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This Woman’s Home has Become a Safe House in the War against Boko Haram

Aisha Wakil knew many of Boko Haram’s fighters as children. Now she uses those ties to broker peace deals, mediate hostage negotiations and convince militants to put down their weapons – but as the violence escalates, her task is becoming impossible. Shortly after Wakil moved to her house in Maiduguri, she decided to start leaving her front door open. She was still fairly new to the city and wanted to be welcoming. Soon, poor Kanuri boys, about six or seven years old, began streaming in. Wakil let them play in her compound. Eventually, she would let them garden with her and pick fruit from her trees. Although she already had two of her own children at the time, she started calling these gangly neighbourhood boys her “sons”. In turn, the boys called her “mama”, and to show how much they appreciated her, they started inviting her to attend their circumcision ceremonies, which she ended up sponsoring as a way to help their families, who were struggling financially. The circumcision of a Muslim boy is a sacred rite in northern Nigeria. When insurgents spotted Wakil’s daughter at a potential target, the man called Wakil and asked why Mama had let her daughter go to campus. After some back and forth, he said that, on Mama’s request, they were going to call off the attack.