limited to education and health of most victims.

At the peak of the insurgency, some of the victims fled from the crisis prone areas to other states in a bid to escape the deaths and destruction as well as search for a refugee as well as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camps and host communities dotted across the country.

Waru is one of such host community located in Apo, which is a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) surrounded by shops of traders as well as artisans dealing in motor parts, painting, panel beating and all other activities typical of a mechanic village in Nigeria.

Approaching the community, the IDPs which where mostly women, had gathered in a church as they had been notified prior to the visit. Sitting together but in clusters as they chat away laughing, at first glance one can never tell the ordeals they had endured in life.

The victims complained mostly of financial difficulty, poor conditions of living, lack of education and difficulty in accessing basic health care. Most of the women in this group had either had a still birth, lost a child at infant or child being killed in the course of the insurgency with some having difficulty conceiving and during pregnancy due to one form of health challenge or the other.

Ms. Mercy Danjuma one of the victims who is a nursing mother of twins (a boy and girl) narrated how she fled Gwoza in Borno State to Adamawa to stay with her sister. According to her it was a long and stressful journey as she was pregnant at the time.

“I was five months pregnant when we ran from our home to hide in the mountains, we stay there for some days, with the help of some women who were disturbed about my health as we have been in hiding without food and I was becoming so weak, I was able to join a family relocating to Adamawa to go stay with my sister.

“There in Adamawa I became ill and could not move at some point, I was admitted in hospital, the doctors said I needed blood and other things they said that I cannot remember now,” she said.

Ms. Mercy Danjuma one of the victims who fled Boko Haram insurgency in the North East Nigeria

Danjuma also narrated how she had left Adamawa to Abuja when she was stronger in order to join her husband who had earlier escaped to Abuja and engaged in farming, which she noted was lucrative enough to take care of their basic needs as he could not rent lands that will produce meaningful harvest.

She continued: “When my baby was due she was delivered looking so white and not like a normal child, the doctors prescribed some medication for us and after some days we were discharged. Five months later I discovered I was pregnant, the health of my baby had not improved but rather persisted.

“At a year and six months my first child died. One day she became seriously ill we could not take her to the hospital immediately, eventually when we did we were unable to get the complete drugs prescribed, she died two days after my new-born was barely three months I was very sad considering how we have suffered.

She hinted that her second child did not have such issues but her twins are not as healthy as she insisted this reporter feel their body temperature, which according to her is feverish. Further discussion with Danjuma showed that she would have loved to go on family planning but does not understand what to do.

“When I use to go for ante-natal, the nurses usually talk about family planning methods but my problem is I don’t know how to go about it. We use to go to Apo General Hospital where language of communication is English and not Hausa. So I am lost as to how to express myself in the hospital.

Cross section of women at waru IDP Community in Apo, Abuja. The IDPs are mostly from the three affected states of North East including Adamawa, Borno and Yobe

At a year and six months my first child died. One day she became seriously ill we could not take her to the hospital immediately, eventually when we did we were unable to get the complete drugs prescribed, she died two days after my new-born was barely three months I was very sad considering how we have suffered.

For Ms. Helen Elisha, she had first fled her village into the refuge mountain, while running she fell, even though she was pregnant she remained on the ground to avoid being hit by stray bullet. Later when all had gone back to normal she went back to school as she was then a student at the college of Education, but on the day of resumption, Boko Haram struck again. This time she was rescued by some soldiers as she was seen running with box on her head and protruding pregnancy.

“I left Gwoza then to come and stay with my husband here in Waru as he was already living here even before the insurgency. One day at eight months of my pregnancy I started spotting blood, on my way to the hospital I passed out. When I regained consciousness I was told that I had still birth, my baby had died.

“Though I cannot tell what happened, I was not sick throughout the whole time, but I still lost my baby since then I have not been pregnant again,” she lamented.

Similarly, Mr. John Ambrose, disclosed that it has not been easy as children no longer attend school due to financial problems and they always face health challenges because of the condition of living.

For Ms. Helen Elisha, she had first fled her village into the refuge mountain, while running she fell, even though she was pregnant she remained on the ground to avoid being hit by stray bullet. Later when all had gone back to normal she went back to school as she was then a student at the college of Education, but on the day of resumption, Boko Haram struck again

Ambrose said “as a family man it has been very difficult. Most times our wives and children fall sick and the complaint is mostly blood shortage amongst others, which is not far fetched as food eaten is just to manage hunger and nothing close to healthy nutrition”.

In the same vein, Ms. Esther Peter, though not married at the time she fled her home town but currently pregnant had recounted her experience in child bearing.

According to Peter: “When I had my first child he died a few days after delivery. Then I became pregnant again only to have a miscarriage after which God now blessed me with my daughter. This is now my fourth pregnancy and the pain I am experiencing is much. The doctors said my blood pressure is high and my blood level is low. For this I was asked to take much vegetable, milk and some other drugs but this is not something I can afford regularly.”

Ms. Esther Peter with her child standing beside her

She disclosed that though sometimes she feels bad about her situation but not as depressing as the way her neighbours treat her and her child.

“The thing that pains me especially is not even the children that I lost or even my condition but the way people around refer to us especially my child. As a little girl when she does anything or go into my neighbours house to play with their children you will begin to hear things like Boko Haram you are here again or Boko Haram go to your mother’s house. We have fled from Boko Haram in Borno and here we are being addressed as the Boko Haram ourselves reminding us constantly of what we have been through, it is very painful,” she said.


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