From Iheanacho Nwosu and Walter Ukaegbu, Abuja
Barrister Aisha Wakil is one of the three persons declared wanted by the military last week over their relationship with Boko Haram sect. Twenty-four hours after she was declared wanted, she appeared at the Defence Headquarters, Abuja, where she reported to the authorities and was subsequently granted administrative bail.
In a chat with Daily Sun, Wakil, wife of Justice Alkali Gana Wakil, who is said to be referred to as “Mama” by several sect members, tells her story in relation with the sect. She spoke on what Boko Haram members make of President Muhammadu Buhari’s emergence, why attempt by the last administration to engage the sect in dialogue failed and how the incumbent administration could win the insurgency war.
Last week, you were declared wanted by the military over your relationship with Boko Haram members. You reported to the authorities thereafter. What was the outcome?
What transpired is known already by the world. I was declared wanted alongside Ahmed Salkida and Ahmed Umar Bolori. I was embarrassed by that. I came and met them and asked why I was declared wanted. I told them, ‘I am here.’
What was their response? What did they accuse you of?
There is no offence. They said they did not know why the announcement was made in that manner. However, they said they wanted me to come and answer some questions on how they can get the Chibok Girls and on the insurgency. It became weird. So, that was it.
When I heard about being declared wanted, I was taken aback because I have had series of meetings with them. They know my house. They have my telephone number. Why declare me wanted? They were instructed to bring us dead or alive. Myself and Ahmed had gone there and had had meetings with the Chief of Army Staff, including all the Service Chiefs and they were really impressed with what I am doing. They assured me that they were going to be in touch with me, so that they would know how to end it, that is insurgency. I believe they were doing this because Ahmed is my colleague. It is really devastating, but if you believe in what you are doing, if you believe in God, you take whatever that comes as a challenge.
Were you afraid when you heard that you were wanted by the military?
As human beings, you do not run away from a challenge. If you do, you are an idiot. This world is full of challenges and it is risky, but we have to risk our lives. Even from the womb, it was risky being there and some were born dead while some struggled to come out alive. So, the struggle continues. That is the way I look at the whole thing.
How were treated when you reported?
They treated me well and I know that those statements did not proceed from their hearts. The first thing that crossed my mind, when I heard the statement, was Gen. Buratai, does he know about this? I swore to people that Gen. Buratai did not know about this because if he knew it, he would not allow such statement to go out. And it ended up like it is over now. Therefore, I am happy I will continue.
What level of relationship do you have with the sect members? Do you know anything about the Chibok Girls?
If I do not have a relationship with them, I would not dare it. I am an Igbo woman and I do not understand their language. I keep telling people that everyone knows the way Igbo women behave when they get to their husbands’ house; they carry everybody along. They sweep and clothe everybody. My husband comes from Shehuri–North. When I came to Maiduguri in 1989, some of these boys had not grown. I monitored the circumcision of some of them. So, the relationship has been there right from the beginning. When they see me, they call me the ‘Mama that circumcised us.’ I would always tell them that if they were not careful, I would circumcise them again. This ‘Mama’ thing is how you relate with people; it is that relationship that would tell the type of name they are going to call you. If you are a bad person, they would run away from you. So, the relationship has been there from the onset, from the beginning. The relationship was there even before Mohammed Yusuf came and started preaching.
I grew up with the children. We cook and eat together and in the evening, they dance and return home with you. They are not my biological children; they are from my husband’s place. In that area, there is a way they live their lives. They are too close to one another. When you come to Maiduguri, I will take you there to see the divided roads.
In the evening, the people living on the sides of the road share their foods with one another. They do that every day. That place is like a thick religious centre. I love them so much. I am very friendly with older people, especially in the village and that is why I have their blessings and I behave like one. So, I got their blessings because I was cooking for them and playing with them and I was massaging their hands and legs. That love was very strong.
When Muhammed Yusuf came up, the children started learning Islam and their mothers were happy. Generally, he was a good friend to everybody. That place was less developed and literate people were few. I accommodated them in my living room; they slept on the carpet. Then, I set up a building for them to sleep in my house. They come around to help me in some domestic works, like sweeping the compound, helping me to cook and washing the dirty dishes. The relationship between us was just fantastic. So, I know them. And if anybody says I do not know them, it means that person was never from that Shehuri–North. There is no Kanuri you would ask about Aisha that does not know she is from Shehuri-North. My children’s umbilical cords were buried there. So, there is a strong relationship.
Did they inform you when some of them joined the sect?
I noticed that some of them started becoming reserved. They do not call me ‘Mama’ again. They started calling me ‘Yenjunma,’ which means beloved mother. One day, one of them went out and told no one. When he came back, I scolded him because I was very angry and asked him where he went. He held me and said ‘Kenedi’ (be patient). Then he insisted we went to my living room. He did not say anything until it was dark. He told me: ‘Mama, ki yi hankuri, kenedi.’ He said he went for a training with some other children. Then, I asked him about the type of training he went for and he said he went to learn how to shoot. I asked him if it was an antelope he was learning how to shoot at. He said no, human beings. I was startled. I asked him what type of human beings and he said they were learning how to shoot them because they had problems with the government. So, he said they were preparing them for war. I laughed and mocked him. I also took it as a joke.
The next day, he came to me and said: ‘Mama, bilhahinazim. What I told you last night is true. We are going to start a war.’ I asked him with whom were they going to start it? I did not tell my husband because I thought I could handle it. I asked him: ‘if I call Muhammed Yusuf, will he come?’ He said, ‘since he respects you, he will come.’ So, I sent for him and he came. He moved like a governor because he was loved by the group. I asked him: ‘My son, I have been hearing some rumours. Are they true?’ And he asked me what I had heard. I asked him if he was planning on starting a war and he said yes. They do not lie to me. And I asked him why so. He said I was there when some of them were killed and buried. He said they would fight the government. I said it was not going to happen. I asked him if I could come in and he agreed. He said the government had betrayed the group, but he refused to tell me what the betrayal was all about. He said that they would call me and some elders and I would know how they were betrayed.
On July 28, 2009, they started a war. I called Muhammed to know if it was part of their plan and he said yes. My intention was to meet him on Sunday evening, July 29, 2009. July 28, 2009 was the last time I spoke with him.
On Monday, someone told me that he saw him with a boy. Then, I was carrying my three-month child. I wore some clothes and told my family that I was going out to find Muhammed Yusuf. When I got there, I was told that he had gone to Galadima area. I went there, but the bombings were too much and my driver took a U-turn. We drove back to West-end and parked. The children were clapping their hands. They had never seen a thing like that before. I was still contemplating on what to do when I saw a convoy of motorcycles. The riders had turbans on their heads and there was Shekau. They drove to Tashan Baga and I chased them with the little energy I had. That was the last time I saw him.
On Thursday, one of the boys living in my house ran to me with a gun and said he was only there to say goodbye because I might not see him again. And I said I would see him again Insha Allah. I asked him about the others and he said some of them were dead, while others ran away. I told him not to turn off his phone and I prayed for him. It was through him I was able to trace them in the bush. That was how I started going to the bush.
You were part of the committee set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan to dialogue with the sect members. Why did the move fail?
Politicians are something else. They are special breed of human beings. You know that committee was headed by one Kabiru Tanimu Turaki. I will talk about him some other time because in that committee, I went through hell.
In that committee, we were all placed at different positions. I mean Number 1, contact list and once you are in the contact list, it means you know the person. Another group was with Stephen Davis and Amb. Tukur. Stephen Davis told me to bring the Boko Haram commanders to them. They do not want to expose them because of the society or whatever. I was working with him since 2010 before I became a member. He was satisfied with me because I was bringing many Boko Haram members to him. The first time we started seeing Boko Haram members was on a Friday. Kabiru Turaki announced some names but did not mention my name and I was supposed to be in the contact list. So, I knew that he was going to run me down. That was the group that came with Tasha Ali or Mahmood.
When they met, we had a meeting in the office. The whole thing was confusing. A call came in and asked where I was. I said I was in my room. The voice said ‘Alhamdulilah, you are not in the meeting because those people there are fake.’
On Monday, Shekau started threatening Kabiru Turaki. I called them and told them to handle the issue with wisdom. So, he said he would send a Shurrah member to me but I should not disappoint him. That person was the mouthpiece of Shekau because Shekau does not talk to people on the phone. So, we had a meeting with them when they came and they said that those people were fake. Stephen Davis was also there. We were warned by some DSS not to meet Tasha Ali because he was fake. He made an announcement on television and said he had succumbed to peace. Shekau became angry. They said that If I were not there, they would have killed them.
Politicians are snakes with two heads; if you are dealing with them, you have to be careful. I am not a politician and I will never be one. So, that incident angered Tanimu Turaki.
When I travelled to Dubai for treatment, because I used a wheelchair for four years, I begged one of the Shurrah members I brought to stay in Abuja not do anything funny, that we would continue from where we stopped when I returned. He agreed. Someone spotted him at the Central Mosque and he was arrested by soldiers. He called Turaki after he dialed my number and it was not reachable. Turaki asked him who brought him and he said Aisha. So, he told him to wait until Aisha returned. They kept him there for more than a month. He said he was praying because he knew he was on a peace mission. Turaki never told me about it when I came back. I went for a meeting and I saw lots of soldiers in the banquet hall. Someone short was jumping and saying, ‘Mama’ many times. I went there and said he was my boy and they left him. I took him to Turaki and he said he was waiting for me to return. I said but you could have released him. He told us to go into a room and beg a boy there to bring commanders for me. He gave him some money to do that. He said he would not bring any commander or Shurrah member because they did not like or trust him, but I said he should. He brought them and I wrote their names and we went to the banquet hall.
Turaki told the late Baba Ganu Umar Ali, one of Shekau’s bodyguard, something in Hausa and he said if anything happened, I was going to die with them because Turaki was becoming funny to them. Whenever we were meeting Boko Haram, I did not see security; but that day, I saw them. My linkman’s wife was there and someone called to know if the place was safe before he could come. We said he should not because we were not sure of what would happen. They said that Turaki said they should enter each room. I called them away and told them I was with them. I told them that if anything happened to them I would also be affected, so they should not panic. Turaki turned everything by saying that I told the security something different, but I was grateful to God that the security was honest.
He said if you are Boko Haram, you should step out and go into a room and tell them what you had done. They said if they went in, they would not come out. The one by my side said they would deny they were Boko Haram members. I told him to go ahead and do it. They all denied it, but the bodyguard stood said he must go and will never bring me down. I stopped him and said if he insisted, we would all go with him. Then, Turaki shouted that they were not Boko Haram members, but fake. It was then it dawned on me that he set me up.
When we entered a bus, about to leave, Turaki ordered a security to bring me, my linkman and his wife out. Meanwhile, he collected the ID pass given to my linkman by the security in the bush, which he would present to them to bring the Boko Haram members. So, the boys were taken away and I was detained. As a member of the Committee on Peace and Dialogue, he had no right to do that. I was detained for 18 hours. In the morning, one chief called me and asked me where I was and I said I was bringing some Boko Haram members because I was a member of Peace and Dialogue. So, he said I was not supposed to be there. After that, I was hospitalised because my blood pressure was high. Then, I was interrogated.
Are you saying that internal wrangling within the committee scuttled the dialogue?
Yes. Some people involved in the peace deal were not sincere. There were people they brought as Boko Haram members. I do not know all the people that were brought. The ones I know are the Shehuri-North boys and they are truly members of the sect. There is a difference between the Yusfians, Ja’amantalis Sunnah and Boko Haram. The Yusfians were with the Boko Haram members, but they did not fight wars.
While the infighting in the committee was going on, did you meet then President Jonathan?
Did they allow me? Kabiru Tanimu Turaki never allowed me. On several occasions, the former president wanted to see me but Turaki blocked it.
Since you said you worked with Stephen Davis, can you vouch for all he claimed happened?
So, his claim that Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika was sponsoring the sect was true?
I do not know about the one of Ihejirika. I don’t know how he came about that. I wouldn’t know if the sect members told him that or not.
Judging by your long relationship with the sect, how do you think Boko Haram issue can be solved?
How about a situation where they are hesitant about dialogue with government? How about the issue of splinter groups?
They do not have confidence in the people doing the peace dialogue. Ahmed Salkida was a friend to Muhammed Yusuf. He is a freelance journalist and he knows them, but I am just their mother. They often asked me about him in the bush. I had spoken to him on the phone once and I never met him, but Insha Allah, I will meet him some day.
Is it possible for them to trust government to the point of sitting on a round table for a dialogue?
It is easy. We should team up and work together with the Army, the Service Chiefs.
Which of the groups should government dialogue with?
You will start with one first because a journey of one million kilometers must start from your bedroom. I know the people I am talking with. Recently, an announcement was made that they were ready to surrender. They are ready to surrender. We just need to reason with them. Okro can never be taller than the person who planted it.
Sometimes, they tell me that they are ready to surrender and come out, but where will they go?
Do you think that there are people who are benefitting from the insurgency?
Of course, yes. If there were no benefits, it would have ended by now. I do not know the people benefitting from it, but I know some people are benefitting from it.
Speaking honestly, would you not count yourself and other committee members as being among those who have benefitted from the unfortunate situation?
I do not know about others. I only earned my monthly salary.
How do Boko Haram members see President Buhari’s emergence? Do they like or trust him?
Yes. Before the last election, I remember some of them cried and prayed to God in the bush for a new government so that they will return home and tell the world what happened. They also slaughtered a ram. When President Buhari won, one of them called me and said, ‘Alhamdulilah; we are coming back home.’ I was hearing gunshots.
Could it be taken that some members of the sect that surrendered are sincere?
Yes. Inasmuch as they are deep into bloodshed, if you are with them and you look into their eyes, you will see guilt written all over them. They said that some day, they would ask Allah for forgiveness.
Have you ever seen them kill someone in the bush?
No. Not in my presence. The only one I saw was when we were compiling some lists that I could use to intercede for them for peace processes. I wrote them in English and they translated them to Arabic.
What has been your husband’s reaction over close relationship with them?
They are all Kanuris; they are his people. I am very emotional and I love people so much. He knows that. He tried to stop me, but once I set my mind on doing something, I do not stop until I have achieved it. I told him that these are our children and after all, they are his blood. So, he said he would pray for me and he would follow me to wherever I went.
What is the next step, since you were only granted administrative bail?
They told me they would get back to me. The Sun