By Maria Lozano
The specter of Boko Haram may have fallen from the headlines, but a painful echo of its reign of terror in northeastern Nigeria endures. The group mainly killed men, leaving behind countless widows and orphans in dire straits.
There are 5,000 women who lost their husbands and 15,000 children who lost their fathers who are cared for by the Diocese of Maiduguri, where Boko Haram was first founded and which was hardest hit by its merciless rampages. A delegation of international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) recently travelled to Maiduguri and spoke with some of the women.
“Boko Haram fighters came to my home early in the morning,” said Esther, speaking in the local Hausa language. She continued: “They started to loot everything; then, they took hold of my husband and told him to convert to Islam. When he refused, he was slaughtered in front of my eyes.”
Rose’s husband “was shot right in the forehead” for refusing to convert to Islam. Grief overwhelmed Agnes, 40-years-old and the mother of nine, when she recounted how she was unable to bury her beloved husband. She said, “My husband was a builder; he was working outside of a house when Boko Haram surrounded all the people and gunned them down. The terrorists didn’t allow anybody into the place to recover the bodies. No burial was possible, no funeral could be celebrated. They just left the bodies to rot there.”
These stories are but some examples of the thousands of traumatic experiences that Nigerian women in Maiduguri have endured in recent times. Kathrin, Helene, Justine, Juliette, Hanna: 5,000 women have a powerful story to tell, and although their faces appear composed, their hearts are full of pain. In order to assist these highly traumatized women, part of a $75,000 ACN grant to support the widows and orphans will go toward psychological counseling.
The widows are also trained in how to take care of their basic needs on their own, without the benefit of their husbands’ income. Most of the widows have more than six children to feed and educate. Most of them refuse to marry again because they still feel very close to their husbands. Bishop Oliver Doeme of Maiduguri has created the “St. Judith widow association,” with the purpose of tailoring aid for the particular circumstances of every individual in need. Another part of the ACN project covers school fees and the feeding of orphans and semi-orphans.
The three northeastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa lie at the center of Boko Haram activities. The Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri covers two and a half of these states. Since 2009, more than 200 churches and mission stations, numerous rectories, 25 schools, three hospitals, three convents, countless shops, homes, and business centers have been destroyed by Boko Haram. Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people, while 26 million people have suffered indirectly from the conflict, and 2.3 million children and youth have been deprived of access to education.