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MUST READ!! Mama Boko Haram gives detail of how the insurgence started and how they engaged in armed robbery and ritualism in this interview.

She is a human rights activist. She is more popular with the name Mama Boko Haram. In an interview recorded from Focus Nigeria, a programme on the Africa Independent Television (AIT), Mrs Aisha Wakil, gives an insight into the fight by Boko Haram insurgents, how the group was hijacked, the role of politicians and why the Chibok girls were not released initially

How did you even come about being Mama Boko Haram? 
Long before Boko Haram thing, the whole kids there called me Yayi Njima, which means the ‘Loved Mum’… So, calling me Mama Boko Haram doesn’t remove anything from me because I have been loved from Day One. When I go there, they stay in my house and even their parents are very comfortable with me.
 Honestly, I am such a mother to everybody and not only Boko Haram. So, when they started this problem, I was shocked that the children I know and coupled with the fact that Mohammed Yusuf’s father-in-law, Alhaji Baba Fugu, was my spiritual father…

 Was it the same Baba Fugu that was assassinated?
I don’t know whether he was assassinated or not.

Was he not the one that was assassinated few hours after former President Olusegun Obasanjo visited Borno State?
No, that was Bafura, the son. Baba Fugu died when the insurgency started. He and Mohammed Yusuf died first. They died when the insurgency started. He was my spiritual father and had so many almajiris, up to 2,000 of them. I had a farm around the family house and one day, I was working there and I saw a lot of their kids praying…

Did the problem of Boko Haram start when Yusuf and his group refused to abide by the Borno State government’s directive that crash helmets should be worn to guide against incessant motorbike accidents?
Yes, they were opposed to the law. You know then that Mohammed Yusuf gave them money. He gives out for people to trade and buy motorbikes; I told you he doesn’t like idleness. He gave them money to do whatever they wanted to do during the day and then you will return in the evening to pray, read Quran and go home by 9p.m. So, most of these boys in my house, my kids, they started going to his house. I was happy about it because those who wanted to go to school, he was training them. What we heard was that Yusuf himself went to school? Yes, he went to school.
This is what I heard that he went to school and people were going to school. 

What about the notion of being against Western education? 
I don’t think so and don’t believe in them. Is it true that the genesis of the sect was the killings of its members by police and soldiers when they were on their way to bury some of their murdered members? That was what he (Yusuf) told me.
There was a boy in my house and I didn’t see him for three months, he just disappeared. When he came back, I asked him where he went, he didn’t answer. He became so reserved. He no longer talked to me.
He later told me that there is a problem and that there is going to be a war and that he is going to be part of the war. I told him if he doesn’t mind, that I will call Yusuf Mohammed, he said no problem. I sent message across and he (Yusuf) came to my house.
You know he moves in convoy and he was well loved. When he came to my house, he entered with two of his men. When he was speaking, he couldn’t look into my eyes and that was a sign of deep respect. I asked him about the war, he said Mama, I will never lie, it is true. I said can I go and meet the governor?
That was former Governor Modu Sheriff. He said I should go ahead and that if the governor calls him, then he will call me and I will come along with him to meet the governor. He said the government made them angry and I asked him why they made them angry to the extent that they’ll want to wage war, against who?
So, I tried my best to get in touch with Ali Modu Sheriff to tell him all these things, but I couldn’t get him; his protocols were not delivering my messages to him.
 After one week or two, Yusuf called me and I said I wasn’t able to get across to the governor. He then told me that, ‘Mama, my hands are tied’. I told him that he should hold on and that since we were approaching Ramadan, I may likely see the governor in Mecca and talk to him. He said he didn’t know and that he couldn’t promise me anything. Then, the whole killings started. It started on 28th of July, 2009 and the following day, I called him and I asked if he was the one doing this.
 He said yes. That was the last time I spoke with Yusuf. I then called the father-in-law and he said he had tried his best and nobody is listening because they feel they know more than the elderly ones. He said he is over 70 years and that I should take care of myself if I didn’t see him again. The next time I saw Mohammed Yusuf was on the television and the next was on the ground.

Is it true that Modu Sheriff capitalized on Yusuf’s followership to win election, but reneged after winning elections?
 I am not a politician and I don’t know if the Boko Haram became tools in the hands of politicians. All I know and what he told me was that there was a betrayal. I don’t know what that betrayal is and that was why I wanted him to meet with the governor.
 If I had met with Governor Sheriff, I would have told him that Yusuf said there was an issue of betrayal and he wants to say it before me and the governor, I know Sheriff would listen. So, I don’t know what that betrayal means that made them so angry to start the war.

There was another version of international grant from Saudi Arabia
 Honestly speaking, I am just hearing it from you. All I know that he told me was that ‘Mama they betrayed me. Mama, Government betrayed me’… I don’t know what the betrayal is. He used to say to me that he would tell me the betrayal when we meet with the governor and some elders, and that he wanted me to be the only woman that would be there. 
I just played my motherly role. I don’t know who ordered his killing. I saw him talking. The next time I saw him was on the ground (dead). His members told me that he was arrested by soldiers alive and handed over to the police and he died in the hands of police.

Is that why a sect that started off nonviolent became violent?
 I always tell them that something that started like a family quarrel in a large polygamous home is now a wild fire the whole world is now talking about.

What efforts did you make to use your influence when they haven’t started their violence?
 I was running helter-skelter with them, looking for the boys who were in my house. When they finished the war one Wednesday evening, one of them just came in and said, ‘Mama I fought war’ and that I should put my hand on his head and pray for him and he left. It was through them that I was able to find out where they were.
 Then all of a sudden, I started hearing Boko Haram. All along, I knew them as Jam’atul Al-Suna Janutu-Al- Idawatul-Waljihad (Fighters for Allah); even though, Allah doesn’t need anybody to fight for Him.
 You can only defend your faith. So, I was surprised about the name Boko Haram and I wondered when they suddenly became Boko Haram. Honestly, anytime I am in the bush with them, they don’t like this name called Boko Haram.

 They don’t like it? 
Yes they don’t like it. They would tell you they are Jam’atul Al-Suna Janutu- Al-Idawatul-Waljihad. But they cannot do away with this name the whole world call them, just like I am called Mama Boko Haram. I am not Mama Boko Haram because I am not their biological mother. But I cannot do away with this just the way they cannot do away with their own Boko Haram name.

 Could it be because at that point they had started campaigning against people going to school and since schools have become their legitimate targets?
 You know somewhere along the line, I used to tell them that I had the first tier, that is, the “Sufiat” that fought the war. Then I now had the Jam’atul Al-Suna Janutu- Al-Idawatul-Waljihad, which they turned to fighting for Allah. Then, we now have the ‘Barawo Group,’ that is, the armed robbers, who are just moving around carrying weapons and attacking people and financial institutions.
 Then, we have those who engage in ritualism and then everything just became so confused, that we started hearing different things, including the war against western education.
 So, I no longer know the one government is dealing with because they are now so many; armed robbers on their own, those engaging in ritualism on another part and those being used by politicians, who would just be given N2,000 to abduct and kill their opponents. So, I was also chasing all of them, facing all the directions.
 But if it is about those who started the war, then we are talking about ‘Suffyan’ which became the Jam’atul Al-Suna Janutu-Al-Idawatul-Waljihad, and they would tell me ‘Mama, these are not part of us.’

So you still contact those original members of the jihadist group?
 Yes, I still do. Then, somewhere along the line, the armed robbery group joined them and they began to carry guns and they mixed up everything.

But if Yusuf and some of his immediate lieutenants had not been killed that time, do you think that organisation would have degenerated to what it is now, because their demands were very few then?
 Truly, their demands weren’t large and Walahi (in God’s name), they were really ready to come back home and live in homes.
 And if you had watched it, the war actually ended in three days and they dropped their guns and returned home. But somewhere along the line, the Bulamas triggered the whole thing, saying if you are a member of Boko Haram, they started registering them and even collecting monies ranging from N20,000 to N100,000 from some of them. Some sold their houses.
 So, the boys were shocked and they started packing them to police stations, and that was how they complicated the whole thing. So, they were pointing at them and showing them to the police, and that was how the boys became very angry and moved to the bush. Then, they started beating the Bulamas, killing them one by one.
So if government had listened to you and reached out to the real aggrieved members then, was there possibility that the whole issue would have been resolved by then?
 You know this kind of a thing, there was a lot of interests because it has stayed long and now it has become a movement.
 When you suggest something to government, someone would say something else to government and say these ones are not Boko Haram and certain others are Boko Haram members. So, you no longer know who is a Boko Haram member and who is not because everybody is killing everybody.
  So, I try as much as possible to speak to government, but some people will say something else. My belief is that if you bring one to government, the one you bring will in turn bring another one and so on like that.

The whole of this thing becomes messier because the politicians found space in the vacuum created and were more comfortable to use these boys to fight opposition?

Yes, politicians played a very vital role and they are still playing it till now. Politicians are not leaving them and I don’t really know what they really want. That is why I say politicians are human beings with seven heads, seven tails… You can never know what they are up to.
 Any slight opportunity like this, they come in and scatter things. The boys always tell me; “Mama, we want to come to the house, but (can’t because of) those behind us,” and I asked them to give me their names, to tell me who is really behind them, but they would not tell.
 So, they would tell me; “Mama you are here fighting for peace, just keep praying because those behind us would not want us to come home.”
 So, if government can get those they have arrested to tell them those sponsoring them and can get hold of those people and ask them why they are doing that and they appease them, I am sure they will release them. I can assure you that those boys are not difficult human beings. I have visited them several times in the bush.
These boys will pick up the Qur’an and ask me to read it for them, and they would say Qur’an says; “If you save a human being you have saved the whole world and if you kill a single human being you have killed the whole world.” And I said if you know this, what are you doing here in the bush? Why are you doing this? And they would say “We don’t know; it is these people behind us.

They will not allow us to stop.” And if I asked them who these people are, the highest they would tell me is that “some politicians.”

Maybe some are not politicians, maybe some are devils. There are some members of Yusuf’s original Movement who are still alive till today. The likes of Shekau and Yusuf’s biological son, Al-Banawi, who is the head of Albarnawi faction. There are about two or three factions today.

Are you in touch with all the factions? There is always a question I ask people that if a woman has 14 children and seven of them are bad, will you just leave the seven and allow them to waste? No, you would leave the seven behind and chase the bad ones.

I am not leaving anybody behind and I don’t need any government to appoint me a negotiator or whatever to do my work. I have been doing my work and the way I do it, I don’t tell people what I do… I know how to reach out and I know what I am doing. I know what to do and where to go.

There are many groups… Muhammed Nur group, Shekau group. Are they not all human beings? They are all human beings, they are not devils because if they are devils, you cannot dialogue with them. You dialogue with human beings and I see them as human beings.

Are you not worried that Al Barnarwi is leading another organisation described globally as perhaps the worst terrorist movement today? Will his father, who was a peace lovingperson, be proud of him and do you preach that to him?

That is the question I was asking. I say, my son, if your father were to be alive today; he will never allow things to degenerate. That is why we always have problems in killing leaders. When you kill the leader, it is always difficult to join the people; it is like breaking a plate and you cannot join it again.

That is it. I always tell him, remember your father; remember, he was a very peaceful man. I don’t see him as a terror person; I see him as a young lad who deviated.

So, his group was responsible for the abduction of the Dapchi girls

Yes. Because he came out and said “Mama the girls are with us” and you pleaded with them to keep the girls.

That goes to show that you still have a lot of influence on them and they still have a very high respect for you. Is it possible for you to also speak to them to embrace the offer of peace being given to them because they cannot be comfortable living in the bush? How can they be comfortable living in the bush?

Have you been giving them that ray of hope that peace is the way out?

Of course and they also want peace if the government is serious and if they are not going to kill them.

They said if there is onion; good road for them to come out. They don’t know what is in stock for them if they come out, so they need that assurance from government. I might not be the only one talking. So, we are all begging the Almighty Allah to enter their mind and let them accept the peace offer. Government must be serious and sincere in negotiating with them.

You still command some respect from them. So, if you call Shekau out, he is likely to listen to you?

Yes. Those people behind him will lead him to come out. If you remember; there was a statement he made long time ago. He said peace will come when it will come because Allah allows peace.

The negotiation will come when it will come. That is Shekau’s words.

So, why won’t he come out? Honestly speaking, the way they portrayed Shekau; I don’t see him that way. I see him as somebody who is well behaved, somebody provoked and he is there in the bush fighting. I look at him as somebody that if they are very sincere with him and allow all the people behind him to come out, they will come out.

Why don’t you exercise your influence over them during the abduction of the Chibok girls?

When the Chibok girls’ issue came on board on April 14, 2014 and the moment it happened, I called them and visited them and still visiting them.

We just finished peace and dialogue meeting and not quite long, this thing happened. On May 5, there was one Doctor Stephen and one General, they flew into Maiduguri and I had already made all the contacts.

They (Shekau’s group) told us to come there and I told Stephen that they said we should come over and take some girls. Somewhere along the line, the General takes his phone and there was message and then he said “Wow; let’s go, let’s go.”
 Fifteen Hiace buses was brought and we hurried to that place that they were and we now went to the teaching hospital with ambulance because I asked if I should I come with ambulance and they said we should come with medical team, drugs and ambulance because there are some people who are injured that they wanted to check and take along with us.
 On getting there, they started chasing the bus; they were chasing them and before we could get there, they had gone. We learnt that the civilian JTF was chasing them and they disappeared with the girls.

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