ABUJA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Held for months by the Nigerian government and confined to a house in the capital for the foreseeable future, Amina Ali, a schoolgirl who was rescued after two years in Boko Haram captivity, may never be the girl she once was, her mother fears.
Amina, one of more than 200 girls abducted from a school in Chibok in April 2014, and her four-month-old baby were rescued in May near Damboa in the remote northeast, by soldiers working together with a civilian vigilante group.
After a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, in the hope she would shed light on the fate of the other kidnapped girls, Amina has since been held in a house in the capital Abuja for what the Nigerian government has called a “restoration process”.
But her mother, Binta Ali, who has spent the last two months in the house, is concerned about Amina’s welfare and future.
“Before she was kidnapped, she wanted to further her education,” Binta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Chibok, having briefly returned there to seek medical treatment.
“But now she is afraid of schooling, and she wants to be close to me at home,” said Binta, adding that Amina wants a sewing machine so that she can start a business making clothes.
Binta said she was also worried that her daughter was being pressured into following Islam, having been forced to convert from Christianity to Islam by Boko Haram militants during her captivity.
“Amina herself does not want to remain a Muslim,” Binta said, explaining how an Islamic teacher had visited the house several times and told her daughter to maintain her new faith.
“She did not want to see him,” Binta said, adding that the teacher had stopped visiting after she complained about him.
Garba Shehu, Buhari’s spokesman, said that Amina’s confinement in the house had nothing to do with religion.
“NO LONGER AFRAID”
Boko Haram kidnapped 219 girls from their school in Chibok, northeast Nigeria, in April 2014, as part of their seven-year-old insurgency to set up an Islamic state in the north that has killed some 15,000 people and displaced more than 2 million.
Some girls escaped in the melee but parents of those still missing accused former President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s then leader, of not doing enough to find their daughters, whose disappearance sparked a global campaign #bringbackourgirls.
Binta said she was shocked to hear about the hardships faced by her daughter as a captive of the Islamist group.
Amina and the other girls, starving and with nothing to cook with, resorted to eating an entire bag of beans and maize raw.
“I cannot imagine how a human being can eat raw maize and beans like a goat,” Binta said.
Amina also told her mother how some of the kidnapped girls had died in captivity, while others suffered broken legs or went deaf after being too close to explosions. But she pleaded with her mother not to break the news to the families in Chibok.
“Other parents have been coming to visit me since I returned,” Binta said. “But I have not told them anything, even though I know some of those whose daughters have died.”
Despite her fears over Amina’s religion and education, and uncertainty over when she will be allowed to return home, Binta said she still had reason to be positive about her daughter.
“She used to be very afraid,” Binta said, explaining how Amina would talk to herself during the night prior to her kidnap.
“But now she sleeps soundly. She is no longer afraid.”