Nigeria: How NGO Is Transforming Lives of Women Victims of Boko Haram Insurgency

Older people often an invisible casualty in conflict with Boko Haram.

Since inception in 2011, over 400 IDPs have benefited in interventions championed by Allamin Foundation for Peace and Development.

Around 9 a.m. on a Monday in July, another batch of participants, all victims of the Boko Haram insurgency, sat for a vocational and income generation seminar on various choices of trades at the Allamin Foundation for Peace and Development.

After two hours training, the participants were asked to explain how they made caps, pasta, petroleum jelly, and hygiene kit. Then, Abba Yusuf, a staff of the foundation and moderator, would ascertain if a participant had learnt enough to start a trade to generate income and make a living if given financial support.

Outside the hall stood dozens of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who had visited the foundation for livelihood interventions. Yusuf Hassan, the gateman, is usually the first to receive such individuals. This morning, he struggled to get them to spell their details which he documented in the visitors' log book.

A knock on the gate temporarily stopped this process. An August visitor came calling. With three females and a male IDP, Buba Saleh, the chairman of Civilian Joint Task Force at the Bakassi Camp who also plays the role of a community mobiliser, walked into the premises. These IDPs, it was later learnt, had previously engaged themselves in various skills but now need financial support to start a business. This is a summary of a normal day in Allamin Foundation, located at Ring Road, close to Giwa Barrack, Old GRA, Maiduguri.

The big intervention

Since inception in 2011, over 400 IDPs have benefited in interventions championed by Allamin Foundation for Peace and Development. One of them, Amina Bulamami, traced her relationship with the foundation to 2020 when Buba Saleh heard her ordeal and brought her to the foundation for succour.

Amina, a 40-year-old mother of seven and guardian of six other orphans, has been widowed thrice. Her first marriage was shattered when her husband joined the Boko Haram sect and debarred her from her relations. He died during the first Boko Haram attack in Maiduguri in 2009.

After his death, she immediately fled back to her home town of Gwoza for safety. The insurgents traced her to Gwoza and remarried her to one of their members who also lost his life during an attack at Yola before the marriage was consummated. That was in 2011.

She later married a local government driver in 2014. This new husband was constantly threatened by the insurgents who felt Amina was still theirs. Amina lost the trace of her third husband in August that year during one of Boko Haram's attacks in Gwoza, which sent her back to Maiduguri for refuge. She recently received the news of his death after years of waiting.

Having fled to Maiduguri, Amina managed to survive by doing all sorts of manual work and trading to cater for her orphans. Her story changed for the better when she met Allamin Foundation.

"Initially, the foundation gave me and other beneficiaries N2,000 each, I used it to make the mentholated balm I learnt from the Agency for Mass Literacy. Later on, the foundation gave us N18,500 each and I used it to purchase my rightfully owned 25 litres of honey. I sell it in the neighbourhood to cater for my children who are all attending Yemi Osinbajo government free school here in Maiduguri," she said.

Now, all the 13 children in her care attend school and she is able to cater for their domestic needs, all thanks to aid from the foundation.

Founded in 2011 and officially registered under the Corporate Affairs Commission in 2017, Allamin Foundation is a Non-Governmental Organisation working in Nigeria's North-east region, which has been ravaged by insurgency since 2009. With special focus on education, gender, human rights and peace building, the foundation has helped many women affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), more than seven million people have been affected and specifically, over 1.8 million women have borne the brunt of the insurgency since 2009. In one of the famous instances, 276 Chibok schoolgirls were abducted by the terror sect in 2014. Only 130 have been rescued by the government, four fled later on their own but 112 are still missing.

The North-east Nigerian insurgency has caused the loss of many lives, especially of men, leaving their women to fend for themselves, children and sometimes extended family members

Concerned about this development, Hamsatu Allamin, then a principal at a public secondary school and North East Regional Representative of the British Council founded the Allamin Foundation for Peace and Development.

"I am a daughter of the soil, born and brought up here," she said. "I started by wanting to know who the early recruit insurgents were until the impact of the violence started affecting my fellow women," Mama, as she is fondly called, added.

She was arrested in 2013 by the military during a paper presentation on "Religion, Conflict and Boko Haram Insurgency" and taken to Giwa Barracks. Mrs Allamin was among the academicians who then converged monthly to discuss, address and enrich knowledge about issues at the Institute of Islamic Thought. A commander was signalled from Defence headquarters, Abuja, that "some Boko Haram leaders were having a meeting in a school", she said. She and the others were, however, released after their motive was learnt.

"The early group of women rescued from joining Boko Haram and other vices were the ones we first identified with leadership qualities, trained and asked them to mobilise others. We have leaders of the mothers, wives, former detainees and survivors of Boko Haram sexual violence," she said.

It has been four years since she began to respond to the financial need of these women and over those years, more than 15 batches of beneficiaries have been trained and given cash support and start-up kits by the foundation. Every day, IDPs go for training or aid at the foundation; soon most of the IDPs called it Gidan Marayu (Orphanage).

She continued, "Vulnerability among widows and orphans is very high in Borno, we had to come in and show them that somebody really cares about them rather than joining the extremist themselves."

Mrs Allamin said the foundation has, over the years, been supported by her salary and support from humanitarian organisations.

The foundation accesses widows through their database for training. More than 12,000 widows were registered through the network of Muslim Widows Association and Christian Widows Association.

A saviour foundation

Zainab Ali, a 22-year old indigene of Borno, walked into the foundation in 2018 in search of succour, having been battered by the terrorists. The traumatised woman wandered around Dalori camp helplessly, barely eating two meals a day.

Mrs Hamsatu described her as one of her dedicated children, whom she took in and has been personally sponsoring her education, medication and upkeep.

Ms Ali is now a National Diploma (ND) 2 student of Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri, studying Criminology. She was referred to the foundation with 21 other girls by Baba Musa, a community mobiliser at Dalori camp in 2018. Since then, she has been living at the foundation happily with some IDPs.

"We were taught religious messages, trauma management and cap embroidery. Right now, we are attending a tailoring session," Ms Ali said of some of the training she has received apart from study aid. "Mama wants us all to be self-reliant. This is a better place for me" she added.

She said she would like to become a pilot.

Other IDPs who spoke with this reporter agreed with Ms Ali. Fatima Bunu was in 2015 abducted by Boko Haram in Monguno town. After spending 720 days in their custody, she was finally released. She got in contact with the foundation in 2018 and has now become a leader.

"People detested us, avoided us and called us names until we met Allamin Foundation. The Foundation engages us in a series of trauma training and skills acquisition such as soap and hygiene kit making. I am now a leader who interacts and mobilises other victims," she said.

Fatima sat for the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC), a secondary school leaving certificate examination thrice but failed English Language in each attempt. The foundation is planning to enroll her in both WAEC and another school leaving examination next year.

'Worries are erased at the foundation'

At the other hall in the premises of the foundation was Mohammed Laminu, the Programme Manager, Allamin Foundation, handing over drugs, food and transport fare to misty-eyed Fanna Ali, one of the victims of insurgency currently undergoing psychosocial support.

Fanna Ali was abducted at 12-years and detained at Giwa Barracks for a year after her release. "I met my former neighbor at Bakassi camp who gave me shelter until I found a suitor. My In-laws disowned my husband because he married me. This foundation is my benefactor, they embraced me like their own flesh."

Fanna, who can neither read nor write, intends to acquire western education if she fully regains her memory.

Other interventionist stories abound. Hajja Mustapha and her son grin from their seats as their monthly package is handed over to them. Hajja Mustapha caters for her five orphans and two others from the multiple aid she gets here. She once benefited from Allamin Foundation's N35,000 and N15,000 cash support. She is now enrolled into a monthly cash support of N10,000 in addition to the routine psychosocial support.

A 40-year old widow and a former detainee, Ya Mari Bashir's arms were fractured in detention. She thanked Allamin Foundation for the legal, medical, food and cash support she was given and promised to use her drugs as prescribed.

The reality of insurgency

In recent years, the alleged indiscriminate arrest and killing of thousands of men by Nigerian soldiers have left many women and children devastated.

In 2017, a Presidential Investigation Panel to Review Compliance of the Armed Forces with Human Rights Obligations and Rules of Engagement was set up and brought to Maiduguri and then later to Abuja. At the hearing, victims testified against all alleged violations.

In that same year, the army released 1,353 detainees. More than three years now, the report has not been released by the government. Other interventions were introduced but more women cry to link up with their family members.

Mrs Allamin said financial constraint and government oversight remains the major challenges facing the organization.

"The foundation needs more financial resources to train more Hamsatus (herself), particularly among the youth, to make real interventions; shelter for women who are violated, Shelter for orphans and transform.

"The government doesn't even know what the foundation is or its activities. Nobody even cares to recognise or even understand it except the present administration of Professor Babagana Umara Zullum (Borno State governor)", Mrs Allamin said in frustration.


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