Wives of Boko Haram Militants Struggle with Group’s Image

29 July, 2018

In a new, two-level building near low-cost housing, more than 20 women, all covered in brightly colored clothing, listen to their teacher.

He speaks to them in two languages, Hausa and Kanuri. He explains how the women can save money and use it together. He suggests they set up a cooperative – an organization owned and operated by the people who use its services.

For these women, this class is the answer to changing their lives. Some of the women are married to militants, members of Boko Haram. The group has terrorized northeastern Nigeria and nearby areas since 2009. Most of the women are widows. They are trying to provide for their children after their husbands were killed. Others say their husbands are being held by the government.

All of the women say they face stigma in their communities.

"People are afraid. Some people, because of who they think my husband was, they won't even like to help me," said Aisha Ali, a mother of eight children.

Seeking financial independence

Her husband was killed by Nigerian security forces. She wants to separate herself from Boko Haram. Like the other women, Ali knows that she needs to have business skills because some of her neighbors are too afraid to give her financial help

Ali has been coming to the Future Prowess women's skills training center to learn the art of weaving. All of her financial hopes lie in becoming an expert weaver.

"This training that I am receiving will help me and my children and, if possible, help me take them to school and end my suffering," Ali told VOA.

The Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School teaches business and artisanal skills to women, while a local nongovernmental organization operates a nearby school for some of their children.

"Some of them, their parents were killed in their presence," says Suleiman Aliyu, the head of the school. "We try to organize a trauma session for the new ones that will be enrolled plus their mothers."

The school, which receives aid from nongovernment agencies, operates on trust and keeps personal information private. Teachers do not tell anyone which students are the children of Boko Haram members.

The effects of the militant group's violence can be seen across the Borno State capital, which is where the group started.

Some schools are still being re-built following Boko Haram attacks. Thousands of people whose homes and villages were destroyed still live in camps around the city.

Since 2009, Boko Haram forces have destroyed homes, crops, bridges and other infrastructure. The World Bank and the Nigerian government estimate the group has caused about $9 billion worth of damage just in northern Nigeria.

But there is no value that can be put on the damage and trauma done to the lives of people who call the area home.

Support program for the women

Back at the training center, widows of Boko Haram members work side-by-side with widows of men who were killed by Boko Haram.

At first, getting the women to sit together was difficult. They were required to join in a support program to talk about the violence they experienced.

Kamil Issa, the administration assistant for the Future Prowess training program for women, described the discussions.

"This one is not the one that killed you, this one is not the one that killed," she said.

Hadiza Ali's husband died of a heart attack four years ago. He once belonged to Boko Haram.

Ali says she is seeing results after attending the training program.

"Even right now, I've been making bags and I sold some four bags," Hazida Ali said.

These women hope for a new start, away from a life of terror and violence, to a life of financial security and happiness.

I'm Susan Shand.

VOA's Chika Oduah reported this story. Susan Shand adapted her story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

widow – n. a woman whose husband has died or was killed

stigma n. a set of bad and often unfair beliefs that a group of people have about something

weave – v. to make cloth by connecting pieces of material

trauma – n. a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems

bag – n. a soft container that holds a woman's possessions