In the Middle Belt of Nigeria, militant Fulani herdsmen kill and displace Christians and take over their farmland. Hajaratu, a widow from Chibob, Nigeria, has suffered immeasurable grief after fleeing from one of these raids. Find out how you can help more women like Hajaratu to heal. (Please note, you may find some details of her story particularly distressing.)
Hajaratu became a widow in 2019, when her husband died of an illness. She was left to care for her children on her own, and finding enough money to cover school fees and medical bills is a daily struggle.
But then, in 2020, Fulani militants attacked her village. Hajaratu lost so much more than her possessions. She survived the attack, but the trauma of what happened has remained.
That night, Hajaratu sat with her neighbours under a tree before going home to prepare dinner and get the children to sleep. After the children were safely in bed, Hajaratu remembers warming herself by the fire and falling asleep.
“About two minutes later, I heard the gunshots,” she says. That’s when she woke up the children, telling them the village was under attack. “I flung my little daughter on my back, quickly strapped her [to my back] with a cloth and went outside to the gate.” Her other children ran outside to join the rest of the people fleeing the village.
Hajaratu saw some people from the village running toward the river, so she followed, hoping to get help. “As I came to the river, I fell and got stuck in the mud. I left my shoes there, trying to escape,” she recalls. “The shoes are still there today.”
The other villagers were too far away to hear her cries for help, but eventually she reached the river. She didn’t know how to swim, but it was her only option. Fortunately, the river wasn’t full. As the noises of gunfire continued behind her, she stepped into the rushing water with her daughter.
The water grew deeper and deeper until Hajaratu reached the centre and began to struggle. “I reached the deep part of the river where I got submerged and began to drown. My daughter cried as I struggled to the surface,” Hajaratu says.
“I questioned God; why did He permit all these deaths to happen in Chibob – and especially in my family?”Hajaratu
She lost her footing, and the force of the water pulled her under and away from the riverbank. Her head went under the water. At that moment, Hajaratu thought she would die in the river, along with her daughter.
Somehow, she made it to the bank. But it was at that moment, on the muddy shoreline in the dark, she discovered her daughter was gone. The force of the current had taken her daughter away.
“I began to cry uncontrollably,” Hajaratu shares. There was nothing she could do.
Eventually, Hajaratu pushed on through the bush in the dark. She made it to a nearby town, where a kindly couple took her in and gave her shelter for the night.
It was three days before Hajaratu was reunited with her other children. The day after the attack, she returned to Chibob to search for them. What she saw was devastating: homes burned to the ground, and livestock gone.
It was clear Chibob was still not safe, so she and others left and headed for a makeshift camp for displaced people, which was where her children were returned to her.
“They were brought to me in the camp and I hugged them, crying,” Hajaratu shares. “My fear was that they had been killed, even though I had not seen their bodies. This is my only joy and consolation.”
One of her children asked where their sister was. “I told them that the river took her away,” she says.
The loss Hajaratu experienced rattled her faith. “I questioned God; why did He permit all these deaths to happen in Chibob – and especially in my family?” she admits.
She didn’t receive any clear answers, but she says she felt God saying it was the set time for those who died to depart this world. Hajaratu continues to hold onto a deep trust in God’s purpose and timing.
And thanks to your prayers and support, Open Doors partners have been able to provide Hajaratu and her family with relief aid, financial support and trauma counselling.
“I have met with all sorts of people, but no one has been able to pray for me on the spot,” she says. “You, however, asked me what happened. And before I could finish explaining, because of the pain I felt, you held my hand and prayed for me. It has comforted me. It has comforted me.”
The counselling has helped her a great deal as she continues to walk through the bitter grief of losing her daughter. “I was greatly encouraged through the [trauma] programme. I am saying a big thank-you even on behalf of those who attended. We are very grateful. The wisdom that God has given you to do this, may He increase it so that you can do more for others,” she says.
Not all Fulani are militants. Hajaratu’s community lived in peace with her nearby Fulani neighbours for many years. She says they loved them. Whenever the Fulani would lose someone, Hajaratu’s village would go to mourn with them and comfort them. And the Fulani would do the same for the Christians in Chibob. “Truly, we stayed in peace until this event occurred,” she says.
“I was greatly encouraged through the [trauma] programme. I am saying a big thank-you”Hajaratu
Sadly, Islamic extremism shattered that peace. It is the radical Fulani militants who are specifically targeting Christians. There’s also an economic reality that drives this violence – attacks occur against the backdrop of climate change, environmental degradation and population growth, all of which have pushed militant Fulani herdsmen, with their cattle, southward to the Middle Belt.
But in many areas, it’s clear that Christians are specifically targeted. Churches are burned and Christian communities are brutally attacked while nearby Muslim communities – who largely live at peace with their Christian neighbours – are usually left untouched.
“Our constant prayer… is that this type of terrible experience should never happen in Chibob again – nor to anybody,” Hajaratu says.
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