By CHIOMA IGBOKWE
■ I was about leaving when they stormed our house; I ran to the bush and hid. They asked my father to denounce his faith but he refused, they slaughtered him. They dragged my mother and my sisters out and also slaughtered them and set our house on fire, I can still hear my father’s voice shouting that I should run and seek a better future -Survivor
With the raging battle between Boko Haram insurgents and the Nigerian military in the North East, hundreds of residents of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states fleeing the battle front have continued to make Lagos their daily destination. Some and mostly men with scars of the war, others with sordid stories of their escape to tell.
Those willing to tell their stories do so with trepidation and on the condition that their full identity will not be disclosed. Though no official refugee camp has been set up for them in Lagos, they are daily trooping to the various destitute camps located in abandoned buildings, unsecured markets, under major bridges and slums as well as relations and friends gate houses across the state.
One of such is Umar, a 29-year-old who is a member of the civilian JTF operating along with the military to fight the insurgents in Borno State. Recalling his experience and why he had to his family in the battle front, he alleged that the security forces seemed overwhelmed by the audacity and firepower of the sect.
“I am a member of the civilian JTF in our local government. Days before the recent attack and final take-over, we got an alert from villagers that they (insurgents) would attack Bama town. The JTF chairman rushed to the Brigade commander at 202 Battalion Barracks and alerted them but they waved it aside and said that it is not true.
“Unfortunately, on August 30, 2014, they struck at about 6am. We were woken up by heavy gunshots, we immediately ran to the barracks for safety and to let them know in case they claim that they did not hear the gunshots. On our way, everyone was happy that the soldiers were already prepared because we saw them all dressed up in army uniform, in Hilux vans and armored tanks. On a second thought, we wondered why they were heading into the barracks instead of the village which was under attack. Suddenly, they started shouting that Allah is great, it was then that we realised that they are Boko Haram members. They opened fire at the soldiers while the soldiers shot back at them.
“We had to alert the state government and the emirate of the danger of going ahead with the ceremony because of grave threats from Boko Haram and some elements opposed to the emergence of Sanusi as emir within the city. This is certainly beyond politics but a serious security issue”, a top security source told Saturday Sun.
Another source within the Kano emirate council, who also confirmed the last minute cancellation of the coronation ceremony, expressed frustration over the development. “It was a last minute decision by all stakeholders given the security reports brought by Abuja people at least in the interest of peace. The most unfortunate part of the whole thing is that some invited guests had to cancel their engagements outside the country including a prominent traditional ruler in Kaduna State to return home last week to attend the function only to be told a few hours to the programme that the ceremony has been cancelled with no specific date in view”, the high ranking chief stated.
While reacting to the well concealed development, a top official of the Kano State government who does not want to be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, admitted that the ceremony was hurriedly put off because of some issues related to security complications.
“There is no point hiding anything, it is true the ceremony was put off to enable the state government to complete a coronation arena being built within the government house since the palace won’t be ideal for such because of security implications. When completed and a new date fixed, only invited guests will be allowed to attend the function. The state government would not want to leave anything to chances at this critical time”, the source stated.
When asked when the ceremony will now hold, the state official said: “No one can say, at this juncture, when the programme will hold but we are hoping it may be after sallah.”
Efforts to get the DSS spokesperson, Maryln Ogar explain why the security agency was still holding on to Sanusi’s passport proved abortive as she declined to comment when called on the phone on Wednesday. Subsequent calls to her line same day and Thursday went unanswered.
There had been a number of Boko Haram attacks in the ancient city. At least six persons were killed in July in a suicide bombing at the Kano State Polytechnic.
“We had to hide and lie face down to avoid being hit by stray bullets; everyone was relieved when the military jet bomber flew across the area. We were shocked when they threw bomb inside the barracks close to where soldiers were protecting the artillery bombs. They killed a lot of soldiers and some members of Boko Haram. The soldiers at some point dropped their weapons, removed their uniforms and ran away. Some of us who survived the shootout followed them and ran into the bushes”, Umar said showing displaying his Civilian JTF identity card.
Journey to Maiduguri town
When it was obvious that the sect members had taken control of the town, Umar and the others decided to relocate to Maiduguri for safety. “It was everyman on his own. We had no car and had to walk a distance of 75km to the town. We advised the women and children who are still alive to stay back in Bama since the insurgents were usually after men to kill. All those that were captured, were slaughtered and those who attempted to run were shot at. No man was spared because the whole town swore with the Koran that they will not support the activities of the sect members.
“We moved through the bushes till we got to Maiduguri at around 7pm. Villagers between Bama and Maiduguri refused to give us water. They claimed that if they assist us, Boko Haram members will know and then destroy their community. Right now, there are many corpses in the town because there are no men in the town. Women are the ones burying the corpses in Bama town. These men are heavily armed and most of their weapons are got from the military. Before the attack on Bama, we heard that they just stocked the armoury with all kinds of weapons. Instead of the military using their weapons, they will abandon them and run away. The sect took over the barracks and carried all the weapons. This is a typical example of how government assist the insurgents; you stock the armoury and flee at any slightest attack. It was even the soldiers that advised us to run and led the pace”, Umar said.
On getting to Maiduguri, Umar said that they were also warned to look for another place as the sect members are on their way to Maiduguri. “I waited at the border town hoping for any news from the town as to the whereabouts of my wives and children. It was then that one of the women who managed to escape told us that after our escape, the Boko Haram members moved from house to house burning houses and killing every man in sight, especially the elderly who could not run with us. They were all slaughtered. I left my family behind because there was no way we could have escaped alive. As long as you are a woman and willing to surrender to their demand, they will not kill you or your child. They only marry and have sex with them”, Umar further narrated.
Counting his losses, Umar said that his shops were destroyed even as his entire family members are feared dead. “When I discovered that they were after the men, I had no choice but to leave them and run away. Any woman, who attempts to run, will be shot and no woman will want to leave her child behind. My father was an old man and refused to run away. He preferred to die there. It was while we were waiting for anyone who will give us information that a lady came in with news that they have killed all the men in the town. She told the sect members guarding the town that she was looking for her child dead or alive. They allowed her to cross. That was how she fled the town to Maiduguri. She also told us to leave Maiduguri because the insurgents warned them to stay in Bama because they will surely take over all the towns in Borno including Maiduguri.”
Lamenting that the Civilian JTF members are ready to fight and protect their territory if they are better armed, Umar said: “Almost every man in the town is a member of the civilian JTF. We were properly screened by the military before ID cards were issued to us. Our only setback is that we do not have access to good weapons. How can you fight a man with grenade launchers with a mere cutlass? It is not possible. The guns that we are allowed to carry are those used by hunters. What can that do?”
Another survivor, Maina said he was still terrified as he does not know the fate of his wife and kid. “My son was barely a month old when they struck. I feel bad that I was not strong enough to carry them along with me. They were slaughtering all the men in the town. After they killed my parents; I knew it was time to run. We had to run down to Lagos since no state in the North is safe again. We heard that they will attack Maiduguri with a jet bomber.
“Why has government not attacked them? They are occupying that area all alone. There are no villages without them and now they have started taking over towns. Bama town was attacked because we refused to help them. Instead of compensating us with adequate security, they left us to die in the hands of these evil men.”
Maina thanked God that the members of Boko Haram were not killing women and children that cooperate with them but pleaded for timely intervention to save his wife. “If the military does not move in on time, they might get my wife pregnant”, he stated.
Another survivor, Mustapha, 28, lamented that their emir abandoned the community and fled. “He knew that there might be an attack, instead of alerting people, he fled the palace with his wives. Ever since this matter started, the emir does not sleep in Bama. We had no leader. It was every man to himself.
“I have four wives and 15 children, all trapped in the town. You can imagine what they are doing to my wives. The thought of it is killing me and that is why I can barely eat, ever since I escaped. I want to return and rescue them but they advised that I should stay back and be alive to make more children in case they are slaughtered. It is a pity that the soldiers who were supposed to protect us are the ones that led the escape. They pulled off their uniforms and fled, asking us to join them and run.”
Mustapha pleaded with government to find a way to send food to Bama town as people there are starving. “For those who are still alive, their problems are not Boko Haram but hunger. They need food or they will all die, nobody is allowed to go to farm or market to get food supply. Government should help us; everywhere is littered with corpses. They are not true Muslims. They are killing Muslims too. Most of them cannot read the Koran and do not know what it says. They are murderers.”
While refugees from Bama lament their fate, another survivor from Madagali town in Adamawa State, Matthew Tandu John, has given up hope that his parents and sisters will ever return to him. He claimed that when the sect attacked his town over a week ago, the insurgents slaughtered many and burnt any house in sight.
“It appears that my father knew that they were coming. He raised some money and gave me. He told me to be at alert, in case of any attack. As soon as they attacked Michika, he asked me to run down to Lagos. I heard they were advancing to the town, and I packed my bag with the little money. I was about leaving when they stormed our house; I ran to the bush and hid. They asked my father to denounce his faith but he refused, they slaughtered him. They dragged my mother and my sisters out and also slaughtered them and set our house on fire, I can still hear my father’s voice shouting that I should run and seek a better future.
“I ran as fast as my leg can carry me into the bush. I joined the next available transport out of Adamawa to Lagos. It was one of our relatives in Lagos that accommodated me and asked me to learn how to ride a bike. I am determined to survive and live my father’s dream of becoming a lawyer,” Matthew said.
Matthew’s greatest wish is to get admitted into any university to further his education. “Please, if you can help me get across to Atiku Abubakar. All I need is to buy JAMB form and prepare for exams. I can read at home because I came back with my books. Before I ran away, my father told me that all I need is my books and hard work, that knowledge is power. He told me that as soon as I acquire that knowledge, that God will open doors for me to excel. I am also inspired by the words of Atiku Abubabkar that education truly can change a person’s story. It gave me everything. Whatever happens, get education. I hope to change my story and continue the legacy of my parents who are dead”, Matthew said in tears.