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Beneath Mask of Normal Nigerian Life, Young Lives Scarred by Boko Haram


On most days, Amina, now 18, can be found on the street selling detergent and broth with her mother — the only one who knows her secret.

“I feel so guilty,” she said.

A year and a half ago, insurgents would come and go in Amina’s hometown in the countryside. One day they decided to take her with them, shooting her older brother and tossing his body in the bush.

They took her to a Boko Haram camp, where she was shocked by the huge number of women living there, many of them pregnant or with infants. Amina was told that she would have to marry one of the fighters, but would first accompany them on operations to help kidnap other girls. If she did not do so, she would be killed.

“On my first outing with them, I abducted three,” said Amina, whose last name, like those of others in this article, is being withheld out of concern for their safety.

Capturing other girls soon became a pattern for Amina. Fighters would enter a village with guns blazing, kill and kidnap men, and expect Amina and other girls to round up the young women. They were told to leave behind older villagers and anyone nursing babies.

Kidnapping victims were easy to find. They were often crouched in terror in their homes.

“When the girls would hear the gunshots, they’d run into their rooms and hide,” Amina said.

Insurgents would sometimes enter the homes alongside Amina to make sure she was doing her job. Sometimes she would cry as she worked, dragging sobbing and screaming girls into waiting vehicles.

On one outing, a man resisted attempts to steal his belongings and Amina watched insurgents shoot him dead.

But it is the young girl’s abduction that weighs on Amina. Wailing in the back of a Boko Haram truck, the girl told Amina that she had watched fighters kill her parents.

Amina remembers the girl being terrified, screaming that she didn’t want to have sex with fighters. She fainted more than once in the vehicle that drove her to the Boko Haram camp.

At the camp, fighters didn’t bother the girl for about three weeks. Then one evening, Amina watched as they came for her.

“There was one room at that camp, and any woman invited into that room knew what was going to happen in there,” Amina said. “While we were eating, we heard her cries, and we knew she was being raped.”

One man after another entered. It lasted three days. When it was finally over, the girl couldn’t walk. Soon she was dead.

Amina escaped from the camp soon after, flagging down a driver who took her to safety in Maiduguri.

“He told me his daughter had also been captured by Boko Haram,” she said.


Hadiza, 19, blends easily into the crowds of young women on the streets of Maiduguri, dressed in colorful dresses and head scarves. She lives with her parents, who fled their village in the countryside, and hopes to go to college to study science.

Just a year ago, she was living with the rebels. They respected her, she said, and liked the way she shouted, “God is great!” and fired her gun in the air. They called her “rugged.”

Hadiza was 17 when she was kidnapped and raped by three militants. They trained her to use a weapon, and she accompanied them on raids of villages, spraying bullets in the night and shouting to terrify residents.

“First and foremost, we scared them,” she said.

The militants respected her bravado. They called her a hero, she said. The praise was in some ways exciting, and it offered protection.

“Those who were quiet, they always wanted to rape them,” Hadiza said.

Source: NYT > World

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