‘How we outsmarted insurgents to escape’ – Boko Haram Survivors (PICTURED)

‘How we outsmarted insurgents to escape’ – Boko Haram Survivors (PICTURED)

By Vanguard on November 2, 2014
Boko Haram Borno Sambisa Forest
Nigerian soldiers patrol in the north of Borno state close to a Islamist extremist group Boko Haram former camp on June 5, 2013 near Maiduguri. | Quentin Leboucher/AFP/Getty Images

Suffering, indeed, is an equalizer in the human experience. It knows neither rich nor poor, religion nor ethnicity.


It was tears, sadness and gratitude to God, all at once as some victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s North-East recounted their experiences to Sunday Vanguard in Adamawa State recently. Some of the experiences were reminiscent of experiences of non-Nazis in Nazi Germany.

At St. Theresa’s Cathedral, Yola where some displaced persons had gone to get foodstuffs and receive medical care courtesy of the Catholic Diocese of Yola in conjunction with the American University of Nigeria, individuals, organisations and societies within the church, Sunday Vanguard spoke with some of the displaced persons who told their story of torture in the hands of the insurgents and eventual escape.

“But I think some of the soldiers are members of Boko Haram; in fact, many are sympathetic to the sect because some of the soldiers don’t shoot at the insurgents, they just shoot into the air to exhaust their bullets. Some have been known to shoot at fellow soldiers instead of the insurgents.”

Cecilia Sumaila from Madagali said: “When the Boko Haram insurgents came to my house, they met me and said they have been looking for me and I asked them why?

They said they want me to convert to Islam and I told them I could never do that. They said ok, if they cannot convert me to Islam, then they would kill me.

They tied my hands and legs behind and said they will take me to Sambisa forest and slaughter me and my children will never see me again. So everyone at home was kneeling and crying, including my mother in-law who held my feet and said they will not take me anywhere.

They were crying and begging that I should not be taken away but they insisted, saying I am very stubborn because I refused to convert to Islam.

They placed me on their motorcycle and for about two hours, they were threatening to take me to Sambisa and slaughter me but I insisted I was not going to convert. In the end, they said if not for my mother-in-law, they would have slaughtered me. They released me and I ran away and eventually came to Yola.”

Were they from Madagali?

“We see them in their long attires and guns going around town.”

Martina Ibrahim from Gulak: “When they came to my house, they met four of us, so they asked if we are Christians or Moslems and we said we are Christians so they said we should follow them so they could convert us to Islam. They took four of us to a big house still in Gulak.

Fortunately, one of the women being held there helped me escape. She helped me to climb the wall and I scaled the wall to freedom. Sadly, I don’t know whether the woman eventually escaped or she is still there in captivity. I don’t know where my husband and children are, whether they are alive or dead, I can’t say.”

Elizabeth Chutsi from Bazza: “It was on a Sunday and some soldiers told us to leave because Boko Haram insurgents were coming. I just came back from the stream and entered a neighbour’s house to say hello.

There was an aluminium pot on the fire but she was not around, so I was asking where she could have gone leaving her pot on fire. As I was coming out of the kitchen, two members of the Boko Hara sect came in with two turkeys and two chickens.

They asked why I did not run and I said I was having stomach ache. They said I should not be afraid, that I should stay there and kill the turkeys and chickens and cook for them. So I asked them to allow me go and get my children so we could all do the job and they said I should go. I was walking as if I was going to drop dead at any moment.

They had guns and cutlasses. As I opened the door, I saw some youths firing shots at some rocks. Those two were still in the house waiting for me to return. I went behind the hill and ran away.”

Mary from Michika:

“When the insurgents came, they were searching houses, looking for men. They would enter a house, ask for the men and if they found none, they would leave and enter the next house.

After I locked my house, I came back to see that they had broken down the door and entered to search again. They found nothing. We became afraid and I told some of my neighbours (women) that there was no point staying there, that it was better for us to run. So we left for Michika.

Two days after we arrived in Michika, the insurgents started coming that way.

We were afraid and I told the women that we should go back to Gulak. We all went to Gulak and spent one night. By 10 am the following day, some insurgents came and took us away. We were 10 women.

They took us to a big house. They were speaking Kanuri language and, fortunately, I understand the language. They were saying they needed to carry us to Sambisa as quickly as possible because another set was coming.

I was in the midst of about 40 other women and I was the only Christian. I knelt down and was praying to God to intervene. They were speaking Kanuri language and laughing. So I stood up to speak to them.

My neighbour asked if I was not afraid of them and I said no, that I wanted to speak to them, after all, our staying there was death already because, at the end of the day, they would take us to Sambisa. I raised my hand and they asked if I had something to say and I said yes.

I spoke to them in Kanuri, telling them that I left my young children at home and no one was looking after them and since they said they were going to take care of us, they should allow me to go and get them so we could all be together.

They asked where my husband was and I told them he was on admission in a Kano hospital. They allowed me to go and get the children. That was how I escaped to Yola through Kamale. My children were already in Yola at this time.

Kiviana John from Gulak. “When this crisis happened in Madagali, we were deceived into believing that it will never get to Gulak. But as days went by, people began to pack foodstuff to hide in the forest.

As a widow, I had no one to help me, so a kind-hearted neighbour helped me to take two bags of guinea corn. Shortly after, the insurgents entered Gulak and people began to flee into the bush.

We were in the bush for one week without food. One day, my sister said we should go and look for food as others were doing since the children were hungry and sick. She insisted we go and look for food. We decided to go to Gulak because my children were really hungry and sick.

We went in the night and got the food quite alright but on our way back to the bush, some insurgents sighted us, arrested us and were forcing us to go with them to their camp.

By this time, my mother-in-law had taken my children away from me so I didn’t even know where they were. The insurgents asked one of them on motorcycle to lead us to their camp.

As he rode slowly and we followed behind, he was cursing us, calling us heathens whom Allah had sent them to save but we prefer darkness to light. ‘You heathens, we want to make you clean and show you the light so that you will follow the way of truth but you prefer darkness, we will deal with you.’

I said no problem, if death comes while following Christ, no problem but I will not abandon my faith for Islam.

The other women with me could not utter a word. I told them to say something, that even if we are to face death, we should die in Christ. He went ahead of us on his bike as we followed behind.

Whenever he look back, we would hasten our steps and whenever he turned his face away from us, we would slow down. At a point, he turned into a corner and could not see us.

We quickly dropped the foodstuff to save our lives. We ran into a tomb and stayed for some time. They were looking for us all over the place and when they could not find us, they left, that was how God saved us and we escaped being taken to their camp.”

“We cannot say they are sympathisers but some of the commanders have already sold out the soldiers. That is what is happening. So when they attack, the commanders will not command the troops to attack them. They just keep withdrawing instead of attacking.”

Yohanna Haman works as the chief security officer of St Pius Catholic Church, Shuwa in Madagali Local Government Area. His story was like a scene from a James Bond movie.

His words: “This happened in September. I was at the gate when some Muslim brothers came to us and asked us to leave the compound and run away.

We did not listen to them because they were military people and they came in their armoured car. They told us to leave because insurgents were on their way to the area. They said I should lock the gate and leave because if they met me there, they will kill me.

They then escaped in their armoured. They had weapons but they all escaped. I refused to leave. I went into the church and told my parish priest what the soldiers said. The priest said we should leave because Boko Haram had already entered Gulak. He came out and saw the soldiers escaping.

He asked if I was going home and I assured him I was not going to leave him there all alone for the love of Christ. Within 30 minutes, we started hearing gunshots and bombs exploding at Gulak. We spent the night in the church.

On Saturday, some people came to the church and asked me to leave because the insurgents were looking for us. I told them I was going nowhere. I told my priest and he left for Michika saying if I hear gunshots, I should escape. After he left, I was all alone in the parish. I spent the night there.

The following day being Sunday, by 7.30am, the priest called me and said he was on his way back to the church; so I went to dress the altar for service. When he came and started the mass, I told him to continue, that I was going to stay outside to keep watch and if I see the insurgents coming or hear gunshots, I’d let him know.

Within 30 minutes, the mass, attended by 15 people, was over and the priest told me he was going to outstation. I was once again alone in the church. Within 30 minutes, the insurgents came. They blocked the whole road and nobody could go out.

As soon as I sighted them, God helped me to quickly lock the gate and stayed within the parish until 6.30pm when I scaled the wall to escape, I found out they had taken over the road so there was no way I could cross to my house without being seen.

I went to the bush behind my house where I stayed till 2.30am and then scaled the fence into a neighbour’s compound and stayed. At about 5.25am, I went back into the bush and, from there, climbed back into the church premises. I went into the priest’s sitting room and locked myself inside.

Within a short time, the insurgents came through St. Joseph’s Minor Seminary, Shuwa, and surrounded the seminary and came to our parish and surrounded it also.

I heard gunshots, they were shooting the padlock, trying to enter the church premises but they could not. They decided to find another means of breaking the gate to gain entrance into the church. At this point, I opened the sitting room door and came out.

I saw one of them outside the gate, so I took the opposite direction and jumped into the convent. Some of them saw me and pursued me.

I scaled the fence. They began following on motorcycle and shooting at me. It was a miracle that I was not hit by bullets. I fell on the ground and they felt I was dead, so they left me. Later, I found my way out of Shuwa.

Barnabas Paul Mbiya from Michika: “When the insurgents attacked Gulak, we were not aware they were coming to Michika but people were running up and down. I even took my family to the mountainous area and left them there and came back home to sleep. We were only three in the whole area. I saw soldiers arriving that evening and that boosted my confidence to stay.

On Sunday, we went to church; after service, my sister called me from Shuwa to say insurgents were in Shuwa and that I should find my way out; so I told some of my friends that we should leave the town. I went home and packed a few things and my documents and tied on my motorcycle.

I left every other thing in the house including my animals and about 60 chickens. As I coming out, the insurgents entered Michika, they were pursuing soldiers because at that point, they were not concerned about civilians, only security agents. The soldiers asked me to go back but I refused because if I went back, the insurgents would attack me. I decided to climb the mountain.

We spent three days on the mountain with no food. On the third day, I decided to go down and find my way to Yola. People were telling me not to go down but I had made up my mind. I took my family and went down and, from there, we paid N2,000 to Mubi Road on motorcycle and boarded a bus to Yola.

Mbiya believes that some of the soldiers are sympathetic to the insurgents. He said:

“We cannot say they are sympathisers but some of the commanders have already sold out the soldiers. That is what is happening. So when they attack, the commanders will not command the troops to attack them. They just keep withdrawing instead of attacking.

“But I think some of the soldiers are members of Boko Haram; in fact, many are sympathetic to the sect because some of the soldiers don’t shoot at the insurgents, they just shoot into the air to exhaust their bullets. Some have been known to shoot at fellow soldiers instead of the insurgents.”

Regina Bitrus:

“We were working on the farm on the fateful day when around 3.00pm I decided to go home. But when we got to the stream, my son said he wanted to bathe. I was carrying one of the children on my back; suddenly, a man came out of nowhere, all covered up; only his eyes were visible.

When I turned and saw him, I ran. He caught me by the hand and we began to struggle and I was able to push him down. If not that I held his hand, he would have slaughtered me and my children.

I ran home and told my people that I was leaving the village. They said they were going to look for the man but that I should leave everything to God. I had four new wrappers worth N8,000 which someone bought for N1,000. I used the money to transport myself and children to Kamale to Sina-gali then to Mubi and Yola.

Naomi Zira from Michika: The insurgents met us at home. All our neighbours had left town, including my father and siblings.

My daughter saw one of them coming from behind our house and alerted me. But I couldn’t run. I was pregnant. My daughter fled into the bush and they entered and met me. They asked what I was doing and I said I could not run. They asked if I had food and I said even if I had nothing to eat, I would still not run. They asked where my husband was and I said they should go in and search because my husband had left three days earlier.

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