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Knifar: After Years Of Waiting, Their Husbands Are Finally Out Of Detention But…

The husbands of these IDPs in Borno, Northeast Nigeria, were declared innocent after they had spent several years in detention. Now after regaining their freedom, they are still prevented from fully reuniting with their loved ones.

Falta Gambo first shared her story with HumAngle in Sept. 2020. 

She had been separated from her husband, Modu Ngubdo, in 2015 after they were displaced from Kala Muddo, a village in Borno, Northeast Nigeria. He was blindfolded and picked up by the military. Modu was finally released from Giwa Barracks, a detention centre in the state capital, about a month ago. But he has not been allowed to enter the Dalori II displacement camp, where his wife has called home for many years.

For a long time, Falta did not hear anything about her husband and wondered if he was still alive. Then in Jan. last year, ex-Giwa Barracks detainees told her they saw him in the facility. In the months following Modu’s arrest, three of their children died in Bama due to hunger and malnutrition. Years later, Falta gave birth to another child after hardship forced her into survival sex.

She became a member of the Knifar Movement, a support and advocacy group formed in 2017, to join her voice with those of other victims, demanding their husbands’ unconditional release. While the men had been accused of being Boko Haram members or allies, their wives insisted on their innocence. 

“We hope they will come and we are praying for them to come back,” Falta had told HumAngle last year.

Her prayer was answered on Wednesday, July 14, when the Nigerian Army confirmed it was releasing over a thousand detainees who had been cleared of wrongdoing. They would be handed over “to the state government for rehabilitation before they are reintegrated into the society,” said the Director Army Public Relations, Onyema Nwachukwu.

But neither the rehabilitation nor the reintegration has gone smoothly. HumAngle learnt from various sources that the former detainees were not empowered with skills or treated at the rehabilitation centre in Maiduguri. They were also not given monetary compensation to support their transportation or the rebuilding of their lives. And when many of them approached the entrances of the displacement camps housing their wives, they were turned away.

“My husband looked very slim as if he was not the one I knew. He was looking very starved and clumsy,” Falta said, describing the Modu she met at the transit camp. He had not been given new clothes and only had on an ill-fitting shirt and a short pair of trousers.

“I have really suffered in looking after these children and now that he is here I can have some relief.” But, first, they have to be really reunited. Modu is currently in Bama waiting for greenlight to return to Maiduguri and live with his wife.

“Those Boko Haram who used to be with guns were released and are staying here but our husbands were taken to Bama. We want the government to do justice for us; let them allow our husbands to come and stay with us,” Falta pleaded. 

Like Falta, Falmata’s husband, Abatcha, was also instructed to go to Bama after his release. And like her, her story is full of tragedies. The 30-year-old is originally from Kodo Mowontiya, a village in the Bama Local Government Area of Borno State. They worked on their farmlands and sent their children to schools until Boko Haram militants arrived, disturbing their peace. The terrorists abducted her 11-year-old daughter Kaltum — an incident that has left her traumatised to date.

When the hardship became unbearable, they escaped to Cameroon and were then taken to Bama town.

“At Bama, they blindfolded our husbands and took them away when I was breastfeeding my child; the child died,” she narrated. “And then my husband was released after five years and eight months. He was certified to be innocent and released from detention by the military. We went and brought him and when we came we were refused entry here. They were left outside and then they were taken to Bama.” 

“What are we going to do with our lives? Wouldn’t you handle us with justice?” Falmata asked. 

“My 11-year-old daughter was taken away and I have not seen her up to now; my husband was detained and when he was released they refused to allow us to reunite with him. For the past five years, I have been catering for the children. I provide food, clothing, and everything for them; and I have been sick up to now since they took my daughter away. I still go to the hospital.”

“I prefer he should be brought here so that we can stay with the children” — Falmata Abatcha. Photo: ‘Kunle Adebajo/HumAngle

She had been depending on a monthly food allowance of N17,000 to take care of the family and herself, supplementing this with earnings from knitting local caps. “It was difficult taking care of the children and thinking about him all the time,” she told HumAngle earlier in August.

When her husband was released, she was excited and even got some relief from her illness. But then they could not be together for long because of restrictions placed by the camp authorities.

“[The children] were crying because he was not allowed in to meet them; even I myself cried sometimes,” Falmata said. “The governor should do justice for us. My husband should be allowed to come and stay with us and the children.”


This report is a partnership between the African Transitional Justice Legacy Fund (ATJLF) and HumAngle Media under the ‘Mediating Transitional Justice Efforts in North-East’ project.

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'Kunle Adebajo

Head of Investigations at HumAngle. ‘Kunle covers conflict alongside its many intricacies and fallouts. He also writes about disinformation, the environment, and human rights. He's won a couple of journalism awards, including the 2021 Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism, the 2022 African Fact-checking Award, and the 2023 Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling.

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