Officials of Amnesty International on Sunday met with women whose husbands and sons have been missing since Nigerian soldiers arrested them four years ago on suspicion of being Boko Haram members.
Back in 2015 at the peak of the Boko Haram hostility, the Nigerian military had carried out several raids and arrests of civilians alleged to be accomplices of the terrorist group.
Most of the civilians were detained at military cells in barracks within Maiduguri.
In October 2017, the Nigerian government started the trial of about 1, 600 Boko Haram suspects in Kainji town of Niger state.
Days after the trial commenced, about 1,200 women comprising wives and mothers of the suspects cried out that the men were innocent.
The women who organised themselves into an association called Knifar movement, had, in March 2018, also written an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, seeking justice for the suspects.
In the same letter, the women also alleged sexual harassment of women by Nigeria soldiers in IDP camps.
They claimed that the Nigeria military was holding 1,269 persons who are either their husbands or children, on the allegations that they were members of Boko Haram.
Almost four years on, the women continued to demand justice for their men whom they have not set eyes on since.
With the backing of Amnesty International, the women’s fight for justice later attracted international support.
On Sunday, AI’s Country Director in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, who led a team of the rights agency, paid a personal visit to the wives and relations of the missing men in Maiduguri where she conveyed a global message of solidarity to them.
She told the women through a translator that they should not feel alone as the world is with them in their quest for justice.
“I know that it has not been easy particularly for the people of Borno state, and everyone has been affected by the insurgency caused by the Boko Haram sect, ” Mrs Ojigho said.
“We know that the loss of lives, the loss of the community can be reclaimed if human rights issue is put at the front burner of all the issues – be it at the local, state or at the federal level.
“We have been calling for justice for everyone that has suffered the loss of life, of family, property or livelihood. And justice for those who have caused this pain, so that those have brought this calamity upon us are also able to feel the justice in their lives.
“We have been calling for an end to this injustice; and in the cause of this, we discovered the enormity of how the fight to end the insurgency has affected many lives – women children, fathers brothers and grandparents.
“The fabric of family life in Nigeria is greatly affected by the insurgency. Families are no longer together, many do not know where their loved ones are – whether they are alive or dead.
“Even those that survived have to live with pains for the rest of their lives.
“And this is the story of the Knifar women of Borno. Some of them did not only lost their husbands or brothers, but they are also survivors of sexual violence. Some were beaten and assaulted. Many of them know the price of hunger, starvation. Many of them saw their children and loved ones die as a result of lack of food.
“To ensure that this does not happen again, we need to put in place systems that will punish those who commit these crimes.
It is very important so that it doesn’t repeat itself. And it will also bring relief to those who are alive so that they can begin to feel the effect of it and they can say that their country has helped them to get justice.
“It is important that the voices of women are also heard in this fight to end the insurgency because women have also suffered in this war.
“It is at the core of all these, that the women of Knifar movement came up demanding for justice, seeking answers to a lot of unanswered questions.
“Where are the people that were taken? Where are the men that were held in detention? How many of them are alive? How many are dead? Who are the people that caused the deaths? Who are the people that didn’t follow the orders? Where is Boko Haram? Where is it difficult to arrest its commander and bring them to justice through fair trials in court? Why has this taken us over ten years to get to this point? Do we need another ten years before we could get answers?”
Mrs Ojigho said during the 2018 edition of 16 days of activism to champion the cause of women and children, a lot of members of Amnesty International from America, Europe, Australia, India, Spain Germany and many others got together to say messages of solidarity to the Knifar women.
“We brought some of the messages to the women here in Maiduguri which we have the opportunity of presenting to you all.
“The messages indicate that you women are not alone; people are standing with, and people are following your fight for justice.
“People from all over the world are writing to the Nigerian government asking the president, the governors to listen to the women and all Nigerians seeking for justice.”
Earlier, the coordinator of the Knifar and Director of Allamin Foundation, Hamsatu Allamin, said despite the fact that the women had suffered so much and were almost forgotten by the government of their country, they did not give up on their missing husbands and sons.
She said it was a little effort which started like a drowning man’s clinging to a straw that finally yielded a huge response of an international dimension.
She expressed sadness that no civil society organisation in Nigeria added its voices to the cries of the 1200 women seeking for justice.
“Where are our Nigerian brothers and sisters? Why are our Nigerian CSOs? This is a very serious challenge for us.
“These women have been yearning and crying for years. Look at the world responding from America, UK, China, India, Korea, France and so many countries where people sent their messages of solidarity. But not a single word from Nigeria. They only said it is the problems of the Northeast. But today that so-called problem of Borno people have engulfed all over Nigeria.
“While we kept silent on our sisters’ problem, people from foreign lands are busy sending messages of support and adding their voice to the cause of the women. Shame on us.”
The high point of the event in Maiduguri was the presentation of copies of messages sent from all over the world through AI to the leaders of the Knifar Movement selected from different IDP Camps.
One of the women, Yabawaye Waziri, 21 years old, whose seven relatives, including her father and husband were arrested and detained in prison custody, said Boko Haram killed her mother, leaving her to become the breadwinner of a family of 18 persons mostly her younger ones.
“We are happy that the people of Amnesty have identified with us,” she said.
“We thought as poor people no one will listen to our cries. But today we know one day the where about of our loved ones will one day be revealed and justice will be served someday, ” said the young woman.