Saturday, March 14, 2015

Eyewitness account of Boko Haram atrocities

Joseph, 26, had one and a half years left to spend in school when Boko Haram struck on April 4, 2014, and the school has remained shut since then. He said, “I was in the school hostel on that day when around 4am, we heard gunshots and bombings on the campus. Five students were killed in the attack; two of them, Musa and Zainab were my course mates.

“At least, half of the school structures were destroyed by Boko Haram. So, the Provost of the college shut down the school and asked everyone to leave because of the insecurity.” However, Joseph didn’t have to be told to leave as news of the Provost’s directive met him on his way to Gubla, his hometown.

“First, we trekked from Bama to Gwoza Local Government Area, which is about 30 km because there were no vehicles on the roads. It was at Gwoza that I was able to get a vehicle to take me to Gubla for N1,000, four times the normal fare,” he recalled. Three months later, while waiting for his school to resume normal activities, tragedy struck at Chakama, an adjoining village to Gubla. Forty-five persons were killed in the attack on a Catholic church in the community, including more than 10 of Joseph’s relations.

He said, “They came to Chakama and killed 45 people; I had 17 relations that were killed in the attack. I saw all the bodies and I was one of those who buried the bodies. They beheaded the men and put their heads on their chests. They wanted to spare the women but I understand the women that were killed were trying to defend their husbands.

“They blocked the church entrance and asked the worshippers to come out one after the other. Some of the worshippers managed to escape through the windows, including two of my relatives.” Shortly after the attack on the church, Joseph said the terrorists attacked Gubla too, killing four persons. It was the incident that forced Joseph to completely flee the region.

He continued: “Two weeks later, they attacked Gubla with about 15 cars and many more motorcycles. They killed four fish sellers; Yisa Dinga, Simparara, Yohanna Madaki and Ambudama. They called them pagans; they don’t like non-Muslims. They would ask questions and know if one is a Muslim or not.

“They had a shoot-out with soldiers and many of us ran to the bush. We heard that a sergeant named Alli was killed along with a boy, who climbed a tree to escape the attack. One of them saw him and shot him. “After that incident, we stopped sleeping in the village for about two months. We hid in the bush between 4pm and 6am and returned to the village in the morning. Usually, they (Boko Haram) attacked around 4am or between 7pm and 9pm. It was then that we started moving to states outside the region. Some went to Delta, some to Imo and I came to Lagos.”

As a student, Joseph had been in the business of selling motorcycles in his community and had therefore been to Lagos a few times to buy motorcycles for his customers in his community. “Some of us escaped to Mildu in the bush, then we trekked to Michika and from there, I hitchhiked to Yola,” he said.

In the aftermath of the attack, Joseph realised he had been separated from his family members – his mother, four brothers and two sisters. He said, “Later, I found one of my younger brothers, Ijakirayu, in Yola. So I took the risk to return to Mildu to look for my mother and others. But I was only able to find two brothers and one sister. Till now, I don’t know where three of my family members are.”
Joseph, who hopes to return to school someday when the crisis is over, says he eagerly follows news reports to track the whereabouts of his missing family members: mother, Cecilia, 42; sister, Jumai, 18; and brother, Danjuma, five. One of Joseph’s two relatives who survived the Boko Haram attack on Chakawa church was Jacob Bulus, 23.

Bulus was attending a Sunday service with about 150 other members when the church was attacked by the insurgents. He said, “When I heard gunshots, I lay down on the ground. After a while, I found an opening in the church building and I took off. Some of them followed me and I heard gunshots around me. I ran into the bush until I got to a sugarcane farm. The Boko Haram members that came were in camouflage but wore head ties.”

Bulus’ elder brother, Luka; his wife, Ladi, and their two children have since been missing. “I’ve been listening to the radio for news of our areas – Gubla, Chakawa and Mildu – but I’ve not been getting anything on them. But recently, I heard that soldiers have taken control of Gulak,” he said.

curled from the Punch

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