It is said that wonders will never end. But what you are about to read is a real case in hand of such wonders. 16-year-old Zara John, one of the hundreds of girls rescued from Boko Haram captivity by the Nigerian army, claims she is still in love with one of the Islamic militants who abducted her, and would rather be with her ‘Boko Haram husband’, almost one year after her abduction.
Zara was 14 years old when Boko Haram militants raided her village of Izge, in Northeastern Nigeria, in February 2014. They razed homes in the village, slaughtered men, and kidnapped women, girls and children into trucks. They also carried out suicide bombings on places of worship and markets.
Zara’s mother fell off one of the overloaded trucks but tried to chase after the vehicle that was ferrying away her only daughter and her four-year-old son but was unable to keep up as the truck headed 22 km (14 miles) road journey to Bita. At the time, Bita and other surrounding towns close to the Sambisa forest, were in Boko Haram control.
Her days were spent doing chores and learning the tenets of her new religion, Islam, until, two months later, she was given away in marriage to Ali, a Boko Haram commander, and moved from a shared house into his accommodation.
“As soon as we arrived, they told us that we were now their slaves.”
“After I became a commander’s wife, I had freedom. I slept anytime I wanted, I woke up anytime I wanted,” Zara recalled.
“He bought me food and clothes and gave me everything that a woman needs from a man, adding that he also gave her a mobile phone with his number plugged in and tattooed his name on her stomach to mark her as a Boko Haram wife.
Ali assured her that the fight would soon be over and they would return to his home town of Baga where he intended his new wife to join his fishing business. He told her that he had abandoned his fisherman trade and joined the militant group after his father and elder brother, both fishermen like himself, were killed by Nigerian soldiers.
By April 2014, 200 schoolgirls from Chibok in Northern Nigeria were abducted from their school. This caused outrage internationally and sparked the global campaign #Bringbackourgirls. Following the increased international scrutiny on Nigeria to rescue the 200 Chibok girls, the Nigerian Army raided Bita in March 2015. Ali was not at home when the Nigerian army stormed Bita and rescued Zara and scores of other women, taking them to a refugee camp in Yola in Northeast Nigeria, though the Chibok girls are yet to be found.
Zara and Ali stayed in touch by phone until Nigerian soldiers realized some of the girls in the camp were still in touch with their abductors, seized their phones and moved them to another camp until they were reunited with their families.
Zara was delighted to discover that she was pregnant with the militant’s child following a urine and blood test carried out by a doctor in the refugee camp to which she was taken after her rescue.
“I wanted to give birth to my child so that I can have someone to replace his father since I cannot reconnect with him again,” said Zara.
But any decision over the baby was taken out of her hands as Zara’s family, especially her uncles, (Zara lost her father in 2010 during a flooding) insisted they did not want a Boko Haram offspring in their family and made plans for an abortion, while some others felt the child should not be blamed for its father’s crimes.
Luck or fate as you may choose to see it, was on Zara as she was later allowed to keep her child, a son she named Usman who is now about seven months old.
Zara now lives with her extended family and son in a town far away from Izge, and claims “everybody in the family has embraced the child,” but Zara’s male relatives took over control of her life again, and all of her movements monitored by her family.
In her words, “If I had my way, I would retrieve the phone number he gave me,” regretting not committing his number to memory, saying she would rather be with her Boko Haram husband.
But Zara is realistic and knows the possibility of being reunited with Ali is very slim. Instead she wants to return to school when Usman stops breastfeeding and maybe then run her own business.
“I want to do a business that is suitable for a woman, something that will not take me out of the house,” she said.