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Biography of Hamsatu Allamin

Hamsatu is a trusted negotiator and peacemaker between militants and security forces in her country’s conflict­-ridden and impoverished North East region. She serves as the regional manager of the North East section of the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP) and a national executive member of the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria.

Allamin is an educator by profession. After getting her education at the University of Maiduguri, she relocated to a small village where her husband had inherited his father’s position as a traditional leader. Allamin began teaching at a community college, and also started organizing forums for grassroots women to gather and discuss issues arising within the community.

With the rise of the militant group Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal­ Jihad (JAS), commonly known as Boko Haram, Allamin was compelled to become a human rights defender and women’s activist. She witnessed the violence escalating with the counter­productive strategies that the government and security forces were employing. “It was then that I took it upon myself to visit [the areas where JAS was recruiting] and know who these boys are, identify with the parents, sympathize with them, with the conviction that someone has to engage with them to stop the violence,” she has stated.

Many of the communities, and the young men in particular, were skeptical of Allamin because she was a woman. But they eventually began opening up because she was one of the only people listening to their needs and grievances.

Allamin’s deftness in listening, analyzing, and initiating new strategies led her to call on the Interfaith Mediation Center in Kaduna to intervene in what was happening in her region, which eventually led to the Presidential Committee for Dialogue — bringing national and international attention to the situation.

Allamin also created the Network of Civil Society Organizations for Peace (NSRP), in the states where JAS originated, Borno and Yobe. After the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok in 2014, the network was the first to hold a press conference — in Maiduguri six days later — effectively launching the Bring Back Our Girls campaign.

Through the NSRP, Allamin is implementing a project on countering violent extremism, focused on restoring social norms, changing the narrative of apathy toward the West, and developing a module for teaching peace and setting up peace clubs in Islamiya School in the state of Borno. Allamin is also the country representative of the Network of Women Activists Against Violent Extremism, an affiliate of the International Civil Society Action Network.

Michele Obama didn’t know Hamsatu Allamin. Neither did Malala Yousafzai, Amy Poehler, Justin Timberlake, and scores of other celebrities. But because of a press conference Hamsatu, a human rights activist, spearheaded in her home city of Maiduguri, Nigeria, in April of 2014, those celebrities and millions of people all over the world came to know of the abduction by the insurgent group, Boko Haram, of 200+ girls from a boarding school in Chibok, a village in Borno State. And thousands subsequently took to social media to demand the girls be returned to their homes.

Word of their kidnapping had reached Hamsatu the morning after it happened through a phone call from an associate who lived in Chibok. The Nigerian government’s initial response to the incident ranged from obfuscation to denial. Rumors replaced information. Hearsay doubled as news.

A full four days after the girls were taken in the middle of the night from their dormitory, little was officially reported on the incident and nothing was known about their whereabouts. Those whose daughters had disappeared wondered why their country’s security forces hadn’t been able to quickly find hundreds of teenage girls, a cadre of insurgents, and a convoy of vehicles in the expanse around Chibok — a lonely landscape dotted with thorny bushes and scattered trees.

Against the backdrop of virtual silence on the matter, Hamsatu contacted a colleague in Maiduguri’s civil society — Professor Hauwa Abdu Biu — to help coordinate a press conference to draw attention to what had happened in Chibok. The two hoped that the publicity would create international pressure on the government to do more to find the girls and to dialogue with the insurgents to end the rampant violence that threatened the future of their country.

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