She Lost Three Children Before The War, And Then It Took All That Was Left

  • In a world where families have as many children as possible so they can stand a chance against high fatality rates, war tilts the odds to incredible extremes — as in Yagana’s case.

Yagana Mamanaye’s life was complete, and then it wasn’t. 

She had everything she wanted. A home that embraced her. A husband who loved her. Children who brought her a garden of joy. A stable source of income. But, one by one, all those pleasures got sucked out and she was left with nothing. 

First, it was the seasonal wave of malaria known to visit with force whenever it rained. A third of all malaria deaths globally are recorded in Nigeria, with an estimated 200,000 people losing their lives to the tropical disease last year. Children and people in rural areas are among the most vulnerable. People in Kumshe, Northeast Nigeria, where Yagana lived, often did not have enough money to visit hospitals or pharmacies. So, they relied on local medicine. Sick children bathed with and drank herbal solutions. But it did not always work. Some survived. Others, including three of Yagana’s children, did not. One of them was five years old; another died aged only 30 months. She would rather not mention their names as if doing so would arm the memory with blades to torment her. 

“I took some of them to the hospital, but they still died,” Yagana says, staring at the floor. She contorts her face like she is about to shed tears but nothing comes out.

She fiddles with a piece of white thread as she talks, afterwards clasping her hands and looking absentmindedly into the distance, her expression a blend of resignation and resentment. It is clear she has descended into a dark place. 

Were it not for the Boko Haram insurgency and the many ways it devastated the region, Yagana’s other three children might still be alive and her husband, 60-year-old Wakil Abba, might still be with her.

The terror group had invaded and settled in Kumshe, a community in the Bama area of Borno State. Finally, in early 2016, as the Nigerian military was set to recapture the town after launching an offensive alongside Cameroonian forces, locals saw an opportunity for escape. After nightfall, about 60 of them ran east towards the border with Cameroon, about 8km away, and then sought safety in Kulujia. 

“The Cameroonian military separated the men and said they would follow us later. At the checkpoint, one soldier fired gunshots. One man tried to run away and he shot him. The military randomly picked four men, including my husband, to go and bury the dead man.”

That was the last time she saw Wakil.


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