A 16-year-old teenager, Zara John who was among those rescued from Boko Haram captivity by the Nigerian army says she s still in love with one of the Islamic militants who abducted her.
She says was delighted to discover that she was pregnant with his child following a test in the refugee camp so that she can have someone to replace his father since she cannot reconnect with him again.
After some relatives wanted an abortion for her as they did not want a Boko Haram offspring in their family, Zara was finally allowed to keep her child, Usman who is now about seven months old.
“Everybody in the family has embraced the child,” Zara told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview, asking that her location remain undisclosed. “My uncle just bought him tins of Cerelac (instant cereal) and milk.”
Zara was aged 14 when Boko Haram militants raided her village of Izge in February 2014. Zara’s mother fell off one of the overloaded trucks but tried to chase after the vehicle that was ferrying away her only daughter and her four-year-old son but was unable to keep up.
“As soon as we arrived, they told us that we were now their slaves,” Zara recalled.
Her days were spent doing chores and learning the tenets of her new religion, Islam, until, two months later, she was given away in marriage to Ali, a Boko Haram commander, and moved into from a shared house to his accommodation.
“After I became a commander’s wife, I had freedom. I slept anytime I wanted, I woke up anytime I wanted,” she said.
“He bought me food and clothes and gave me everything that a woman needs from a man,” adding that he also gave her a mobile phone with his number plugged in and tattooed his name on her stomach to mark her as a Boko Haram wife.
Ali assured her that the fight would soon be over and they would return to his home town of Baga where he intended his new wife to join his fishing business.
He told her that he had abandoned his fisherman trade and joined the militant group after his father and elder brother, both fishermen like himself, were killed by Nigerian soldiers.
In a June 2015 report based on years on research and analysis of evidence, Amnesty International said the Nigerian army was guilty of gross human rights abuse and extra judicial killing of civilians in parts of northeast Nigeria, calling for an investigation into war crimes.
Ali was not at home when the Nigerian army stormed Bita in March 2015 and rescued Zara and scores of other women, taking them to a refugee camp in Yola in northeast Nigeria.
But Zara and Ali stayed in touch by phone until Nigerian soldiers realised some of the girls in the camp were still in touch with their abductors, seized their phones and moved them to another camp until they were reunited with their families.
Zara now lives with her extended family and son in a town far away from Izge.
Back with her family, Zara’s male relatives took over control of her life again, with requests for interviews fielded by them and all of her movements monitored by her family.
But asked her opinion, she said she would rather be with her Boko Haram husband.
“If I had my way, I would retrieve the phone number he gave me,” she said, regretting not committing his number to memory.
But Zara is realistic and knows the possibility of being reunited with Ali is very slim.
Instead she wants to return to school when Usman stops breastfeeding and maybe then run her own business.
“I want to do a business that is suitable for a woman, something that will not take me out of the house,” she said.