Living on the Fringe of Life

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Some women are in the business of living on the corn chaff in Maiduguri after they have no choice as a result of the attack of Boko Haram which left them in a pathetic situation, Michael Olugbode reports

Where there is war, there is poverty and starvation. There is so much poverty on the streets of Maiduguri where majority of people currently quartered within the ancient city have been traumatised by the Boko Haram insurgency that has pervaded Borno State for six years. Over half of the present residents of the town, before the insurgency, were living outside Maiduguri, but as the insurgents took their war from the streets of Maiduguri to rural communities of the state, the people that had no wherewithal to live in an urban setting had to flee to a town with all the characteristics of hardship. This left them with little option for survival other than begging, which is dehumanising, or taking up menial jobs in order to keep the stomach filled even if it cannot keep them properly sheltered.

One does not need special training to discover poverty in Maiduguri as people living in affluence are just little in number, everywhere you walk in the troubled town the sight of beggars embarrasses you; it is never too far from the truth that the beggars in the town are more than those they are begging from. But as alms are less in circulation, many, mostly women have resorted to the business of separating grains from the chaff to get meals on the table for their family.

They leave their homes in the morning to congregate at a market around Customs area in Maiduguri to work all through the day at grains mills, the wage is small and sometimes do not pay their daily feeding expenses; they therefore do not have savings and need to work in the rain and under the sun in order not to only feed themselves but sometimes even their “lazy” husbands.

Most times they complement their wages with chaff collected, which they often have to sell to those raising livestock. In many cases they do have to pick corn that fell in the market to feed their family at home. It is unfortunate that these women who are mostly thrown into this pitiable condition are victims of Boko Haram who invaded their homes and threw them into what seems an unending cycle of poverty.

The sight of the women cannot but draw pity from any normal soul as they are adorned in poverty, they looked so much unkempt and sometimes stink as it seems they do not have the money to buy detergent to wash their clothes and soap to have a decent bath. The money they work for is nothing to write home about, as a group of about six women work for as little as hundred Naira on a task that might take 20 minutes.

Some of the women narratives were sad and show the human wickedness to fellow human, which is the story of Boko Haram insurgency.

Zara Mallum, a woman who is 45 years old and currently living in Budum, said she has spent three weeks in the market working daily to make between fifty and two hundred Naira, she has nine children, and a husband Mallum Zarami, who is over 50.

She said the husband was working in Dikwa but had to flee because of Boko Haram invasion. She narrated that: “When we came to Maiduguri, we were suffering and never had house to stay, we were (still) staying in a thatched house in Budum, where we are taking refuge.”

She lamented that: “When it is raining we are washed in the rain as the roof links.” But added enthusiastically that: “My son gave us a promise that if he was able to make enough from the wheel barrow that he pushes, he will be able to raise some money for us to buy iron roofing sheets.”

She said that she resorted to working at the market when she and her family were about dying from starvation as they had nothing to eat. She however said her husband “is at home with the other children, he does not have anything doing. He had another wife that does not have any other thing doing. She has six children.”

Zara said though the job does not pay well, “I feel there is honour in working for your sustenance, I cannot beg like some others because it is dangerous and it does not give you respect. Since I am able and I believe I should not beg but work hard to make something for myself.”

She said though she earns between N50-N200 daily but sometimes she comes around the market without making anything at which time she and her family have to depend on whatever her son made from pushing wheel barrow.

To Aisha Mohammed, a 38 years old mother of five children, married to Umaru Mohammed who is 60 years old, a farmer in Mafa their hometown before the invasion of Boko Haram. When they were in Mafa, she was selling mangoes and onions but lost everything to the insurgents. Now Malari, a suburb of Maiduguri, she has been coming to the maize mills for a year now and makes between N50-N200 daily which she uses to feed herself and family.

Aisha who was doing nothing while they were at Mafa, said the responsibility of feeding the family solely has fallen on her, lamenting that: “Most times my husband is never concerned about what we eat at home.”

Another woman at the market, Bilikisu Mohammed, who is 35 years old, now lives in Jenta-Kawu, an outskirts of Maiduguri and had been working at the market for two years. She was a farmer before fleeing to Maiduguri. She narrated that “my village was burnt by the Boko Haram insurgents and our livestock taken away leaving us with nothing.”

Bilikisu, a mother of five decried that “my husband, Bukar Mohammed who was 50 years old is now late, he died as a result of cardiac arrest due to Boko Haram crisis.” ‘We were fleeing from insurgent when he suffered a heart attack which led to his death.”

She said her family had a meal a day which costs N150 to prepare, lamenting that: “If I do not make enough then I may not eat for the day. I stay in a thatched hut in Simari Borehole.” She insisted that: “I do not take to begging because it leaves you without respect.”

Fatima Mohammed, a woman who is 48 years old with two children, and married to Tijjani, a man of 55 years, had been in the market for three years. She said: “My husband was working with government but had partial blindness and was doing nothing. I took it upon myself to work so that the rest of us can feed. They started giving him pension recently.”

She added that: “The pension is very little and cannot even feed all of us. Sometimes I made nothing here but most times I make between N50-N200.”

On how she had been surviving with such little amount, she said, “Sometimes we drink only Gari, and sometimes I buy corn. The insurgency has affected me as my father had to be brought from Damasak because of the trouble there. I am not enjoying this work I am doing but I’m in it just to make ends meets. I would have loved to be a housemaid or cleaner. But now I am appealing to government to assist me with some capital to trade with.”

Another woman, Binta Abba, who stays around Kasuwan Shanu area of Maiduguri, who is 55 years old and had spent three years at the market has sad tales to tell as the insurgency made her to lose her stock of vegetables which she was selling at Kasuwan Gamboru. “The crisis made people to flee the market and there was no more business there, she said”

Abba while lamenting that she only makes an average of N200 daily and had to cater for her ailing husband, Mustapha Abba and four children, who they fled Muna village together during the attack by Boko Haram.

To these women and others in their unenviable shoes, there is need for urgent assistance or otherwise they may die soon from the web of poverty and huge responsibilities which have encircled them.