Rescued Boko Haram wife returns to Sambisa Forest to be with his commander husband

RESCUED Boko Haram wife Aisha Yerima has apparently left her family and returned to the Sambisa Forest to be with the terrorist sect's fighter who she was forced to marry when abducted by the militants.


Aisha, 25, was one of the many women kidnapped by Boko Haram during its reign of terror across the northeast and forced to marry a Boko Haram commander. While in captivity, her husband apparently showered her with romance, expensive gifts and Arabic love songs.


However, the fairytale life in the Sambisa Forest was suddenly cut short by the appearance of the Nigerian military in early 2016 at a time her husband had gone off to battle with other commanders. She was released and kept in a government camp for about eight months along with her other colleagues where they completed a de-radicalisation programme run by psychologist Fatima Akilu, the executive director of the Neem Foundation.


But, in May, less than five months after being released into the care of her family in Maiduguri, she returned to the forest hideout of Boko Haram. Aisha had told Dr Akilu about the number of slaves she had while in the Sambisa Forest, the respect she received from other Boko Haram commanders and the strong influence she had over her husband.


Over the past five years, Dr Akilu has worked with former Boko Haram members including some commanders, their wives and children and with hundreds of women who were rescued from captivity. She said that how women were treated when in Boko Haram captivity depended on which camp a woman was exposed to and on the commander running the camp.


Dr Akilu added: “Those who were treated better were the ones who willingly married Boko Haram members or who joined the group voluntarily and that’s not the majority. Most women did not have the same treatment.”


“There were women who for the most part had never worked, had no power, no voice in the communities and all of a sudden they were in charge of between 30 to 100 women who were now completely under their control and at their beck and call. It is difficult to know what to replace it with when you return to society because most of the women are returning to societies where they are not going to be able to wield that kind of power.”


Apart from loss of power, other reasons Dr Akilu believes could lead women to willingly return to Boko Haram include stigmatisation from a community which treats them like pariahs because of their association with the militants and tough economic conditions. She added that some of them have no livelihood support built around them.


“The kind of support you have in de-radicalisation programmes does not follow you when you leave. They often come out successful from de-radicalisation programmes but they struggle in the community and it is that struggle that often leads them to go back.


Recently, I visited Aisha’s family, who were still in shock at her departure and worried about her wellbeing. Her mother, Ashe, recalled at least seven former Boko Haram wives she knew, all friends of her daughter, who had returned to the Sambisa Forest long before her daughter did."


She added that unlike some former Boko Haram wives who are either struggling to survive harsh economic conditions or dealing with stigma, Aisha’s life seemed to be on track. She was earning money from buying and selling fabric, regularly attending social events and posting photos of herself all primped up on social media and had a string of suitors.


Bintu, Aisha's sister added: “Everything went awry when Aisha received yet another phone call from the women who had returned to the forest, informing her that her Boko Haram husband was now with a woman who had been her rival. From that day, the vivacious and gregarious Aisha became a recluse.


“She stopped going out or talking or eating and two weeks later, she left home and did not return. She took the two-year-old son fathered by the commander in the Sambisa Forest but left the older one she had with the husband she divorced before her abduction."


Apparently, no fewer than half a dozen Boko Haram wives have returned to the Sambisa Forest, many of them Aisha's friends. They are in constant touch with their rescued friends and urge them to come and join them.