They killed one last month and promised to kill the other this month. They chose a date and time for the murder and kept their word. Hauwa Liman, a midwife and aid worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was killed last week at the deadline set by her abductors. “She was forced to kneel down, her hands tied, then shot at a close range.”
Boko Haram appears more faithful to their word than the Nigerian state. They shot one last month and promised to shoot this one this month. We watched and waited. They waited too and checked repeatedly their wristwatches. Exactly one month after the last death, they fulfilled the cold-blooded pledge- right here on Nigerian soil. Hauwa was shot close range, point blank. The crime was video-recorded and sent out as proof of fidelity to the word of blood. And nothing happened — has happened. Or, rather, something happened: President Muhammadu Buhari called a parent of the girl and offered explanations on why she could not be saved on the soil of her country.
Nigeria has a way of disappointing itself.
Friends and colleagues of the murdered lady were left on Twitter to mourn her. “Hauwa was full of life. She loved people. She was dynamic and sociable. She was loved. Hauwa studied hard to become a midwife while she was still young. This was her first major job after graduating…She was her mother’s closest friend. She herself was a mother of two young children…”
They went on and on sobbing online and offline as the people she died for drifted off to attend to other matters of life and greed. That girl was an aid worker who was denied aid when she needed it most. She was unfortunate to be a Nigerian.
Hauwa Liman and two other aid workers were working with internally displaced people at a health centre supported by the ICRC in Rann, Borno State when Boko Haram attacked the facility and took them on March 1, 2018. That was more than seven months ago. Three other humanitarian workers and eight soldiers were killed in the attack. Those ones remain nameless, buried and forgotten. Hauwa’s colleague, Saifura Ahmed Khorsa, who was one of the other two abducted ladies, was killed last month by the abductors.
An irony of life is seeing people who help others ending in sorrow. Aid workers have become a species of highly vulnerable and endangered people. They get abducted, raped and killed in extreme situations.
Orly Stern, a Senior Fellow with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, worked on preventing s3xual exploitation and abuse in northeastern Nigeria. In a June 2018 report, she stressed that “Boko Haram’s eight-year insurgency has led to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises with 1.7 million people displaced and 8.5 million in need of humanitarian aid.” And what has been the experience of aid workers here? Globally in 2017, there were 158 major incidents of violence against humanitarian operations in 22 countries, affecting 313 aid workers. One hundred and thirty nine of them were killed, 102 wounded, 72 kidnapped.
Nigeria’s North East is especially notorious for this. Foreign aid agencies now push Nigerians there to do their work — 80 per cent of foreign aid agency workers in the killing field called Borno and Yobe are Nigerians. They send children of fire to confront the heat of Boko Haram and its scarring hate. I do not blame them. Indeed, we have a dubious trophy to flaunt here: We are the fifth most dangerous country for humanitarians last year, according to the Aid Worker Security Database. Our country shares this horrid space with four other hopeless countries — South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Central African Republic (CAR).
Imagine forcing some kids’ mum to kneel down, with her hands tied inside a white hijab and then shoot her at a close range. That was how she was murdered. And when they fall as did Hauwa, who loses? It could be humanity, but the real brunt weighs on the loved ones they leave behind. Does anyone care again? Hauwa’s death has exposed the world and its complacency. Her employers said they could not pay to save her because they didn’t want to set any bad precedent. Patricia Danzi, ICRC Regional Director for Africa, said: “We are a humanitarian organisation, so we cannot enter into such kinds of negotiations. We always ask for unconditional release. And that’s what we did. That was the plea.”
Has it always been like that? Would it have been like that if she had been from the developed world or had been a privileged child? Where I come from, we say life has no duplicate; our world view approves paying Death if it would take money or give it cloth if that is its preferred price. All we demand from Death is not to kill. Would this lady have suffered the fate of abandonment if she had been a president’s or governor’s child? If she had been born with a silver spoon in her mouth, would she not have been in any of the United Nations agencies — at the headquarters — working on “development” issues instead of being on the field of abduction and death, attending to emergencies?
The killer-abductors said they won’t kill two others in their custody — a nurse and a schoolgirl. That school girl is the popular Leah Sharibu. Boko Haram announced those ones had been taken as slaves – and they would be so used. So, which is worse, death or slavery? How do terrorists use slaves? When Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau announced in 2014 that the Chibok girls he captured he would “sell them in the market,” we probably thought he was just being his boastful maniacal self. The ones who came back among those girls, how did they make it back? The scores of others still missing, where are they?
The Yoruba people say one’s child is dead is better than one’s child is missing. I don’t know if the Kanuri of Borno State and their Fulani neighbours have their versions of that proverb or whether they still have a morbid fear of such calamities. From their corner, they have contributed so much to national misery and pain. And afflictions there is still a going concern, probably creating billionaires from the angst and anguish of the poor. Marauders still invade villages, hunt down women and children and parcel them out as bounties. They do that and throw the criminality on our faces. The people are hopeless; the government is helpless.
In that axis, abduction is no longer a hopeful word; it has become a euphemism for finality, for eternity. The abducted are gone forever — either killed in cold blood or sold into the vast slave market of terrorism. Even some of the ones lucky to escape ultimately end up as something else. The Walk Free Foundation in its Global Slavery Index 2016 rated Nigeria as having the most enslaved people in the world — first among 167 countries. A 2017 report also detailed how hundreds of “Boko Haram s3x slaves wind up as s3x workers in Europe.”
Slavery serves to elongate the life of terrorism — slaves give birth and help increase the community of fighters. There are many of such slaves in Syria as I write. Professor Jan Kizilhan, the head of a German refugee programme — the Special Quota Project – in a report said he had gut-wrenching stories from 1,400 s3x slaves (of terrorists) he interviewed and conducted psychological tests on: “When a nine-year-old girl sat in front of me and told the story of how they [IS terrorists] observed when they executed her father and grandfather, and took her alone to the city of Mosul and later to Raqqa, and during 10 months was raped around 100 times by eight different men, you ask yourself, ‘how can this happen?’.” They are the same everywhere – in ungoverned Iraq and in Nigeria that has a government.
Calamities are better when they are far away. But wisdom tells us that God alone knows how many would get drenched by a rain that falls and won’t stop. Indeed, rains, especially disastrous rainstorms, do not fall on one roof alone. These disasters are borderless. Zanaib Hawa Bangura is the representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She was in Iraq and Syria in June 2015 and told the Cable News Network (CNN) that nothing prepared her for what she saw there.
“Women and girls I spoke with described being treated as property to be owned and traded, or else as vessels for producing children for fighters. In ISIL strongholds in Syria and Iraq, Raqqa and Mosul, women and girls are held in houses and buildings before they are inspected, selected and sold in “bazaars” where prices can be negotiated. Simply put, we have been witnessing the revival of the slave trade in the 21st century.”
Boko Haram and its branches have been very straightforward in their wickedness. Three years ago, The Telegraph of UK warned in an article by David Blair that “Nigeria’s Boko Haram isn’t just kidnapping girls: it is enslaving them.” It added that “It is time for the world to face up to a painful truth: the slave trade has re-emerged across a swathe of Africa and Nigeria’s leaders are indifferent to the women and children being sold for profit.”
Since January 2015 when that alarm bell sounded, what has changed? Who is in charge here, especially in Borno and Yobe? This Boko Haram people that say it and do exactly as they say, are they spirits? They operate in Nigeria, unseen. Where are they? And didn’t this government say Boko Haram has been defeated? How could a defeated enemy be this strong on the field of play, contesting, even holding territory?
Maybe we should leave our bumbling government for once out of this. It won’t ever plead guilty to any charge of dereliction of its duty of care to the dead and the missing. Let us discuss ourselves and the way we moved on as if it was that lady’s destiny to so die. Did we – all of us- do enough to free her and all others in captivity? How many of us, even in our pentecostal stupor, remember to put that lady’s fate on our potent altar for divine intercession and freedom? Did we ever put the abducted — all of them- in our action plans? Even after Hauwa’s execution, what did we do? We made tasteless telephone calls, signed impotent press releases and made ball-less noise on Facebook and then went limp. We then simply rolled over to grass cutting contracts, to stealing from the displaced, to 2019 politics and its expensive noise; to Godswill Akpabio and Bukola Saraki and their bickering over broken chairs and soiled seats — like spoilt school children.