Mama Boko Haram: "I stopped insurgents from bombing a church on Christmas Eve"

Hajiya Aisha Wakil, known as Mama Boko Haram because of her closeness to the members of the sect, tells The Punch's Kayode Idowu that the insurgents are now tired of fighting.

What is the relationship between you and the Boko Haram members?
People started calling me Mama Boko Haram when insurgency was at its peak in Borno State and the insurgents were bulldozing Maiduguri, killing and maiming everybody in the process. It was during that period that I was invited to a women’s conference where the participants pleaded with the terrorists to stop the bombings. Somewhere along the line, I referred to them as my children, and my sons. I also asked them to see me as their mother. That was how people started calling me Mama Boko Haram.
My relationship with the group started before the insurgency. My husband is from Shehuri North in Maiduguri, which is very close to the house of Mohammed Yusuf (a. k. a Shekau), the founder of the Boko Haram sect. I also had an Islamic teacher who was also my spiritual father known as Baba Fugu. His daughter, Amina, a friend of mine, married Yusuf. So, I was very close to Yusuf because of my friend, Amina, his wife. Yusuf was a young man who was just preaching and encouraging Muslims and non-Muslims to be closer to Allah and live peacefully together.
You were initially not a Muslim and you are also from Enugu State. What can you say about your new found faith and love for the North?
Anybody can come to the northern part of Nigeria and make it his or her home. I got married to a northerner and I have three kids.
Some people allege that you do not have any link to the Shekau’s faction of the Boko Haram sect. What is your reaction?
If those people know the real Boko Haram, they should tell us who they are. Did they ask Shekau and he told them that he did not know me or that he had never heard about me? Or did they ask members of Shekau’s faction and they denied me? Shekau is a kind person, if he does not know me, he would have come out to say it. If he does not have a good relationship with someone, he will come out to deny the person publicly.
What can you say about the fractionalisation of the group now? How many fractions does Boko Haram have?
I really do not know. I know we have Habib’s faction. There is Mamman Nur’s faction. There is Shekau’s faction. There are other smaller groups like Bukar Mainok’s faction, among others.
Do you have a relationship with all these factions? Can you link someone up with them?
I will not answer that question for security reasons.
Do you really think that the Federal Government should hold dialogue with the sect and listen to their agitation?
What are they agitating for? Is it the continued killings or is it their mode of prayer that they want to force on everybody? Is it reasonable? Is there any compulsion in Islam? Do you force someone to be a Christian? Nobody can force anybody to accept any religion, principle or ideology. I don’t know what they are agitating for. If I know clearly, I would probably know what to say.
So what is your understanding of the group then?
My understanding of the group is that they are young people who claimed that they were provoked. They said nobody listened to them and that they had to transfer their anger and vent it on innocent people. That is the only thing I can say about them. They were angry. When I heard the rumour about their intention to revolt, I called Mohammed Yusuf. He told me that they were betrayed. Up till now, I do not know what the betrayal was all about. He said they were angry because somebody made them angry and they wanted an apology. They said the trouble started when security operatives shot their members because they did not wear crash helmets. As if that was not enough, they said some security personnel shot at them during the funeral procession of one of their members killed by police bullets.
Do you think that a peaceful resolution of the Boko Haram war is still feasible?
I believe in God and I pray a lot. I believe in prayers. If we pray, these kids are not more powerful than God. I do encourage people to also pray about it. There is one adage in Igbo that says if you drag a stick and the stick drags you, you leave the stick and run for your life. They (Federal Government) keep telling me that they have dragged the stick (Boko Haram insurgents) and that the stick has dragged them and it is now for them to leave the stick. But I keep telling them that this is not a stick but human beings and we have to continue to drag them. These are Nigerians, our children, our brothers and sons. We cannot just leave them like that, because leaving them like that would create more problems. I believe it (the insurgency) will end; they (the insurgents) wanted it to end. Anytime I talk to them, they always ask me when the war would end and would also seek to know how it would end.
Do you agree that the Boko Haram has been technically defeated?
They do not have that energy anymore. If you look very well, that energy is no longer there. They are gasping for breath and looking for a way out. They are always asking for the road. They are looking for the road to come out. They want trusted roads and not betrayal. If you sit with them and talk, they will tell you. They hardly trust anyone and they say they do not want further betrayal and are willing to remain where they are until they get Allah’s help. They have, however, told me that they trusted me because I meant well. I have taken some of those that were declared wanted to certain quarters to negotiate and the outcome of the negotiation was good.
Why do you think there are still bombings in the North-East?
Maiduguri in particular has become what they call Makkah, the headquarters of the North-East, and that is why we are experiencing bombings unlike Bauchi, Adamawa and Yobe, where there are pockets of bombings.
I have always told them to come down and look for their mallams for peace. They have mallams; they have elders in the area that can talk to them. They have women and other individuals who can talk to them. There are even wheelbarrow pushers that can talk to them. Government officials should come down and meet them. They are ready for dialogue but they want sincere persons, not betrayers, to lead the dialogue.
Some government officials are saying Shekau is hardened. Is he not a human being? Shekau is a human being, and if you watch him, he is always calling Allah and believes he is fighting for Allah and this Allah will touch him. Government should follow the right way and the battle will be over.