Life after Boko Haram: Bako and Kulu's story

In a culture where stigma around sexual violence runs deep and cultural norms preclude sexual encounters outside of marriage, fathers often struggle to accept their daughters after sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) has occurred. This is further complicated when that violation comes at the hands of violent extremists.

A girl walks on a dirt road
© Carol Allen-Storey/International Alert

Bako* was no different. He is a 62-year-old bulama, or traditional village head, from Gwoza local government area (LGA) in Nigeria who fled his village when Boko Haram appeared over three years ago. Bako was separated from his two daughters during this time.

“Two of my daughters are victims of SGBV and my perception towards them was negative.”

Kulu*, one of Bako’s daughters, was rescued and arrived to the same internally displaced persons (IDP) camp that he has been residing. Although elated, Bako struggled to accept, love and trust her again.

When my daughter returned, I couldn’t control my frustration, thus I sent her away. I may have [forgiven and accepted her] perhaps, if she returned without a baby. How can I accommodate her after all the years she has spent with those people who have committed massive atrocities against us?

Kulu, happy to be released and return to her father, was deeply hurt by his rejection.

“When I came back, my father couldn’t even look at me, he sent me away, [and] that was very hurtful … This is someone that took care of me right when I was a baby, and for him to reject me at the very time I needed him the most, very much shattered me.”

Kulu said “I actually planned to abort the pregnancy when I first arrived at the camp due to the stigma that comes along with it but I believe destiny had other plans for my baby. I changed my mind. I am glad she’s here with me.”

Kulu was brought to a sensitisation workshop in the IDP camp and was identified as a candidate for family workshops by International Alert Nigeria programme facilitators. Bako was also invited to participate in this workshop with his daughter and her baby. As a result of the workshop, Bako tells us:

The family peer to peer helped me realise how wrong I was. What I failed to understand is that, everything that happened was against her own will and it was those influential leaders, trained by International Alert, who made me understand that. I have now accepted my first daughter, and hopefully when my other daughter returns I won’t repeat the same mistake of rejection.

Kulu now lives with her father – and tell us:

“I was extremely happy the day my father called me back and accepted me into our home, that was when I got the peace of mind that was missing. Thanks to International Alert.”

Bako had this to say:

“From now onwards, I will care for my daughter and grandchild’s needs. I now strongly see that the child is perhaps a blessing to us, she should be able to grow up and feel loved equally among her peers.”

About the project

Reducing stigma against those affected by Boko Haram was a project in Borno state, northeastern Nigeria to help to address the stigma and negative perceptions associated with women and girls who have escaped Boko Haram, as well as children born out of sexual violence.

Addressing the obstacles to women and children’s reintegration is critical for their survival and long-term peace in the country. We hoped to improve understanding of the challenges faced by women and children returning home by holding community workshops in internally displaced peoples camps and broadcasting radio programmes on stigma and sexual violence.

This pilot project was able to demonstrate positive attitudinal and behavioural changes within the community and as a result, has been extended in geographic scope, donor funds and partnerships since 2016.

*Names changed to protect identity.


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