Days of Their Lives

Stories From A Summer in North-East Nigeria

Hassan Hassan

One evening two years ago, Hassan Hassan then a 30-year old farmer in Dikwa, Borno state, hurried home from a day in the farm to pray. As he finished his ablution and knelt down to start praying, he saw six gunmen walk into his house with guns and knives. He knew they were Boko Haram.

One of them pointed a gun at his forehead and was ready to smash him into smithereens but Hassan, who had decided in his heart that he was not ready to die yet, began to struggle with his assailant. Eventually, he managed to escape but not without bullets grazing his hip region.

He knew why they had come. His younger sister was married to a Boko Haram lieutenant who wanted Hassan to be recruited. She had directed them to his house and twice, they had come looking for him. Twice, he was absent and this was the third time they had come knocking.

The younger of his two wives had been killed by the insurgents but the other escaped with three of his five children; no one knows the whereabouts of the other two till date.

When Hassan escaped he ran to the house of another sister who was still loyal. “She hid me under the mattress and when they came looking for me, she told them she hadn’t seen me in days. Luckily they decided not to check the house.”

Afterwards he fled to Maiduguri where he now lives with his wife and three children at the Sanda Kyarimi Primary School Camp in the popular Customs Area. The welfare of the almost 3,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in the camp is taken for granted, says Hassan. Most of the attention by aid workers and the scrutiny by the press is directed at the Bakassi and Dalori camps, the biggest in the city. Like Sanda Kyarimi, most of the other camps get no love. Each tent has no lighting and the massive heat within makes the residents extremely susceptible to heat rashes.

Tired of feeding only once a day and an unchanged menu of rice and beans every day, Hassan knew he had to do something. Three months ago, in an attempt to do what he knows best – providing for his family like a man, he stresses – he went to one of the shops just outside the camp to buy food items on credit. Every morning and evening, he would go and take a little more, until the shopkeeper mentioned to him that his tab was now N13,600 in the red and he needed to pay up.

“The man seized my phone and said he would not give me until I pay up. But I had no money to pay up and I had no phone to reach any of the aid workers that give me small tips. I was confused.”

A few weeks ago, Fatimah, a friendly aid worker came around with a colleague. As soon as Hassan went to meet her, one of the female camp officials followed suit. In the two hours the visitors spent in the camp, the lady trailed her waiting to see if there would be any money gifts.

Two days after the visit, Hassan called Fatima to thank her for slipping N20,000 into his hands when the camp official was not looking. He had been able to pay his debt, gotten back his phone and used the remainder of the money to buy foodstuff for his family. But he had news – the camp officials were angry that Fatimah had not ‘registered the case’ with them first. They had lost their anticipated bonus.

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