47-year old Zainabu Hamayaji has proven that she is a mother worthy of emulation after news of the brave act she did to save her daughter filtered online. Hassana, a young Hausa girl was only 12 when her mom gently pushed her into a deep ditch in the backyard one morning in August 2014.
Her mother,in a note worthy manner, continued her class act for nine months until Nigerian soldiers recaptured the town in March 2015 and helped bring out the young girl from the ditch.
Contrary to what Hassana thought, the push was not to kill her, but instead to save her from being becoming a child bride to the Boko Haram foot soldiers who had just invaded their hometown of Madagali in the northeastern Nigerian state of Adamawa.
Since 2009 when the death of its founder Mohammed Yusuf triggered the insurgency, hundreds of women and girls have been abducted, sexually violated or killed outrightly and this is what his brave mother tried to save her daughter from..
In April 2014, the high-profile abduction of over 250 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok in the neighbouring Borno state made the headlines and Hassana’s family were paid a visit by Boko Haram.
Knowing all of this, Hassana’s mum, the 47-year old Zainabu Hamayaji hatched a plan to outsmart the terrorists as well as save her four children.
She had guessed that the Boko Haram gang would consider Hassana, her eldest daughter to be of marriageable age and would kill her husband. She was soon proved right.
According to her, “They killed my husband and many of the men here”, she tells this reporter in a school-turned-camp in the mountainous town of Gwoza, declared by the insurgents as the seat of their caliphate in August 2014.
“Some of my children ran off but the rest of us could not leave the house because they were killing people running out of town. So many people were dying and couldn’t escape.”
Many of the other women gave out their daughters to the insurgents in exchange for food items and property stolen from other villages so they could take care of their remaining children – some reluctantly and others happily. But Hamayaji was unflinching in her resolve and methodical in her act to save her daughter.
To protect her daughter, she loosened her hair to look mentally unstable and began to roll on the floor for several hours a day outside their house and in various parts of town. She urinated on herself. She defecated on her clothes. Then she rubbed both all over her body. Her neighbours avoided her just as flies swarmed to her.
The Boko Haram extremists did not buy her act at first. They had come knocking after a villager mentioned that Hamayaji had a daughter old enough to be carted away into captivity. She denied it and for that and they beat her mercilessly, dislocated her shoulder with their guns and knocked out a tooth from her mouth.
Still, she stuck to the story she had planned and so did her two young children.
Talking about her act, she said:
“They didn’t believe me so they came every day. I continued to strip myself unclad, unplait my hair, roll in trash, put shit on my hair to make it seem like I was really mad.”
“They asked my two children if I was okay because they kept doubting me”, Hamayaji reminisces. Both kids – aged seven and ten – swore that their mother’s insanity had begun a while ago and that she used to frequent a psychiatric hospital in Maiduguri, the state capital.
Soon the terrorists could not help but believe her and they inscribed a warning on the house to deter their Boko Haram comrades who might subsequently visit, from attacking the Hamayajis.
This was because they believed that if they killed a madwoman or took her child, their military operations would fail. One of them reminded the others about how their people killed a mad woman on another raid and her curse affected them badly.”
While in the ditch, Hassana cooked the food items that her mother had pushed in along with several jerry cans of water and matchboxes for her to cook and survive. She defecated in nylon bags that decomposed around her.
According to Hassana: “The soldiers asked if I was a wife of Boko Haram and I said no. They didn’t believe my story until we went to the ditch.”
The now 14 year old girl, was profuse in her gratitude for the depth of her mother’s love and kept thanking her over and over again.
Soon, they were carted away in a solider vehicle and this is where she tells her story.