Fatima Bukar, in white, took part in an Arabic lesson at a secret government camp in Nigeria on Aug. 21. Boko Haram held Ms. Bukar and her daughter hostage in a forest clearing for nearly five months. Photo: Patrick McGroarty/The Wall Street Journal
Usman Balami once commanded hundreds of Boko Haram jihadists in attacks on police stations and banks. Now serving time at a prison complex in northern Nigeria, he says he is a changed man.
“In the past, I would have loved to die as a martyr,” said the 34-year-old, after changing out of a yellow goaltender’s jersey following a morning soccer match. In a nearby room, a group of former insurgents strung together beaded necklaces in a jewelry-making class.
About 100 miles away in another government facility, Fatima Bukar prayed that she can move on as well. Each day at midnight, the hour in which she believes God is listening most intently, she rises in the hostel where soldiers are keeping watch over hundreds of women rescued from Boko Haram. The group held Ms. Bukar and her daughter hostage in a forest clearing for nearly five months.
“I pray that Allah can turn them back into good people,” said the 27-year-old. “If not, Allah should destroy them.”
Boko Haram has become Nigeria’s collective trauma. The insurgency has swept thousands of boys and men into its ranks, often at gunpoint. It has snatched several thousand more girls and women, many of them raped nightly for months.
Continued fighting has left more than 25,000 people dead and more than one million people without homes, Ms. Bukar among them.
Now, in these two high-walled camps, survivors from both sides of the conflict are coming to terms with the scars of the six-year insurgency that has redefined their lives.
It is the start of a long reckoning for Nigeria.