AISHA Ibrahim is a young woman but she appears to have the weight of the world sitting on her shoulders. She had great plans for her life but fate had something else in store for her.
She is one of several women from the Northern part of the country who are taking an exhausting walk through life in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. They had been forced to embark on unexpected journeys southwards after being dealt cruel fates by Boko Haram terrorists back in their home states. This writer caught up with some of these women. Some of them shared their pathetic stories.
For Aisha, the nightmare which has now become her life started on a dark night in Makasara in Kachia Local Government Area of Kaduna State, a place she, her husband, father and siblings had thought would provide a safe haven for them. They had relocated to Kaduna State to escape the ceaseless strife which was making life difficult for them in Katsina State.
One day, marauders came, brandishing weapons and shooting into the air. They were unprepared for the midnight invasion of their village. The invaders left in their trail, blood and sorrow.
Houses were set ablaze, farmlands were destroyed, cattle were rustled and many villagers were killed. Among the dead were Aisha’s father and husband, Ibrahim. The village became desolate; life became difficult for the survivors, having been stripped of their livelihoods. The invaders had rustled their cattle and laid waste their farmlands. At 35, Aisha, the first of the five children of her parents, had to find a means of survival and thus began her journey to Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
In pursuit of a better life, Aisha had left her once-peaceful home alongside several other women. She boarded a truck to a destination unknown.
“It was just God that brought me here. When I left, I had no idea where I was going to. I met other women like me at the park and I joined them and here I am today,” she said.
Prior to her journey to the South West, Aisha was happily married. “I was living with my husband in Makasara in Kaduna State when bandits killed him. God had not blessed us with a child. I had to leave. I came in company with other women. I don’t have an idea how my siblings are doing. I don’t know whether they have found a way around life or if they are dead,” she said.
For Rukkaya Bello, her once peaceful nomadic life was cut short in Borno State when Boko Haram fighters invaded their settlement in Doron Baga in Baga Local Government Area of the state about three years ago. The havoc done by the terrorists had left her widowed and homeless. “I came here about a year ago. It was a year last month since I came to Ibadan,” she said.
Rukkaya narrated her ordeal and how she found her way to Ibadan. “I don’t have any children anymore. Boko Haram killed all my seven children and my husband. They rustled our cattle and abducted my daughters-in-law. I have no one left; it is just me and God. I didn’t have female children; my kids were all boys but Boko haram shot and killed them all. I was all alone and lonely, so I came here. God brought me here. After they killed our husbands and male children, they left a lot of women in the bush. We couldn’t stay in the bush without our cattle so we had to move to town.
“We were moving around with our cattle when the gunmen followed us into the bush. They killed all the men and the boys. The Boko Haram men offered them bombs and guns to attack people in another town but they refused. The Boko Haram then killed them because they would not join their cause.
“If they had accepted to be part of them, they could have been alive today but I would rather my sons are dead than living as Boko Haram terrorists. After killing our husbands and children, they said we, the mothers, could go. We headed in different directions but God brought me here. We take all that has happened as the will of God,” Rukkaya said.
Aisha and Rukkaya are among several women with similar stories begging on a bridge in the Ojoo area of Ibadan under harsh and unhealthy conditions. These women, together with their children, survive mainly on alms and food given to them by people of goodwill. “God usually sends Yoruba people to give us food, money and clothes,” Aisha said.
As a way of preserving some of the cooked food they get, these women spread the leftovers on the bridge to allow them dry after they have had enough to eat. They told Saturday Tribune that they re-cook the dry foods at home. “We understand the value of food, so in order to avoid any waste, we dry the foods here then we wash and re-cook them when we get home.”
The question of menstrual hygiene is far from routine for these women. According to Aisha, they use rags for sanitary towel. They lack other essentials to maintain a good hygiene.
“We don’t find joy in sitting by the roadside but we don’t know what else to do. If we stay at home, who will provide for us? We could not even have chosen to stay back in the North because the gunmen continued to lay siege to our homes both during the day and at night,” Indatu Abdullahi another of them said.
These women come out to beg under the sun and in the rain to ensure survival for themselves and their children. For some of them, they still shoulder the responsibilities of their children and relatives back home.
For Zainab Aliyu, she still caters for her mother and her 11 children after her husband was killed by bandits five years ago in Funtua, Katsina State.
“Two of the children are taking care of my mother who has been bedridden as a result of the injury she sustained during the attack in which my husband was murdered. Three are with my in-laws and I have the remaining six with me. So, the little money we get from begging, I send it home for them to feed as well,” Zainab said.
As harrowing as their stories are, the women expressed the hope that one day, things would get better; the government would be more responsive and they would return home and be reunited with their families.