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Unusual candour: Story of Fati, ex-Boko Haram captive

By Samuel Alonge

In the circles of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), little Fati, 14, a one-time Boko Haram suicide bomber, is queen. She is now in the global body’s hall of fame for her gallantry, having once willingly submitted her bomb to soldiers in a Borno border community. She offered not to die and take the lives of others.

Fati’s story, the UNICEF enthused in a recent publication, mirrors that of others, who have been caught up in the calculated and repeated use of children, especially girls, as ‘human bombs’ in northeast Nigeria, over the last few years.

“In 2017, 146 children (mainly girls) were used as human bombs. In the first six months of 2018, 43 children were also used in this way.”

The UNICEF quoted young Fati, as recalling her heroic ordeal with Boko Haram after her capture thus: “We were told that we had a bigger calling and that we were going to save mankind. They asked us if we wanted to go to heaven. We all said ‘yes’.

“From then on, life changed for us. We were given two or three meals a day, better living conditions and asked to recite prayers throughout the day. One morning, ‘a soldier’ walked into our hut and gave us brand new vests to wear under the clothes.

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“He told us to approach a military checkpoint and press a white button that he promised would ‘send us to heaven’.”

The UNICEF recalled further that Fati did not understand the connection between the vest, the button and God.

“She decided not to push the button and watched, as her two friends detonated themselves at the military checkpoint, killing selves and two soldiers.

“She raised her hands and told the soldiers she also had a bomb, but did not want to detonate it. The soldiers helped her remove it and took her to a military detention facility.

“Fati’s case is not unusual. The conflict in northeast Nigeria has seen non-state armed groups regularly use children, as suicide bombers.

Narrating how Fati got abducted, in 2015, the UNICEF stated that she was shopping for dinner at a market with her mother. But that afternoon, her life took a tragic turn, as an armed group attacked the market, abducting all the girls and killing most of the men.

“I was so scared. I had heard about these attacks but I never thought it would happen to me. I thought I was going to die,” it quoted Fati as saying.

Fati and the other girls were taken to the Sambisa Forest where the Boko Haram faction is believed to be based. There, she joined the many other girls, who had been abducted in raids by the group.

On life for Fati inside the Boko Haram dungeon, food, UNICEF said, was minimal. “The girls ate just one meal of instant noodles a day. They were locked in a mud hut and only allowed out to use the bathroom.

“One morning, they were asked to bathe, and then to line up. A group of men came and chose wives.

“I refused. I did not want to be married; definitely not to a man I did not know,” Fati told them.

Fati was flogged 100 times for her refusal, and dumped in a room with 20 or so others, who had also refused to be married.

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The men eventually returned and told her she was to be married, but again she refused, along with two other girls. The three girls were flogged again and thrown back into the hut.

Later, the girls were approached for a different reason; they were to become suicide bombers.

Meanwhile, the UNICEF claimed that having eventually rehabilitated Fati, it had reunited her with her family members.

In addition to family tracing, UNICEF, with the support of the European Union (EU) and Governments of Germany, Sweden, France, Norway and Switzerland, is supporting the reintegration of survivors of insurgency, by helping to return them to their communities.

It is also offering psycho-social support, education, and providing opportunities to improve their livelihoods through vocational training and informal apprenticeships.