“I told my baby, ‘If you were alive I would never leave you. I have no choice, please forgive me’.” Those were the chilling words of Amina (not real name), to her 28-dayold son, who allegedly died in her hands, minutes before she fled through the vast Sambisa forest, in a desperate bid to escape the outlawed terror group, Boko Haram.
Recounting her experience, Amina, aged 20, told an online news portal, Mirror.co.uk, that the memory of her tiny baby’s body lying lifeless in the dust at the base of a tree in Sambisa Forest tortured her intermittently having been held captive for five years by the group.
But with her baby just 28 days old and very sick, it was too late for him (the baby) to survive the harsh environment in Sambisa forest as he took his final breath in her mother’s arms.
“I couldn’t hold down the tears as I saw my child lifeless and about to be abandoned,” Amina, who explained, recalling with nostalgia that she was snatched away from her parents at the age of 15.
Irked by this development, Amina resolved not to go back to her demented captors; since she did not know what lay ahead.
Speaking further, Amina said she, “left him under that tree, hoping on some irrational level it would protect him. His remains are probably still there.”
For obvious reasons, it was gathered that Amina’s case draws references to the myriad of other young girls, who by virtue of similar situations, also found themselves in such peculiar state as only a mother truly terrified and desperate could do such to her baby.
“I was forced into marriage three times, and had a child with each husband,” she tells me, when we meet in Muna refugee camp in Maiduguri, the region’s capital.
When I sit next to her it has only been five weeks since her escape. Fiddling nervously with her hands, Amina explained that she was visiting her elder sister in her home town of Baga in Borno State when a car stopped and 10 Boko Haram fighters jumped out.
“They were purposefully hunting for girls to kidnap,” she explains. When she protested, they beat her to a state of unconsciousness.
When she opened her eyes, she was in the Sambisa forest, an area three times the size of Wales, as she said: “I found myself in a mist of 200 women.”
Recalling further, she said at least one of the girls was a Chibok schoolgirl as they became friends. She is, to her knowledge, still there.
“She was also forced into marriage and has a child. She is very unhappy, her husband has two other wives senior to her and they don’t give her food. She is hungry, and he beats her,” she said. Amina was immediately forced into marriage with a 40-year-old Boko Haram brute.
“They put a gun to my head. There were women who had refused. But they were tied up and raped,” she said.Inline image Her husband was vicious.
“He dislocated my arm,” she recalls. She was of course, raped repeatedly. Within a couple of months, she was pregnant. Just four days after the birth of her son, now four, her husband went with the terror group to attack a village and was killed. Amina, who said she was forced to marry again, said: “The second man was 50, he would beat me too.
When I refused sex, he locked me up.” The sexual assault on her resulted into another pregnancy. And yet again, seven months into her pregnancy, this man was killed in a village attack. She gave birth to a little girl, now three, and with little time to recover was again forced to marry, to a man in his late forties.
“Almost immediately, I was pregnant again.” Traumatised, the only time Amina smiled was when she speaks of her children. She explains although their fathers were evil, she had never struggled to love them as she stated: “They are all I have.
It does not matter.” It was perhaps this fearsome love which gave her the courage to flee. Her chance came when her husband got into a fight with another terrorist, while the community was distracted and eventually she grabbed the kids, ran for five days and was drinking from puddles all through.
She believed her baby died of starvation as she had no breast milk to give. Finally last month, she reached a roadside in Maiduguri and begged strangers who offered to help.
But the case of Amina and her child remains a touchy one considering the fact that prior to her escape, the Nigerian Army on December 20, 2016, made an incredible breakthrough against Boko Haram, rescuing 1,880 women and children held by them in the Sambisa Forest, and arresting 504 men.
Though her grief is overwhelming; the emotional scars remains a lifelong as Amina said she was yet to begin the counselling offered by aid agencies like UNICEF, despite revealing that tests showed that she is HIV positive.
Most of the time, according to reports, she still looks numb as she tries to hold her slim body still, perhaps due to the self-training which she got over the years of abuse to try to be invisible. There is no expression on her young face.
This is because her body begins to shudder with gutteral, primal, sobs once she talks about her baby. Thankfully, her parents have survived and are also there, along with her sisters, her sisters though happy, are more wary.
“They insult my children,” she says, sadly. While expressing shock over the kidnap of 276 schoolgirls from their boarding school in Chibok in April 2014, UNICEF child protection worker, Labaran Babangida, said the youngest escaped captive he has met is just 10.
“She was repeatedly raped and because she is very small she now cannot control her bladder,” he says.
“We cannot find her family.” Another girl, Aisha, who I meet in Maiduguri’s Dalorie refugee camp, was 13 when she was snatched.
Now safe, she is 15, with a seven-month-old baby, Fatima, on her knee – her captor’s child. “He forcibly used me,” she says, embarrassed.
“I was confused, I didn’t know what was right.” These girls, especially the young ones, are regularly used by Boko Haram as suicide bombers, too. Just two days after we leave Maiduguri, two girls believed to be seven or eight detonate bombs in the town’s market killing themselves, one other, and injuring 18.
On the part of Amina, she was never forced to do this as she claimed that said she knew those girls who were. “One told me she had been told to carry a bomb to a market,” Amina recalls. “I told her ‘Run away, think of the elderly, the children you would kill.
And she did.” However, Saturday Telegraph learnt that 30 girls like Amina have arrived the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in the past two weeks.
Interestingly, the camp holds over 40,000, is one of 18 in the town, and over 40 across the region with over two million persons already displaced by the terror group.
For many Boko Haram captives, reunion is difficult. Families are suspicious of the girls, they see them as tainted, their children as evil.
They also fear they are on a mission to detonate bombs for the terrorists. Commenting also, the Chief Child Protection Officer for UNICEF, Rachel Harvey, said the girls often suffer PTSD. She said UNICEF educates hostile communities too, stressing that: “People believe the babies of Boko Haram could grow up to become a threat. I have heard of babies being killed.”
According to her, Amina is a woman crushed – but not quite, I think, broken. She said Amina is “stubborn” but confessed that: “I don’t want to marry again, I want to be alone and with my children.”