Sleepless Nights

Written by Zunzika Okpo

Some time last week, I read an article from the New York Times about how Boko Haram conscripted young girls. How they used these girls to recruit other girls and in turn, used the girls for reproductive and religious purposes. Needless to say, it was a heart wrenching read. I could barely bring myself to imagine what the girls went through and how strong they were. Imagine having a bomb strapped to your waist and instead of blowing it up, you seek for help. It is a scary thing for anyone, especially ones so young to go through. 

The article brought back some memories from the field. I have heard scores of stories. Most of them border on not being able to sleep, hearts pounding at the slightest noise and the ever present fear and dread. Of course there are even stranger stories. Even as most of the people in the IDP camps cannot sleep, there is one man who cannot sleep at night, only at night. His village was attacked at night. His whole family was asleep when they heard screams and people running. The man got up to check and saw the insurgents. Some of them were holding young girls, aged between 10 and 14. He ran to his children’s room and told them to hide under the bed and in the corner so they would not be seen. They did as they were told. The insurgents started pounding on the door. They were brandishing knives and some were sporadically firing their guns. Out of fear, the man opened the door for them. He had guns, knives and cutlasses in his face. He saw as the young girls that were with the insurgents went from room to room. He prayed they would not find his children. His wife was in their room with their youngest - barely a year old. As luck would have it, someone called from the outside and the insurgents left. They had scattered everything in his house but did not take anything or anyone - except for the man. When they took him, they inflicted all kinds of pain on him. They threatened to kill him, his whole family too. They told him they knew about his children and would go back to the village to find them and his wife. 


They did not immediately say what they wanted from him. They did not explain why they beat him and threatened to hack him to bits; they just kept at it. He was tired, he was hungry and he was thirsty. He lost count of days. He recalls that they would stop beating him for a while and just as he was about to give in to sleep or pass out from exhaustion, they would be back. Day and night lost meaning. They then asked him to join them in service. He wondered what would happen if he refused. As he could barely talk, he only nodded. “He won’t be much use,” one of the men said in Hausa. This man was tasked with disposing off the body. 

He was careless thrown in a bush and left to die. He explained how he did not know where he was and how he just stayed there waiting to die. After what seemed like forever, some people came about. They seemed harmless. They poked him and he groaned. Everything was chaotic but they managed to get him to a hospital where they tended to him. He is OK now. The family reunited. The children are safe. Yet the father cannot sleep at night. He stays up every night looking outside. When day breaks, he goes to sleep. As long as the sun is out, he gets some sleep.