- Young IDPs in Nigeria are sexually assaulted by officials as a condition to receive food and medical supplies.
Young Aisha* has had more than her fair share of misfortunes. She was only six years old when the Boko Haram terror group levied war on the secular society in Nigeria. The ensuing carnage and bloodbath has taken the lives of over 30,000 people.
Originally from Goniri, a town in Yobe State, she was forced to move to Bama, about 60 kilometres southeast of Maiduguri in neighbouring Borno State. In September 2014, the insurgents laid siege on Bama and seized control from the army. Many soldiers and residents fled on foot. But others like Aisha were tired of running.
For six months, the town was in the hands of the terror group as an Islamic Caliphate. “Those in captivity are under serious trauma, starvation, in distress with serious degrees of injuries,” one resident reported in the early days of the occupation.
Despite her age, Aisha was married to a Boko Haram fighter called Mustafa. When the city was recaptured by the army in March 2015, she initially fled with her husband, brother, and sister, and they all hid in the forest camp. She then returned with her siblings to Bama where they were locked up and interrogated before they were taken to a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). At the camp, they waited endlessly for food tickets but did not get any. They realised, after a few months, that there was only one way to survive: submitting to the sexual advances of camp officials.
“Since we did not have money to bribe, we were told to use what we have which is as good as money,” she narrated in Kanuri.
At night, a male camp official picked up young girls like Aisha who returned from the bush surrounding Bama and took them to tents occupied by soldiers and other security officials. This was usually at a roadblock in Tango. The next morning, they were given N1500 and returned to the IDP camp.
“I did not hear about it; it was done to me and at least two others that I know,” she thought she had to emphasise. “There is no way to cater to yourself here without surrendering to the sexual assaults of officials.”
Aisha is 17 now but was about four years younger when she first experienced these sexual assaults. Her age was a major source of her torment. The demons of sexual assaults in the camp were always attracted and therefore feasted on her like flies would feast on faeces.
It happened to her while she lived among the Boko Haram terrorists and persisted in the IDP camp. She recalls sleeping with over 20 soldiers as well as camp officials. Worse still, most of the sexual assaults were without protection. In her words, she always endured the trauma of “feeling the water (semen) coming out of the men”.
Frustrated, she eventually left the camp to find shelter in the town of Bama but was met with hostility. The residents labelled her and her friend “Boko Haram women,” a tag that accompanied her like a shadow everywhere she went. She was sent out of the rented house.
She was forced to return to the Dalori IDP camp, located in one of the neighborhoods close to Maiduguri. There too, she could not get food tickets. Her name was not registered and she had to resort again to trading her body for basic needs. But officials threw her out of the camp because she and her friends were seen as strangers from Bama.
When she left Dalori for Bama, she discovered her female friends had moved to Maiduguri. So, she joined them, moving in with Fatima,* whom she had made friends with since her first days at the Bama camp.
In her current location she still faces strong distrust from locals, but her resilience keeps her going. She is thankful that she could afford soap to wash her clothes, opportunities to be productive and, most importantly, a sense of control over her body.
Nigeria’s laws criminalise sex with minors. Enforcing the law however is like drawing water from the rock. Both the Criminal Code, which applies to the southern region, and the Penal Code, applicable in the north, outlaw sex with anyone below the age of 18 and stipulate punishment ranging from 14 years in prison or life imprisonment.
The Criminal Code and the Child Rights Act further state that it does not matter if the offender believed the child to be older or that “the girl was taken with her own consent or at her own suggestion.”
Attempts to get reactions from the Nigerian Army and Borno State government were not successful. Col. Sagir Musa, Director of Nigerian Army Public Relations, asked to be called back when HumAngle reached out to him on Thursday, September 17; but did not answer multiple calls since placed to his number. He also did not reply to texts sent in the period.
Calls to phone numbers belonging to Isa Gusau, spokesman to the Borno State governor, did not scale through, and he neither acknowledged nor replied texts and an email sent to his personal address.
Older IDPs as pimps
According to the Displacement Tracking Matrix released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in June 2018, 54 per cent of IDPs in Nigeria are estimated to be female and as much as 56 per cent are below the age of 18. Another 37 per cent are between the ages of 18 and 59. But the fact that children constitute the vast majority of the displaced people has not given them special protection from exploitation.
Camp officials are not the only ones who sexually take advantage of displaced underage girls. The practise is also common among female IDPs who themselves are too old to trigger the fancy of male camp officials. Some of these older women engage in pimping the underage ones.
From interviews with multiple IDPs, HumAngle understands that the older women, known locally as magajiyas, offer up either their daughters or orphaned girls staying with them for the sex trade. The girls then return bearing foodstuff, money, and other supplies from which they benefit.
The IDPs who are separated from their parents in the process of fleeing from crossfire have no choice but to seek guardians in the camps. Others are separated from their husbands by the military who detain the men on grounds that they were being investigated.
Female IDPs are vulnerable not only in camps but across host communities in the Northeast as there are reports of abuse by people providing them with shelter in the towns. The ring of abusers draws up people with criminal cravings for underage girls, to those who have strong sexual appetites for older women as well as others with a homosexual orientation.
Most of the women who spoke with HumAngle said their first rape experience was at the point of interrogation by soldiers after they had just fled from their communities. The soldiers develop a body search protocol in which they compel the women to completely undress under their gaze.
In the course of this body search protocol several personal valuables are never returned to the owners. The younger ones among them are marked out by the soldiers for severe sexual bondage thereafter. The absurdity has been internalised among these women as an unavoidable reality of life.
“At the IDP camps, what we have is not a growing case of rape but a growing case of consent and less and less sex without consent,” one of the women said. “It has become normal. If you are a lady, you cooperate and get what you want much more easily.”
The IDPs who escaped the interrogation with some money pay to get basic relief such as bed space, blankets, foodstuff, drugs and so on, donated in the first instance by local and international organisations.
Those without cash are forced to surrender themselves for sexual gratification. HumAngle learnt that some of the men who eventually regained their freedom from military detention centres returned to find that their wives had been variously impregnated by camp officials.
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