Thousands have died in the violence in Nigeria’s northeast between Boko Haram insurgents and the security forces, with no end in sight to the bloodletting.
Bombings and shootings by the Salafist group have been countered by extra-judicial murder by the army and the police, documented by local and international human rights groups. After five years of insurrection, Boko Haram now holds towns in the state of Borno; last week leader Abubaker Shekau announced a self-declared caliphate.
IRIN talked to a group of mothers and widows in Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, who have lost sons or husbands in the expanding violence.
Haja Kalu Shatima’s husband, a civil servant, was killed in 2009, in the early days of the crisis. Boko Haram ambushed the 14-seater minibus he was travelling in; only two people survived the attack. “My life has really changed, but thank God we’re still alive,” said the mother of seven.
She struggles to make ends meet with a job in local government during the day, and a petty trade business in the evening. Her children receive free education through one of the few schools still open in the state, run by a local lawyer and philanthropist.
Fatima Usman’s husband was kidnapped last year by Boko Haram from his shop. A few days later she heard he had been killed. She has no idea why he was targeted. “He was somebody who never made trouble.” Now she lives with her parents and relies on relatives to help support her and her three children.
While Shatima and Usman tried to keep their emotions in check, Maidami Abubakar is still angry at the policeman that shot dead her husband.
Her husband had left the house early to attend a naming ceremony, but was stopped by the police near a church in the Polo area of Maiduguri and accused of carrying a bomb. He was taken to the police station for questioning, and was cleared of any suspicion - “they said go”. But as he got to the gate, a detective pulled out a gun and shot him, for no apparent reason.
That was in 2009; a few months later Abubaker heard the detective had himself been killed. “That serves him right.”
Musa never came home
Adama Ali holds out the hope that her 23-year-old son Musa is still alive. He was arrested only a few days after graduating from the College of Agriculture in 2013. His name was apparently on a list following the slaying of two sons of an official in the State Security Service (SSS) living in the neighbourhood.
“Military men came into the house asking for Musa, and they arrested him along with his younger brother,” who was eventually released. But Musa never came home. Ali received word he was first held in the 212 tank battalion barracks and then transferred to an SSS facility.
“Since I haven’t been told he’s dead, I have it in mind that one day he will come back… I’m confident he’s not Boko Haram, and people in the area have also given me that assurance.”
Her husband, a civil servant, has paid bribes to security agents to try and find and secure the release of their son, “but he realized he was being deceived”.
“I am totally confused. Before I used to recite the Koran, now I can’t even concentrate… At times I just weep.”