Amidst the mayhem that greeted the emergence of Boko Haram terrorists in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, one woman stood out as a peacemaker and solution finder when many residents were scampering for safety or fully involved in the crisis. That woman is 64-year-old Hajiya Hamsatu Allamin, the founder of Allamin Foundation.
By sheer courage and determination, she delved into the conflict areas to rescue hapless citizens trapped in the conflict and spoke to Boko Haram fighters who took up arms against their brethren.
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How it started
“I have been an activist all my life—right from my early reproductive age and then when the Boko Haram insurgents started recruiting young men in my community. I engaged myself as a human rights defender and peacemaker,’’ she told the Daily Trust on Saturday.
She said no one was ready to venture into those areas where fighting was taking place in the metropolis.
“Everybody was running away, relocating. No reporters, no media, no NGOs, not even the local ones. That was the time I decided that I had to know who these Boko Haram boys were; understand why they were doing what they did and see if I could change the situation,” she recalled.
Hajiya Hamsatu said at the time, “the government responded militarily with the Joint Military Taskforce (JTF) which was pursuing the Boko Haram elements. They would attack the soldiers and run into their communities to hide.
“The soldiers, in retaliation, would come and set houses on fire, arrest hundreds of youths and molest the women.
“That was when I had to go into those communities and start talking to the boys,’’ she said.
“Initially, the boys were threatening me; telling me that you are also a product of Boko (western education). But gradually they understood that I was harmless, so they started calling me mama, auntie, and coming to tell me their stories.
“With the little resources I had, I supported the women and children who were trying to relocate from those communities like Kawailar, Gumari and Gangamari.’’
She said as part of her engagement with the terrorists, she started helping out by repairing water sources in the community to ease water shortage, which further won her the confidence of the boys.
“Gradually, I have to come to focus on the victims of the insurgency, creating social networks for mothers, victims of disappearances, and wives of victims of disappearances. As the counterterrorism war progressed, victims and survivors started coming back, and we created another network for survivors of Boko Haram sexual violence.
“Some girls came back with their children, and I created a social network for them. Many of them did not know the fathers of their children.’’
How we work
The Allamin Foundation founder said they now have social networks of victims of insurgency with a membership of almost 45,000 people registered who are being counseled from the psychological distress and trauma they suffered.
“We teach them skills and how to rebuild their confidence, regain their self-esteem and sometimes we give them cash support.
“We have saved a lot of women whose sons and husbands were arrested by the military who wanted to join Boko Haram to take revenge on the excesses of our security agencies, but we have saved them and made them network leaders, and we are making a lot of difference.
“Gradually, through our activities, we have really shown these women they are not alone. There are people who care for them with the strength we have given them and the platform to amplify their voices.’’
She said over time, she had noticed that even the military had changed its tactics and approach towards the insurgents. “Hitherto our relationship with the military was one of fear and apprehension. I fear them, and they are also apprehensive of people like me. But gradually, because of the things we do now, we have come closer to them and our relations are cordial.
“They want to listen, they want to understand the kinds of things we are talking about and see what difference they can make to change the narratives. Before now, many of my fellow women were saying Nigerian soldiers were worse than Boko Haram, but that perspective has now changed. We are making a lot of differences
She said the foundation has also succeeded in relocating the husbands and then the sons of its network members who were missing as a result of arbitrary arrests and detention.
“In fact, within the past one-and-a-half years, we have gotten over 3000 of them released; some of them who have been missing for the past eight to nine years have come back safely to us. Which means what we are doing is making an impact.’’
She added that many girls who were rescued from the terrorists but were rejected by their families were now being accepted into their respective communities.
“These girls, we have healed them and given them economic and even cash support. Today, many are saying they are making money from what we gave them. The other women in the camp admire us. We sent some of them back to school with the little resources we have.’’
The 64-year-old activist said her main motivation, the strength that has kept her going, is her desire to bring change in situations where nobody wants to focus on or people are running away from.
“I felt when everybody was running away or muddling the situation, I have a responsibility to see what I can do. I don’t feel discouraged when people say, “is it you alone that will bring change” or “you alone will not make a difference”. I believe if there is anything that started changing the world, it was the view of one person.
“That is why I said I wouldn’t be afraid; I have to do the little I can to make a difference in the society that I know, a society I admire, a society that brought me up and appreciated me, but is now turning back to being a society that did not appreciate excellence; does not appropriate quality. It has been allowed to get muddled. I say no, we have to change the situation, and then as I am doing it, I am seeing positive results.
She said in doing her work, she was encouraged by the support she was getting internationally. In fact, out of about seven NGOs that support me, only one of them has an office in Nigeria. They realised the value I have and offered to support the work I am doing.
Looking at the future
Hajiya Hamsatu said she is making effort to mentor young people to continue with the work she is doing.
“We have more than 13 young men and women who are all employees of this foundation. I am mentoring them. It is part of my mission that I teach young people so that when I pass away, I know at least I have brought up people who will continue this project.
“We will never relent until the people of Borno in particular, North East and Nigeria in general realize and come to terms with the situation we have on the ground so that all of us, collectively will put ourselves in the shoes of people who are victims and relations of victims and survivors and support them.
Even Boko Haram themselves are victims too; the Nigerian military are victims too. So, collectively, we have to come together to appreciate each other and then lift our society. That is what I want to see before I die.
Hajiya Hamsatu said she has received several honours from different parts of the world in recognition of her work.
“I received a prize from the Islamic Development Bank in 2018 for women’s contribution to sustainable peace. They said I was the first Nigerian to ever win that prize. And then in 2016, the World Peace International Women Peace Makers Programme at the University of San Diego, USA, selected me as an international peacemaker,” she said.
“I was there for a 10-week residency and was awarded the prize. Thereafter, I became an ambassador, and I have twice addressed the UN Security Council on behalf of NGOs and then on behalf of the Security Policy Alternative Network.