The Magic in Amama Jibril

They fled a Boko Haram massacre. Now, after years in refugee camps, families return to rebuild their lives in the north of Nigeria. But the return is uncertain.

At first glance, Amama Jibril seems to be no different from the other students, the students who make up almost 40 per cent of the 200,000 refugees in Boko Haram-controlled north-east Nigeria.

But Jibril is different because she lives with her family and because she is the only girl in class. She doesn’t know what to do with a boyfriend, who turns up one day and says he is going to the beach “to get away from the heat”. One day, she sits to do her GCSE mathematics, but she is sick. The next morning she goes to school but she is still sick.

Her parents, Nzim Nkomo and Nzeoma Jibril, are on the run, trying to live with what their daughter has: a sick stomach, an absent knee, and a damaged foot. But they know she is the key to their survival. “She has the magic in her,” says her father. “I am going to see what I can do,” says her mother, Nzeoma.

When I met them 10 weeks ago, at their home in the remote village of Amatu, Niger’s northern border with Cameroon, they were on the run from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the extremist Islamist group that has killed tens of thousands and forced an estimated 1 million to flee across the border with Cameroon to neighbouring countries.

In the village of Amatu, one of Niger’s poorest, not a single woman has a husband. Women are the breadwinners. The men work at the local farm or the gold mines. The women take care of the children. Jibril’s father works but cannot make enough money to feed them. Her mother, Nzeoma, does not work because she has multiple sclerosis. Every day they go back to the farm to pick food out of the morning’s harvest.

Jibril is

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