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‘I Felt Like Dying The Day I Saw My Displaced In-Law Trading Sex For Food’

Hunger is pushing many displaced women and younger girls to adopt extreme survival strategies, and the ripple effect is disastrous for the men as well.

Abdullahi, 29, has always been familiar with the survival sex trend among Internally Displaced People in Borno, Northeast Nigeria. But he did not know how bad it had become until it hit close to home.

“Every evening here in this camp we see our women and young girls going out to the town to mix up with men including soldiers in brothels and drinking joints, all in the name of getting money to buy food or other personal needs,” said the IDP from Baga, Kukawa. 

“These girls are our younger sisters but we can’t stop them from going out because even we too are in the same situation as them.”

He added that the Gubio displacement camp, where he lives, had not received food aid in the last eight months, causing many households to lose their main source of sustenance.

Months ago, one incident pushed Abdullahi to consider committing suicide, he said. His brother’s wife, also an IDP, was caught making out with a man who was not her husband — an act that is traditionally frowned upon.

Abdullahi, who works with the security team in the camp, said his group’s attention was called to a public toilet where two people were having sexual relations. 

“I led my team of security boys to the place to arrest them, but I was shocked to find out that the woman involved was the wife of my brother who was away for many months to get a means of survival for the family,” he recalled.  

“When we wanted to pounce on the man, this woman boldly stood in his defencen, saying that she was the one who asked for it and that she never mentioned her marital status to him. She even looked me in the face and told me that I should be ashamed that I was there to embarrass her when all she was doing was her best in providing for my brother’s four children.”  

“It was the saddest day of my life, and I felt like taking my life that day, but I had to consider my pregnant wife too who may find herself in the same situation if I’m no longer around,” Abdullahi added.

He told HumAngle he suspected other men had killed themselves or relocated for similar reasons.

“When you wake up to receive the sad news that the man you saw yesterday has suddenly died in this camp, don’t jump to conclusions that his death was natural,” he said.

“Many men and heads of households have either disappeared and are never seen again, while others had to commit suicide by taking poison because they can not stand the abominable things going on in their families… We have buried people who died in that circumstance, and only those who understand what is going on can attest to this.”

He lamented that young men were returning to their villages out of frustration and living there under terms provided by the terrorists so they could work and earn a living. Others decided to join the terror group, assuming that it guaranteed protection and food supplies for their family. 

Abdullahi was into the sales of fish before his community was attacked and sacked by Boko Haram. 

“We have seen the worst aspect of living here,” he said. 

“I was about 23 years old when we had to flee through Niger Republic as refugees before getting to Maiduguri and we’ve been here for about six years now.

“Since our arrival, getting adequate shelter, food and health care has been a major problem for many of us. But our worst days started about eight months ago. The governor of Borno state came here last year and profiled us for return to Baga. And since that day till date, it was like they have removed our names from the list of beneficiaries for all kinds of palliative support. And in order not to die of hunger, our women and girls have no option but to cross over to the neighbourhood of the Shagari Low-Cost Estate to either beg for food or engage in all kinds of immoral sexual relationships with the barracks boys or soldiers just to make ends meet.” 

Even Abdullahi now prefers life in the village and says nothing will make him leave again if he ever returns home. “I’d rather stay there and face the consequences because the last six years here in this camp was more than hell for me.”

Asides hunger, another big concern for the IDPs is hypertension.

“There is no week that passes by that we don’t bury the dead here in this camp, and most of the deceased are males. There is hunger in this camp, just as there is trauma and high blood pressure,” observed Habibu Musa, a fisherman from Doron-Baga. 

“Many women have either divorced their husbands to give them freedom, or the husbands had divorced their wives for tolerating their daughters’ wayward behaviours in the name of looking for food.”

Worsening hunger and the sudden drop in support for IDPs in Borno have continued to force vulnerable groups like women and girls to cross culturally acceptable boundaries to feed their families. Displaced women, including the elderly, have started to see survival sex as the norm too.

Fatima Ali, a protection specialist in Borno state, told HumAngle the rate of survival sex in the camp was “not only alarming but heartbreaking.” 

“As protection officials, I leave the camp a bit depressed each time I encounter girls as young as 13 being free with the idea of having multiple male sex partners. If I, as a stranger to them, could feel this bad, how do you imagine the parents would feel about such kids?” she asked. 

“I’ve seen parents who have developed blood pressure because they cannot provide for their family and they cannot control what their children have become in the camps. Many are dying in silence. They should return home if the so-called homes are safe for them to return.”


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Abdulkareem Haruna

Abdulkareem Haruna is a Nigerian journalist who has provided extensive coverage of the Lake Chad conflict in north-eastern Nigeria for over a decade. A graduate of English Language with a Diploma in Mass Communications. He previously worked as an assistant editor with Premium Times and Leadership Newspaper. Haruna has a strong knowledge of the Northeast and follows the trends in the region closely.

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