Few people talk openly about Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Even fewer talk tothem. But in her motherly way, the simple-looking Hamsatu Allamin is fearless and unapologetic. “I talk with Boko Haram even today, and they are open to [a] peace deal,” says Allamin, 60, sitting cross-legged on the floor of a yellowed bungalow, her veil circling her face and spilling down to the gray-green rug.
This educator-turned-mediator looks anything but imposing. But she cracks hard ground digging for peace in a nine-year civil war that has killed 20,000 people. So how can a woman speak to a sect that keeps women silent and slaughters them for not wearing veils?
In this war-ravaged part of the country, the answers are retold with a personal bent and remixed city to city. “If that woman is not a member of Boko Haram, they would have finished her,” a friend in the northern city of Maiduguri, Ahmed Abubakar, tells me. “But if she is not one of them, then she must be a powerful witch using a mysterious power to make them impotent.”
On a recent overcast morning, Allamin, who left public service in 2016 after more than 30 years as an educator, reveals how she might have charmed Boko Haram. Not with witchcraft, but with infectious smiles and a love for listening — all squeezed into a carefree courage that can be disarming even for the deadliest sect in the world. Read more