Aisha Goni Lawal and her daughter, Aisha, at the National Hospital, Abuja, Nigeria. Photo courtesy of: The Daily Trust
At only 14 months old, baby Aisha Lawal, her own mother’s namesake, has been in hospital for a year and two months with severe burns over nearly half her body. Her hospitalization started in Maiduguri where her family fled on foot and bicycle after Boko Haram attacked their village in Bama, bombing and razing houses to the ground.
Recently her family has managed to get to National Hospital, Abuja, where she underwent a four-hour surgery. Surgeons used flesh from her thigh to reconstruct her eyelids, adding flesh to the top and bottom lids.
One of Aisha’s upper eyelids had been turned inside out, and doctors said leaving it unfixed meant Aisha could lose the eye itself due to unprotected exposure. The blast she survived had welded her left arm to her armpit. Surgeons did a skin graft to free the arm from the attachment. Scar tissue and burnt skin still cover visible parts of her body and half her head. The rest of her not visible is wrapped in bandage.
After days in trauma and intensive care unit at the hospital, where Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visited her family, she and her parents-Aisha and Ibrahim Goni Lawal-are now in the hospital’s private wing, with treatment privately paid for by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Daily Trust met the family.
Daily Trust: Where were you when the attack took place?
Ibrahim Goni: We were in Bama. It was early, around five in the morning. I was in the mosque but my wife and baby were at home. That was when they attacked the town. Suddenly we heard gunshots. There were soldiers in the town at that time, that’s why we had courage to stay on before it happened.
That morning of the attack, Boko Haram insurgents set our house on fire, with my daughter inside. It was her mother who went into the room to get her. She saved her from the fire.
[Aisha’s] grandmother and my wife took her and left the town. They hired a bicycle. They were carried on the bicycle into the bush along the road to Maiduguri. They spent up to three days in the bush before they reached Maiduguri. They went to a hospital there.
DT: Where were you at that time?
Aisha Lawal: I was in the bathroom. I had just bathed baby Aisha, and she was in the bedroom. I had the baby dressed before I was bathing too. I heard gunshots so I tried to put on my clothes. My baby was crying. I came out running. The house was on fire, and my baby, too. I ran in and pulled her by the leg and brought her out.
She was already burning and screaming when I brought her out. I removed her clothes, which were on fire. I put her in my hijab and ran out with her. We went straight into the bush. The father had fled from the mosque. He didn’t enter the house. From the bush we emerged in a village whose name I don’t know.
DT: How was baby Aisha then?
Ibrahim: She was crying all through. It was at that village that we hired a bicycle for N1,500. Some people helped us, the moment they saw our situation. The person we hired the bicycle from rode it. We were brought to Konduga on the bicycle and from there buses took us to Maiduguri. They were taking people from Konduga to Maiduguri. There were so many people waiting, the buses had to come back and forth.
DT: How long was the journey from when you entered the bush in Bama to Maiduguri?
Aisha: Forty-five kilometers. We walked more than 45km on foot. We met my husband at the motor park in Maiduguri, where he was already waiting for us.
Ibrahim: When you come to Maiduguri, you don’t enter. You stay on the outskirts. If your people are aboard the inbound vehicle, you meet them. If they are not, you wait for them before you can continue the journey.
We went to Costain Hospital in Maiduguri. We paid for the treatment. Doctor asked when we came, ‘who’s baby is this’? We came forward, and has asked if we had money to treat her. I said yes, we have N20,000. They wrote prescriptions, and I bought the drugs, and they worked on her. For four months, they were writing out prescriptions.
DT: How did you come to Abuja?
Ibrahim: The Vice President [Yemi Osinbajo] came to Costain to see people affected [in the attack]. Many were pointed out to him. [That was July 1, 2015]. That’s when he said, this particular one, I will handle her treatment personally, and it is not from government money, it will be from my pocket.
One of her eyes doesn’t close, so they said they will work on it so it closes. They have separated her arm from her armpit, which was fused before. Just the hand is left. They have told us that when she grows a little, they can continue work on the hand. They said they will give us time until they finish the work.
DT: How did you manage with her before now?
Ibrahim: Nothing. We couldn’t do anything. We didn’t have any drugs to give her, couldn’t put anything on her skin. We just held her that way.
DT: How do you handle your daughter’s care?
Ibrahim: We don’t bathe her. There’s need for it, but we can’t do that. We just clean her up. There are so many bandages on her.
DT: What would you want done to the perpetrators, if they are caught?
Ibrahim: Whatever punishment the government deems fit.