In 2015 when Boko Haram terrorists attacked Bama Local Government Area of Borno State, 25-year-old Fatima Amsami had to flee for safety, leaving her paralysed mother behind. Amsami trekked more than 60 Kilometres from Bama to seek refuge in Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State.
It was a horrific experience for her, coupled with the fact that she had lost her father when she was a child, yet, in a new environment, she knew life owed her nothing, and she would have to work for everything she wanted.
“I know life will never be easy with me due to my sad experiences, but with the insurgency, things had become even worse,” she told Prime Progress.
For most girls displaced by conflicts, a life of begging for alms or doing house chores is their only option, but Amsami wanted different. Despite her condition, she vowed to become independent, and her strong will helped her to start learning cap knitting from an aged woman in Mairi, where she lives with some relatives.
Before the attacks on Bama, Amsami was a primary school student who learned to read and write.
When she settled in Maiduguri and started making money from the cap knitting business, she registered in secondary school, where she even sat for the WAEC examinations last year.
She feels happy that the skill has shaped her life from a victim of conflict to a growing entrepreneur.
“I make money through this hustle, and that’s what pays my bills,” she says. “Therewere five other young girls affected by conflicts who also learned cap sewing from me, and now they are out there pushing for a better life through it.”
Cap knitting is an ancient tradition in Borno that provides for many young girls and women. Apart from fashion, the caps are seen as protection against the scorching sun and dust.
Called Zanna cap, these caps are also known in Kanuri, one of the major tribes in Borno, as Zanna Yauri or Zanna Dapcherima. They are also called Tangaram in the Hausa language.
To make the cap, one only needs a needle, thread, and fabric. After being designed to suit customers’ tastes, they are sold out and then worn on the head, matched with a kaftan.
An average cap can sell for N7000. There are others that go for N10,000 to N20,000, and even up to N30,000 and above, depending on the designs and type of fabric used.
Zainab Bukar, a young businesswoman, goes around Maiduguri buying caps in large quantities from women and girls like Amsami and, in turn, sells to her customers outside of Borno State.
She said cap knitting is a good skill that can help a person become self-sustaining.
“Some of these girls are talented even with their vulnerability. I think it’s good to go around and buy what they make, as that will go a long way in giving them hope to live fully,” Bukar said.
According to 2021 UN estimates, 2.2 million people were displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in Northeast Nigeria. Among them, 531,000 are women and 677,000 girls.
Some displaced women and girls who are now settled in communities with relative peace are stigmatised and suffer discrimination.
“There are times when you are treated differently just because you are a refugee. It hurts me so much whenever someone calls me a migrant,” Amsami said.
Despite that, Amsami said she is grateful for the beautiful moments when people showed her love and treated her as one of them without discrimination.
She expressed optimism about what the future holds for her as she pushes for a better life.
“I’m trying to gather more money from cap sewing so that I can go to the university and further my studies,” she said.