Your time has come: In Nigeria, building security amidst horrifying violence
20 August 2021
Life in northeastern Nigeria is perilous. Long-running conflict. Landmines and unexploded ordnance. An insurgency by Boko Haram that has displaced millions of people from their homes.
The violence is so great that sometimes it is hard to remember a time before it or imagine a time after it.
"Your time has come today"
Consider the story of Orisa (not her real name). She lives in Borno State, where Boko Haram got its start in 2002. She recalls a time some years ago when she received some unwanted visitors. It was a Tuesday at 8 o’clock, and her husband, a “Babulama” or community leader, was lying down for a rest.
Orisa got word that people from Boko Haram were in the village.
“We went outside. A man from Boko Haram told my husband, ‘Babulama, your time has come today.’”
Orisa’s husband started running. “Then ten Boko Haram members come to our place,” she recalls. “I was holding my small daughter. I was screaming and the children were also screaming. One of the Boko Haram held my son and the other one held me. One of them said, ‘Finish him,’ and shot my husband. I was sitting down screaming. I was 4 months pregnant, and I started bleeding.”
But her husband was still moving, and another Boko Haram member said, “This Babulama did not die. Go and shoot him again.” He shot again and Orisa’s husband’s face was wiped off his head.
“I ran towards him, crying, and then they told me, ‘You are not the one I killed, it is your husband I killed. You should go home.” But Orisa stood fast, saying that she would not leave. The man, bristling at the backtalk, took out his gun.
“I held my children and I told him to finish all of us,” Orisa recalls, upset at the memory. Another Boko Haram member advised the shooter, “Let her go, she will die soon.”
Bleeding and with her body swollen, Orisa fled her village — holding one of her sons and carrying another on her back. On the way, “I was falling down and getting back up again until I reached Monguno village.” She was sick and hungry but couldn’t eat anything.
The safety was fleeting, even illusory. Boko Haram came to Monguno, too, so Orisa and her remaining family pressed on to the village of Yerwa, in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri.
There, they made their way to a UN camp for “internally displaced people” — Nigerians driven from their home by conflict. They had journeyed about 100 miles, evading capture and explosives.
Orisa and her children are one among many. In 2020, over 80,000 newly displaced people arrived in camps and host communities across Borno and other northeastern states.
A Measure of Security
In Maiduguri and other parts of Borno State, UN agencies work to build security amidst the ongoing crisis.
UNMAS coordinates action on explosive ordnance. Such action includes mapping out and marking hazardous areas, educating people on the risk of landmines.
UNICEF is supporting the government’s vision of Universal Health Coverage by revitalizing primary health care (PHC) and is also focusing on eradicating polio and strengthening routine immunization across the country.
UNHCR works on protection in Nigeria, providing emergency assistance such as water, sanitation, household goods, food, and healthcare, and advocating for policies that support displaced people.
Together, UN agencies are working toward the day when neither Orisa’s children, nor any others, will have to face the horrors that Orisa herself has.
Story written by UNMAS with editorial support by Paul VanDeCarr, Development Coordination Office. For more information on the United Nations' work in Nigeria, please visit Nigeria.UN.org. To learn more about the results of our work in this area and beyond, please visit the UNSDG Chair Report on DCO.