Life after Boko Haram: Mallam and Gimbiya's story

Gimbiya* was 17-years-old when she was abducted in 2015 from her village in Gwoza local government area (LGA), Nigeria by Boko Haram.

Displacement camp with people walking and sitting in the foreground.
© Carol Allen-Storey/International Alert

“I was taken away from my mother forcefully and auctioned off, like some kind of object, to Boko Haram members. I had been in captivity for almost three years in Sambisa, life was tough there. I delivered my baby there prior to when the Nigerian armed forces rescued me.”

When Gimbiya arrived at the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Maiduguri, she was happy to learn that her uncle, Mallam* (who was also her guardian after the death of her parents due to Boko Haram), had survived and that she would be reunited with him in the IDP camp.

“I was happy to see my uncle. He is practically a father figure to me.”

However, Mallam struggled to accept Gimbiya. He and other community members did not want to associate with her after she returned from captivity.

When I came back, people in the camp labelled me as a Boko Haram wife … they [did not] sit with me nor eat with me. I think they felt frightened by my existence.  There were instances where I heard some groups of women calling me names like ‘a wicked soul’. I felt bad when I was called those names, and I had no one to turn to – no one to share my experience with.

Mallam is also a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) and as a result felt a need to protect his community from threats, which included Gimbiya, in his eyes.

“I felt disappointed. I couldn’t believe that someone I had so much faith in, and hoped would take me in and support me totally turned against me and my baby,” says Gimbiya.

Feeling isolated and alone after being rejected and stigmatised by her uncle and the other community members, Gimbiya did contemplate returning to the insurgents after living in the camp for three months.

“I had made up my mind of going back to where I was rescued from. Perhaps they will accept me back – this was how much I felt hopeless until a distant relative of mine agreed to take me in.”

Mallam is influential in the community due to his role as a CJTF member, therefore International Alert invited him to participate in our project and become a community peacebuilder, committing to reduce stigma against women and girls and to work towards greater social cohesion.

During the training session, Mallam discussed his own struggle accepting his niece and that he had made a mistake. Mallam revealed how he deeply regretted his actions and he was eager to go back and reconcile with her:

This training by International Alert was an eye opener for me. I know better than to reject my own ward for something she had no control over. When she came back with a baby, all I could think of is the shame she brought to the name of our family. I couldn’t accept her. I felt she followed them on her own will. The day I was trained as an influential leader on stigma reduction and social cohesion changed my perception completely of her. I couldn’t wait to go back, reconcile and ask for her forgiveness.

Mallam is now committed and enthusiastic to enlighten as many people in his community as possible on the need to accept and support women and young girls who are victims of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).

“With the knowledge, I have received from the trainings, I have helped at least 80 of my community members understand the need to accept women and young girls who are victims of SGBV, as someone who had initially rejected my ward because she was a victim. I believe I have inspired people to be more accepting and accommodating towards them.”

As a result of this project, Mallam and Gimbiya now live together in the IDP camp. Mallam is helping Gimbiya care for her baby and he counsels and cares for both of them.

Mallam says “I want to help her recover from all the terrible experiences she encountered.”

Gimbiya says “I am very happy my uncle took me back and I have forgiven him for everything he did to me.”

*Names changed to protect identity.

About the project

Reducing stigma against those affected by Boko Haram was a project in Borno state, northeastern Nigeria 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.

Donors

International Alert is grateful for the kind support of our donors.