It was midnight when Falmata Bunu crept through the deadly Boko Haram camp in Northeast Nigeria’s Sambisa forest that had been her home for 15 months.
She walked through the deadly forest for several days before finding help. Like the other girls conscripted by the militants, she had been warned that she would be hunted down and killed if she deserted.
Falmata was just 15 years old when militants invaded her town in Dikwa in 2015, killing her relatives, setting her home ablaze, abducting hundreds of men and women, and forcing them to become terrorists.
Falmata who is currently in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Maiduguri could still vividly recall her forced marriage to three commanders of the dreaded terrorist group.
Being a teenage girl was already difficult enough, so imagine also being sexually assaulted at the age of 15 by three Boko Haram commanders who abducted her and killed her relatives. That’s the horrible reality for Falmata.
I was very young then, I was going to school before Boko Haram members stormed Monguno. At the time of the attack, I was escorting my friends to the farm when I was abducted did not know what happened to my other friends, I never heard about them since then.
“I had no option than to marry them, I had no choice, “said Falmata, as she recounted her horrific experience.
“I spent 15 months as a captive in one of the militant camps. Many women were forced to have sex with their captors under brutal, inhumane conditions. Many were in agonizing physical pain, pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and bleak conditions.
“Women who refused to marry members of the sect were humiliated and beaten while others were strapped with IEDs and sent for a suicide mission against their wish for the consequences of their action.
“Many of the children captured by the terrorist were trained to become fighters, others serve as spies, scouts, cooks, and bodyguards for the sect. Girls are also kept as sex slaves. Many of the girls at the camp became pregnant for their rapist, “said Falamata.
“Two months after my abduction, I was forcefully married to one of the militant’s top commanders. There was nothing like affection between him, and me but I have to agree because I have no choice. As a commander, sometimes he will go to war with the military and when he returns at night he will tell me the stories of the mission. After some months of being with him, he was killed. When his colleagues return, they told me he had gone to heaven to his creator. I feel sorry for him but I never cared that he died.
Two months later, another commander who took over from him, decided to pick me as his wife. I was the second wife. He said it was a sign of respect to his boss who died fighting for God.
Few months after our marriage, he died too. Then another commander inherited me. Consequently, my third husband died too. For this reason, I was told by one of the new Commanders that I will be going on a suicide mission to meet my husband in heaven. “Nobody gets in, and nobody gets out alive; that’s what our Amir always tells us.
Falmata who spent 15 months at the camp said she also witnessed many of her fellow captives murdered for no reason. That was when she decided to risk her life to escape.
“I was strapped with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), and I was told to press the button when I get to the town or any military checking point after I was reassured that when I died I am going straight to heaven but at that time going to heaven as a very tender age was not my hope. While the preparation for my mission was going on, I escaped through the back door with the help of an old woman where I quickly demobilized the IED strapped on me and abandoned the mission.
After several days of walking in the forest without food and water, I finally found myself close to a military checkpoint at Monguno where I was rescued. I was almost shot by one of the soldiers who suspected that I might be a suicide bomber. But when one of them came close and ask me some questions, he discovered that I was a victim of the insurgents. They later took me to the military detention facility in Monguno before I was moved to Maiduguri for profiling and rehabilitation.
United with Family
Reuniting with my family at the Bakkassi IDPs camp in Maiduguri after spending several months at the military detention facility was the best thing that happened to me.
Like the majority of the local population in Nigeria, Falmata and her family lived below the poverty line. They survived by receiving food interventions by the humanitarian agencies at the camp. They sleep in makeshift Shelters made of leather by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Describing life in the camp, Falmata said “life was very difficult at the beginning because fellow IDPs at the camp described rescued victims as wives of Boko Haram.
“And I also watched some of my fellow abductees rejected by their families and loved ones. But after several months, I became strong, resilient and decided to move on with life.
Meeting my family, reminded me of the old feelings such as love and empathy and my life at Dikwa before Boko Haram. We played with friends and go with my father to the farms to cultivate his crops. I also attend school; I was in JSS3 before I was forced to leave school.
Falmata, who aspires to be an activist against Gender-Based Violence has now established a tailoring business to support her parents and to be self-reliant.
“I sell relief items given to me by the humanitarian organizations to buy my “butterfly sewing machine” this is because food allocated to us won’t be enough to sustain my family. So I decided to support the family with my tailoring business.
“I sew different types of clothes for women in the camp. Sometimes other IDPs come from other camps to patronize me. And sometimes I buy materials at the market to make fashionable clothes to sell to other IDPs. Unlike the most expansive tailors in town, mine is very affordable. Tailoring was not really what I wanted to do. I want to be an activist to uplift the living standard and development of women in the North East.
Women have suffered and continue to bear the brunt of the Boko Haram conflicts. Women in this part of the world also suffer all forms of inequalities. Many are denied access to education, access to their rights when abused and access to develop their potentials.