The current situations of things in Nigeria’s North-eastern states (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe) is far from being over. The Islamist Boko Haram has sacked several towns and villages, killing several persons and erasing their homes and livelihoods. As a result of this, many persons, especially women and children have fled from the rampaging and murderous activities of Boko Haram. These women and children have watched their loved ones killed slowly in their presence. The memory of these events is still very much with some of the victims that I spoke with at the International Christian Centre in Edo-State, Nigeria.
Recounting her ordeal, I journeyed with Mama Emmanuel (real name concealed) on how she escaped from Boko Haram’s terrorist attack as well as her coming to the International Christian Centre. On a fateful sunny day in 2015 without any premonition of attack, Mama Emmanuel Continued “I dey my shop as I be tailor and also I they sell clothes” (I am a tailor and I also deal on clothing), we heard gunshots and sporadic shootings in the air. Everyone according to her were running helter-skelter. Mothers were calling out to their children to run to safety. Members of the Boko Haram having secured the marketplaces that we were selling our wares, began to shoot at us. Many persons were killed in the market. We just had to walk over dead bodies in order to escape. They were so many dead bodies piled on the road. As I was running, I saw some children crying, I took one on my back and continued running. I could see the faces of innocent children dying slowly in their pool of blood. For some, knives were thrust into their belly. Pregnant women were ripped apart and the abled young men were separated and put to die. Mama Emmanuel in a hushed tone said to me “I watched my husband and sons killed from afar”. I could still hear their voices and plea for mercy. I will never wish this tragedy for the worst of my enemy, mama Emmanuel said tersely.
Even so, Fatimah (real name withheld), a young girl from Gwoza in Borno state, recounted how Boko Haram members dressed like soldiers descended upon their village in May 2014 leaving in its wake tears of sorrows and avalanche of death. While she was in the farming, she continued in between sobs, Boko Haram came with motor bikes and lorries to their town. She hid beneath the cassava leaves in the farm and from that vantage, she heard screams and plea for mercy by the villagers, but sadly, Boko Haram showed no mercy. Residential houses and business centres were burnt, young beautiful girls and young boys were carried away like booty of war and their food were carted away. Oh yes mama Emmanuel interjected “they also too away everything including our food and medicine”.
However, for Malima, the memory of Boko Haram was in confronting and living with the ways she watched Boko Haram cut her husband into pieces and having her own daughter raped and taken away. According to her, they were taking to a nearby forest blind folded and chained. On a fateful day which she attributed to a miraculous intervention; their captors unchained them and then went off drinking. In the night, they were all drunk. Malina said she was able to escape with her daughter and three other children whose parents were killed by Boko Haram. The 5 days of experience with the dare devils in the heart of the forest in Borno with Boko Haram are memories that are still green in her mind.
It was a similar experience with Titi whose legs were macheted by Boko Haram when the latter came to their town of Milchiga in 2014. Everyone was running, she continued and then “you will notice that the person running alongside with you as fallen dead (shot dead by Boko Haram). All you have to do is to continue running praying that you don’t get hit by the bullet”. What was painful to Titi were the ways in which some of her neighbours transformed into Boko Haram overnight and inflicted the most grievous crimes on her community. How could they be so wicked she said in between exasperation to kill and maim those they have lived peacefully with for several years. The pull of blood everywhere on that fateful day still resides in me. I could also hear the voice of my best friend who was shot dead and her shout to me to help her. Oh yes, I failed her as I could neither turn back to give her a helping hand. Sometimes I still feel guilty.
Such were the experiences of their encounter with Boko Haram. The journey to the International Christian centre did not come so easy. Titi, Malima, Fatimah and a host of others escaped to the caves and the mountains in Borno State. Mama Emmanuel crossed into Northern Cameron at first. Titi, narrated how they were so scared and drank their own urine in order to survive. Malima said they ate grass on their way. While Mama Emmainuel told me, they had bruised all over their bodies in their effort to survive Boko Haram attack. Fatimah added that they stayed several days without having a bath or change of clothes and sanitary pads. It was a testament of pain as she completed in between clenched fist. Despite these, their travails were far from being over. Boko Haram chased them to the mountains, and some died of hunger and thirst in the caves and the mountain tops. Many of them that survived including Titi, malima, Fatimah journeyed over 1250KM from Gwoza in North-eastern Nigeria to Edo State in Southern Nigeria through the help of some spirited individuals and the friends of the International Christian Centre.
Although, majority at the centre have lost their love ones: husbands, sons, friends, relatives, brothers, sisters as well as their homes and livelihood, they have also shown incredible resilience in the face of undaunting challenges. Fatimah, Malima have gathered the pieces of their lives and have gone back to school. They have completed their high school studies, but sadly, there are no funds for them to continue their education. On the other hand, Mama Emmanuel has resumed her work as a tailor. But the challenge of having a capital to get her feet on the ground is far from being over; With your support, we can put smiles into our fellow human across the globes. Yes, we can.
Volunteer with Voice of the World