Ruth Ngladar Pogu’s release is welcome, but the man with her is not her ‘husband’

On 8 August, the state governor of Nigeria’s Borno State confirmed that Ruth Ngladar Pogu, one of around 276 girls infamously abducted from their school in Chibok, was free.

Ms Ngladar is the 108th Chibok Girl to regain some form of freedom. Several are thought to have died whilst in captivity, with an estimated 111 reported to still be in the hands of the now amalgamated terrorist group.

Ms Ngladar had reportedly surrendered herself to the military alongside one of her captors and two children she had given birth to while in captivity at the end of July, and while her freedom after over seven years is good news, the challenges that lie ahead of her and her family remain extensive.

Specifically, media have referred repeatedly to the terrorist that surrendered with her as her “husband”, using terms like “married” to described their relationship. References to “marriage” in such circumstances are erroneous, unacceptable, and must not be allowed to obscure the fact that young girls like Ms Ngladar, whose rights to freedom of religion or belief, education, parental care and liberty and security of person, among others were, and in some cases continue to be abused comprehensively, have been enslaved and violated in a manner amounting to a war crime on account of their religious belief.

In reality, not only is this man a Boko Haram fighter; he is also an abuser and a sexual predator, who stole Ms Ngladar’s future using a warped interpretation of the religion he espouses as justification, forcing her into a lifestyle she did not choose or envisage for herself.

Following the recent defeat of the Shekau faction of Boko Haram by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and with the deadline for its fighters to submit or face the consequences approaching, this abuser and others who were loyal to the late Abubakar Shekau have preferred to take their chances with a government that had rehabilitated 600 “repentant” terrorists by July 2020 under a De-radicalisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, and despite significant opposition.

So far 366 terrorists have reportedly emerged from the forest alongside 746 “family” members, surrendering weapons and money, declaring that they “repent” of their role in violence that has claimed over 30,000 lives, often receiving better treatment than those they forcibly displaced or the relatives of soldiers they killed, and claiming to be the “husbands” of women whose experiences mirror those of the Yazidi women and girls who suffered horrific violations at the hands of Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

Yet in the case of these young African women and girls, the media, both local and international has tended to adopt such euphemisms for sexual servitude blithely and without question. Such terminology not only creates a false narrative that minimises their suffering; it also implies they had a choice. This use of language must be both challenged and avoided.

Despite being a Christian when she was abducted and enslaved, in official photographs Ms Ngladar is in Muslim attire, which raises the possibility that she was subjected to forcible conversion while in captivity.  She is also reportedly in the care of the Borno state administration, which is allegedly seeing to her rehabilitation and those of her two children, while also demolishing churches in the capital city on a questionable basis – five so far – with the latest demolition claiming the life of a bystander. 

Ms Ngladar is returning with children to an uncertain future and to a community where there is still stigma with regard to bearing children out of wedlock, and more so for those fathered by terrorists. While there is joy at her return to her loved ones, such underlying issues may have an impact on the process of acceptance and healing

It is vital to ensure that from here on in Ms Ngladar is free to practise the religion or belief of her choice.  Alongside the rehabilitation of repentant terrorists, it is also vital for Nigeria formulate restorative justice that prioritises victims, including the families of soldiers who lost their lives in defence of the country, ensuring they receive monetary and other necessary compensations.

Here are additional observations from CSW-Nigeria’s Press Officer, Reuben Buhari:

“How Is He Her Husband?

It was night and the female students of Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok, Borno State had retired for the night on 14th April 2014. Suddenly, Boko Haram terrorists invaded and violently abducted 276 girls from the school. Parents were thrown into unimaginable anguish. Innocent girls, mostly 15 – 18 years found themselves among heartless extremists without regard to the sanctity of life, decency or morality. Some escaped, some died and the number dropped to about 112.

Then on 8th August, 2021 news broke that Ruth Ngladar, one of the abducted girls and her ‘husband’ had surrendered to the security men. Good news, but far from the issue. What’s the issue you ask? That appellation ‘husband’ that some have conveniently used for the man who surrendered with her. Amazingly, most do not even see the incongruousness of that appellation within the accepted norms of civility.

This man with others abducted these girls, took them away from their parents, school, and society, and forced them to another life different from theirs. He took her as his wife without her consent or her parents, and for seven years kept her as a prisoner and a sex booty from the spoils of war. Then surfaced two days ago and some are calling him her husband.  How? Calculate the number of violations and you would have a good idea of the number of legal charges that are hanging on his head. How Nigeria’s mode of justice cuddles such characters under the stupefying justification of ‘repentant’ terrorists tells why safe space keeps contracting to the detriment of us all, especially the victims.

Great that they came back, but to be qualified to be called her husband, let him go back to Chibok, sprawl before Ruth’s parents and formally ask for her hand in marriage. If Ruth agrees, good, if she doesn’t, even better. But that man isn’t her husband under all the civilised matrimonial institutions that I know.  Let her go back and pick the pieces of her life and let the man go back and stand before the laws of the land.  The nonsense approved in Sambisa by terrorists shouldn’t be condoned by decent humans in a sane environment!”

Reuben Buhari

August 10, 2021.”