Badawiya* lives in Yobe State northeast Nigeria. Since 2009, the Boko Haram insurgency has ravaged this region, leading to what the UN has called ‘the worst humanitarian crisis on the African continent.’
"When I was 14, my father was killed. We never knew exactly what happened but he was caught up in an attack. Soon after, my mother died of shock. I was completely alone and had nothing and nobody. I didn’t know what to do and I resorted to selling my body to earn some money so I could eat. At the same time, I increasingly started taking drugs. I just wanted to forget about everything that had happened and it was the only thing that gave me the courage to go through with selling myself. The prostitution and drug taking isolated me even more – people looked at me differently and my friends fell away. I was depressed, I didn’t know what I was living for.
"One day, a man I met on the street showed me kindness. I didn’t know it but he was a Boko Haram member. He brought me some food and gave me a little money. I was very grateful. A few days later, he introduced me to some of his friends. Over the next few weeks we talked a lot. He would tell me that my father had been killed by the military. He kept saying it and I began to believe him. He said I should punish them for what they have done and that he could help me do it. He gave me a vest full of explosives and told me to wrap it around my body, find some soldiers and detonate it. He then gave me a phone and told me to wait for more instructions.
"I was completely hopeless, I was depressed, I was angry and I had given up on life. I put the vest on three times and walked around the town with it on. When I put it on, I just wanted everything to be over, but I couldn’t ever find the courage to go through with it. Deep down I knew it was wrong. The third time I was wearing it, an old school classmate, stopped me and greeted me. He was talking about a new programme in the community working with youth and saying that I should join. I wasn’t really listening and told him ‘I’m not interested, there’s no point.’ He kept protesting saying that I should join. He said lots of things had happened to me but he remembers me from school and knows I can do something in the future. I told him again I really wasn’t interested and that I didn’t know whether I would see out the day. He wouldn’t let me leave, so eventually I showed him the vest. I was shocked – he didn’t run away or scream, he carried on talking to me. Eventually he found my brother and the two of them removed the vest from me and destroyed the phone I had been given.
This group called me their friend and sister and showed me love...I feel like I have the chance at a new life now.
"After all of that he still asked me to come and join the Youth Peace Platform, so I came to an event. Everyone knew what had happened, people were calling me names, but this group called me their friend and sister and showed me love. I felt at home. At first, I just sat and listened but then I began to talk. Deep down I knew everything that got me into that situation was wrong but the group have given me the support to actually give it up. I am no longer doing prostitution or drugs, they moved me to a different part of the city and I no longer want revenge for my father’s death – I still don’t know what happened, so how can I blame one person? The group tracked down my uncle, who I hadn’t seen since my father’s death and after their intervention, he accepted for me to live with him. Every day the other youth in the group check on me to make sure I haven’t fallen back. I don’t know how my life ever came to this, but I feel like I have the chance at a new life now."
Find out more about our work with young people in northeast Nigeria.
*Badawiya is not her real name.