Faisal Musa and wife, Fatima
The power of love knows no boundaries, whether in times of peace or conflict, as demonstrated by couples who found their spouses in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Nigeria, ARUKAINO UMUKORO writes
The last thing 20-year-old Fatima Isa was hoping to find in an Internally Displaced Persons camp was love. Last year, the extremist group, Boko Haram, had launched an attack on Isa’s village in Borno State, forcing her and tens of other villagers to flee into the mountains. But when Cupid’s arrow sought her at the IDP camp in Malkohi, in the heart of Yola, Adamawa State capital, there was no place to hide.
One Friday this year, Isa met 25-year-old Ibrahim Musa, a volunteer security guard at the camp, just after the customary Muslim Friday prayers. For Musa, it was love at first sight.
He told SUNDAY PUNCH, “I’m a volunteer at the IDP camp here. I help the military to open the gate and take note of people who come in. On one of those days, I saw Fatima for the first time and I felt excitement because she was beautiful to look at. So, I approached her and I told her my feelings.
“I told her I wanted to marry her. I said I was not playing around because I had fallen in love with her. She then asked why I was interested in her. I said that was how God destined it. She said since I was interested in her, I should ask my family members within the camp to approach her family and ask for her hand formally.”
Both Isa and Musa are from Gwoza. Gwoza is a rocky border town in Borno which is famous, within security circles, for hosting the elite police academy where mobile policemen are trained. But since the Boko Haram crises began, it has suffered several attacks from the violent sect.
It was during one of such attacks that Isa’s first marriage ended abruptly. During the attack, she fled to the mountains in terror. Her husband of two years, Adamu, was not so lucky. He was killed by the insurgents. So for Isa, love and marriage held painful memories.
But she soon caved in under Musa’s persistent overtures, put her past aside and decided to love again. According to her, Musa’s concern for her emotional welfare was crucial to her decision to marry him.
She said, “I told him about my late husband and how he was killed by Boko Haram. He was there to comfort me. We both shared our stories of how we managed to escape from Gwoza. Our stories brought us closer.
“I was attracted to him because I saw that he can be a responsible man. I also like his faith and he showed that he can handle responsibility,” a smiling Isa told our correspondent one afternoon at the IDP camp.
Since their marriage two months ago, which was conducted by an Islamic teacher at the camp, the couple say life has taken a better turn.
“For now, he does not have the money to rent an apartment outside the camp; that is why we are staying here together. But some day, I would like to return to Gwoza. I’m looking forward to raising a home with him outside the camp. The number of children we would have depends on God,” she said, adding playfully that she felt a bit jealous when he looked at other women in the camp.
Musa laughed it off, saying, “Although I had seen other women here at the IDP camp before I took interest in her, from the first day I saw her, I knew she was the one I would marry. For me, she was the most beautiful and pleasing among them. Nothing has changed. It is God’s will. I hope we can spend more time together in the future as husband and wife.”
Isa said she wanted to learn a vocation like knitting, while Musa said he desired to go back to farming after they return to their communities.
Hope, love in a gloomy place
As our correspondent walked through the camp speaking to officials, social workers, clerics and displaced persons, Cupid’s presence was unmistakable, despite the pervasive air of despondence in the place. An official at the camp said there have been about five official weddings at the camp in the last one year.
Wamilendu Solomon, 25, and Deborah James are one of such young couples. Solomon fled his village in Michika Local Government Area, Adamawa, last year, in the dead of the night, chased by a hail of bullets fired by a horde of Boko Haram fighters. The 25-year-old said he survived simply by a stroke of fate.
“I ran from our village to another village in Borno State, where I lived for several weeks. Later, they also attacked the village. If not for the grace of God, I would have been dead long ago. Boko Haram killed many people in my village; but it was God who saved me. I am lucky to have survived those attacks,” he told our correspondent.
His elder brother and some of his friends were not lucky. They were killed during the attacks. Solomon said their deaths deeply affected him, so much that he wanted to give up on living. However, in the midst of deaths and personal loss, while fleeing to Yola, the Adamawa State capital, Solomon said he found a gift that changed his life — love.
“Deborah was also trying to escape the Boko Haram onslaught on Michika. I’ve always liked her since we were in Michika. But it was when we were escaping that I knew that I wanted us to be together always,” Solomon recollected.
On her part, Deborah said she owed Solomon a debt of gratitude, adding that he was a source of strength as things got tough as they fled from danger. She said, “It was when we were running together (that their relationship started). His constant words of encouragement helped me not to give up. One of those days, he told me to keep running and not look back; he said we should stay together.”
But they could not stay together for too long. There was yet another attack and in the midst of the crisis, they lost contact. Solomon found his way to an Internally Displaced Persons camp in Yola, the Adamawa State capital. He had lost Deborah. But he held on hoping that they would meet again.
But like in the 1992 Hollywood epic drama, The Last of the Mohicans, set in 1757 during the French and Indian war, where one of the characters said to his lover, “I will find you, no matter how long it will take, no matter how far,” Solomon never gave up hope of finding the love of his life. “I was determined not to lose her. So, I went in search of her,” he said.
He got his wish five months later, via a phone call from Deborah’s parents, informing him of their daughter’s safety, and giving him the address of the place she was staying with her aunt. “They had my telephone number before the attack but they could not reach me immediately because there was no network connection then,” he said.
With a smile playing on her lips, Deborah recalled, “When I heard he was also in Yola, I was so happy. When I finally saw him, I was happy. I told him I was not going to stay with my aunt anymore, that I would go back to the IDP camp with him; I did not want anything to separate us again, no matter what, I wanted to be by his side.”
The reunion was sweet. Solomon said he knew he did not want to wait a day longer to marry her. He said, “Life was harder without her. I missed her so much.”
At the IDP camp on January 17, last year, the love-struck couple were joined as husband and wife by a reverend father. They now have a beautiful eight-month-old daughter named Susanna and Inigiju, which in their local language means, “She belongs to God.”
“I suffered a lot during the crisis, and I would have been long dead, if not for God’s grace. That is why I gave my daughter that name,” Deborah explained happily.
Like the Solomons, gloom brought 35-year-old Baba Gana Bukar and 20-year-old Amina Abba together.
During the insurgents’ attack on his village, Banki, in Bama Local Government Area, Bukar said he and many others luckily escaped to Cameroon. After spending several months in Cameroon, Bukar and others were rescued and brought by the Nigerian military to the IDP camp in Yola.
Abba, like Bukar, is also from Bama. But the couple never knew each other until they met at the IDP camp, Yola. Then love happened.
“I felt inside my heart that I was in love with him too, but as a woman, I could not tell him directly. So, when he came to me to tell me how he felt about me, I was happy,” Abba said. As she spoke, she kept looking at Musa, before breaking the narrative at a point to throw her right arm over her husband’s shoulder.
“I was shy to tell her how I felt on the first day, but I became bold a few days later. I told her I love you directly, and went to look for her people at the camp,” Bukar said.