Life after Boko Haram: Sani and Fatima's story

Photo: © Carol Allen-Storey/International Alert

Sani* had a hard time accepting his wife Fatima* back after she escaped from abduction by Boko Haram, but he has now learned to trust and love her again.

In a culture where stigma around sexual violence runs deep, husbands often want to divorce their wives on their return from Boko Haram captivity.

Sani was no different. He got separated from his family and wife Fatima when Boko Haram attacked his town and blockaded the main road.

Over a year later, Fatima – emaciated by her time in captivity - turned up at the displacement camp Sani had been taken to. At first, it wasn’t a happy reunion.

“I didn’t want to re-take my wife when she first arrived. I completely rejected the idea and I had made a proposal to marry another woman.

I was deeply concerned that she had become a Boko Haram wife. She was tearful and insisted she had never been a Boko Haram wife, that she never joined their ways. I felt she was lying.

I was also worried she had been radicalised and was coming back to harm me.”

Sani was convinced to attend sessions run by International Alert’s local partner. Our aim was to encourage people affected by Boko Haram to talk about their experiences – to create greater understanding, tolerance and compassion for the suffering of returning women and girls, and help reunite husbands and wives.

In the session many of the men said that they had accepted their wives back and why shouldn’t I? The discussions helped me change my mind. Right there I decided to give Fatima all the things I had purchased for the other girl. They reinforced my instincts of how to treat people, and to embrace tolerance. I knew I was still in love with her.

“In the beginning he was very cold”, recounts Fatima. “He wasn’t keen, showed no affection and no understanding of the ordeal I had experienced.

But it was the influence of the dialogue sessions that was a wake-up call of what was true and how he still loves me.”

*Names changed to protect identity.

> Read more stories of communities affected by Boko Haram violence.
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