At sundown in Nigeria, children are playing a game called egalagala.
The children play near their home. As they play, their mother looks sad. Their two older brothers, Abuna and Dunoma, are missing. They were arrested in 2013 by Nigerian soldiers.
The woman asked to be called Bintu because she fears being harmed by Nigerian security agents. She told VOA, "One night, soldiers came around 3 a.m., hitting our door and asking, ‘Where are the boys? Where are the boys? Bring out your sons.’"
Bintu says soldiers had gone throughout the neighborhood that night, arresting teenage boys. She and the other mothers whose sons were taken followed the soldiers’ vehicle.
"They took them (the boys) to a place and they told the children to lie face down in the ground and they were beating them," she said.
Abuna and Dunoma were high school students when they were arrested.
Bintu’s story is not unusual.
Amnesty International has documented thousands of cases of what it calls forced disappearances. That is the term it uses for people held in secret detention centers without facing charges or being put on trial.
The Nigerian military has repeatedly denied cases of forced disappearance. It began trials last year of more than 2,300 suspected Boko Haram militants. But those trials have been kept in secret.
Recently, Human Rights Watch raised concern about the fairness of the trials.
Hamsatu Allamin, a local activist, decided to find a way to give a voice to the women who have been separated from their sons and husbands. She decided to create a kind of network or organization; one for wives, and the other for mothers.
More than 1,300 people are now active with Allamin’s group. Most live in camps for people displaced within the country.
Allamin’s goal is to get Nigerian officials to tell these women where their loved ones are, so she has equipped them with tools to speak out.
Descriptions of loss
Last year, Allamin helped the women release a campaign video that was shared on social media. In the video, some of the women explain how their husbands or sons were arrested.
Earlier this year, the women wrote an open letter to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. They asked for him to help with the cases of 1,269 detained loved ones.
But Justice Wakil Alkali Gana said the detainees may not be as innocent as the women say they are.
He told VOA, "People will always say that…they’re innocent, that they’re rights are being abused…When you go through it, you’ll see. They have reasons to be brought here.”
The judge works at the High Court in Maiduguri where hundreds of Boko Haram-related cased have been tried.
One day, something surprising happened at one of the largest camps in the Maiduguri area.
A young man in his early 20s walked up to a woman sitting in the entrance to a shelter. As soon as she saw him, she recognized he was her son.
The man told her that he had been released from a nearby military camp. Years ago, he and his father were arrested because Nigerian officials thought they were Boko Haram members. The young man said he was released, but his father is still in detention.
The woman who wants to be called Bintu still has important documents belonging to her sons Abuna and Dunoma. There are birth records, old homework and report cards from school and health records.
A few years ago, someone told her that her boys were dead. But with these documents, she will keep them alive, waiting for the government to tell her where they are.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Chika Oduah wrote this story for VOANews. Phil Dierking adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
a.m. – abbreviation for the Latin term ante meridiem, which means before 12 noon.
network – n. a group of people