Boko Haram: 250 widows of slain soldiers get support in Maiduguri

The widows
The widows

A group has trained and provided business tools to 250 women in Borno State, who are mostly widows of security personnel killed in the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency.

The Borno Women Development Initiative (BOWDI), a Borno State-based non-profit organisation funded by an international NGO, North East Regional Initiative (NERI), took the responsibility for the selection and training of the fallen heroes’ widows, children and mothers.

In the course of the ongoing Boko Haram war, hundreds of soldiers and other security agents have lost their lives, leaving behind a large number of widows.

The women were selected from families of the Nigerian military, police, State Security Service (SSS), Nigeria Prisons Service as well as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF).

NERI’s programme manager in Maiduguri, Suleiman Dauda, told PREMIUM TIMES at a mini graduation ceremony of the 250 trainee widows that the exercise was the third in the phases of such interventions funded by his organisation.

Some of the beneficiaries of the training told our reporter the intervention was the first of its kind, given the intensity of the two-week long drills and the magnitude of the business tools given to each of them.

They said the intervention promised a better future for them and their semi-orphaned children.

Altine Abdullahi, a mother of five, said since her husband, a police constable, was killed at the beginning of the insurgency eight years ago, she never got support from the public sector until now.

Mrs Abdullahi, who was amongst the first women to join the youth vigilante, Civilian-JTF as way of helping the security forces to bring the killers of her husband to justice, said she had suffered alone trying to bring up her five children.

“I had no meaningful job to keep running the family,” she said in a mournful voice.

“At a point, the landlord asked us to leave the house we are renting because we could not pay; the little allowance that I receive as Civilian-JTF can barely feed us. But I had to keep pushing on until recently that the government enlisted me as one of the beneficiaries of the houses donated by Dangote Foundation last month.

“But the icing on the cake of my joy is now that I have been trained on how to make local juice and given a deep freezer and a 25KVA generator to run my business. I can guarantee that I do not need much handout from the public to run the family and give my children the care that their father and I planned for them. I give all thanks to God for sending BOWDI and NERI people my path”.

NERI programme manager said the Boko Haram insurgency has caused a large number of women to be widows across the northeast Nigeria due to the incessant killings that occurred on both sides of the conflict.

He added that while government and other humanitarian outfits continued to fixate on the civilian victims, the widows of the security forces were somehow neglected even though their spouses actually laid down their lives fighting to protect society.

“But we in the NERI have tried to focus on this particular group of widows who were wives of our fallen heroes,” said Mr. Dauda.

“In the last seven to eight years, Nigeria has quite a large number of security personnel who are living on the mercy of the little the federal and state government is doing to keep them alive. So we feel it is important to come in with a modest but complementary support in a manner that they could be self-sufficient economically.

“We also feel it is important and not out of place to give such a huge support to the widows of these security forces because we as humanitarian organisations here in the North-east cannot even operate without the security support of these armed forces. So why can’t we do something to make them happy even in their irreversible state of grieving.

“This is the third batch; the first was a hundred and the second was 200 and all were wives of soldiers; so we had to make the third batch of 250 to cover other security services.”

Fatima Askira, the executive director of BOWDI, told PREMIUM TIMES her organisation was formed to bridge the gap of care that the Borno women, who are the largest group of victims of the insurgency, have not been getting.

“Since the inception of these insurgency, there has been no specific intervention or support that comes to the women in Borno, despite the fact that they are the major victims of the insurgency,” said Ms Askira.

“Women have in most cases switched roles and become breadwinners with little or no support for them to take care of the kids. And my organisation, which is driven by passion to support development with some sentiment for the women folk, decided to be a driver in actualizing the programs of development partners in this regard.

“We are particularly happy to have a support for the widows of the fallen heroes who in most cases may have to live the barracks after their husband’s death, and they usually face difficulties trying to fend for themselves. We also discovered that even those that are allowed to live within the barracks are living a below average life; that is how we decided to bring them on the table being an important segment of the society that are forgotten by most NGOs.”

Highlight of the event was the presentation of certificates and starter parks to the trained widows who went home with refrigerators and generators, sewing machines, knitting machines and milling engines to start their small scale businesses.

Representatives of the heads of security forces at the event, who were led by the General Officer Commanding 7-Division, Bulama Biu, a brigadier-general, urged the beneficiaries to make the most of the training and items given to them to start their businesses. They were also warned against selling them off.

NERI’s head of programme, Mr. Suleiman, said each beneficiaries was also given a pack of food items.

“We are giving each beneficiary a pack of food items that will cater for the feeding of a modest family for at least ten days”, he said. “This, in our wisdom, was to ensure that they don’t get tempted to sell off the items provided for them to run their business on the excuses of using the money to buy food.”

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