By Father Gideon Obasogie
Communications Director, Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri
September 9, 2016
Baga is at the extreme north of Borno State (capital: Maiduguri, in Nigeria’s northeast) and has suffered extremely from the violence committed by the Wahabist fanatical group Boko Haram. Particularly horrible was the 2015 massacre, which was a series of mass killings carried out by Boko Haram in Baga and its environs between 3 January and 7 January 2015.
The attack began on 3 January when Boko Haram overran a military base that was the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force containing troops from Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. The militants then forced thousands of locals from the region and committed mass killings that culminated on the 7th.
Fatalities have been reported to be “heavy” but their extent is unclear. Several Western media reported that “over 2,000” people were thought to have been killed or “unaccounted for,” but local media reported “at least a hundred” fatalities, while the Nigerian Ministry of Defence said that no more than 150 people in total had been killed, including militants. Several government officials denied that the fatalities were as extensive as reported, with some even claiming that the massacre had never taken place or that the Nigerian military had repelled the militants from the region, a claim that was refuted by local officials, survivors, and the international media.
Baga and at least 16 other towns are thought to have been destroyed as over 35,000 people are reported to have been displaced, with many feared to have drowned while trying to cross Lake Chad and others trapped on islands in the lake. The attacks are said to have resulted in Boko Haram extending its control to over 70% of Borno State, while its leader, Abubakar Shekau (killed in September, 2016), claimed responsibility for the massacre in a video statement, saying that the victims “were not much” and that the group’s insurgency “would not stop”.
BITRUS AND REBECCA
Rebecca had been a captive of the terrorists for two years. She arrived in Maiduguri to reunite with her husband on September 5th, with a new baby from a Boko Haram father.
The family of Mr. Bitrus Zachariah with his wife Rebecca have a particularly sorrowful story to share, as they came under a ferocious attack by Boko Haram terrorists on August 21, 2014 – an attack that preceded the massive offensive and complete occupation of Baga by Boko Haram in 2015.
With a sober face and a deep feeling of depression, Rebecca told the story of her ordeal to Father Gideon Obasogie the Communications Director of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, on how the Boko Haram stormed into Baga town. In great confusion, she fled their lovely home with her husband and two sons: Zachariah who was 3 years, and Jonathan, one. She was pregnant at the time. She lost her unborn child six months later owing to the subhuman condition she was subjected to by the militants.
As they fled, her husband stood out as a target. Since he couldn’t run fast while carrying his son and severe pains had already overtaken Rebecca, the wife pleaded with her husband to run for his life and leave them behind. Bitrus heeded what his wife said and ran to hide in the shrubs where the Boko Haram came in rapid pursuit, shooting sporadically. Luckily for Bitrus, no bullet touched him. After some time, Bitrus then moved on, he imagined what would become of his wife as they had gone back to her.
As he tells his story he looked at his wife with a feeling of deep shame for not being a hero for her at that desperate moment of their lives. Bitrus moved with a renewed hope to Mongonu, promising himself to reconnect with his family some time as God would keep them alive. He waited in Mongonu for 15 days, looking with hope towards Baga in anticipation of the advent of his wife. As he waited for days, he saw a lot of people coming from Baga, in his words
I kept on asking them of the whereabouts of my wife … no one could tell me any good news. I became depressed with severe migraine and my blood pressure hit the roofs. It was some soldiers who assisted me with a shelter to lay my head … and some money, which I used to travel to Maiduguri. My uncle in Maiduguri pleaded with me not to be discouraged, he took me to the hospital for medication. He tried to renew my hope but he could never change my nightmares and heart aches. Leaving my family and everything I ever had behind was not an easy experience.
REBECCA’S HARROWING STORY
(caution: Rebecca’s story is in places graphic)
“When the Boko haram came to me they challenged me saying … da mun kashe Mujin ki..da mun Sami lada….ama ton da Allah bai bari ba…ke da yaran ki sai ku je ku yi aikin Allah. Meaning if only we had killed your husband we would have received Allah’s reward … but since Allah did not permit that … you and your children will go and work for Allah … thereafter hitting me with a big gun that broke some of my teeth.”
Asking her what happened next …
Rebecca broke down in tears … gazing at me with a piercing look, as if to ask why does this journalist need to hear this all again. I gave her a nice smile to encourage her, and urged her further.
Rebecca quietly spoke up again, saying that this was when her nightmares started. The Boko Haram, after killing all the men they caught in Baga, they moved her and her two sons into the Lake Chad. Crossing the lake was like an evil journey, with water coming up to her neck. They moved for six days crossing the lake, they gave them (chin-chin) snacks to eat. On the seventh day they arrived at a place called Kwalleram at the heart of thorny bushlands. They stayed there for about 53 days. They were forced to wash for the soldiers’ wives, prepare sweet pepper, clear the path ways of their motor cycles and cook for the soldiers.
After some time they took me and my sons to Gurva in Chad, for fear that I would escape. We were in Gurva for seventy days. We farmed and cut fuel wood. In Gurva there were about 2000 conscripts.
It was in Tilma that they gave me number 69 on my back. I don’t really know its meaning and I never cared to ask. They sold me to a man called Bage Guduma. I was with him for 55 days, they gave me palm fruits, but thanks to God I didn’t eat any of the palm. That would have caused a spell that might get me hypnotized and may result in the loss of my senses. I did not give in to him. Most nights when he wanted to touch me I got the feces of my children to rub on my body … this had always kept him away from me. Although his boys would always beat me up ruthlessly.
They made me dig a hole for three weeks still I hit the water level. They flogged me 98 strokes every day. I took ill for two weeks. They took my second son Jonathan and threw him into Lake Chad alive, and he drowned (she said this with deep sorrow as tears rolled down her cheek). All these terrible happenings came Rebecca’s way because she refused to give her body.
Malla – the Father of My Would Be Son
Malla was the second man they brought to me. They forced me to sleep with Malla, when I resisted they threw me into their prison – a deep pit. I was in the pit for two days without food or water. When I came out, Malla forced himself on me severally. When I didn’t see my period I knew then I had become pregnant. I looked for Paracetamol (a pain-killer, not an abortifacient) and took ten tablets at a time, just to do away with the pregnancy. But that didn’t happen.
Then a woman, a wife of a pastor, who was abducted from Gwoza pleaded with me not to kill myself for the pregnancy. She had already two children by the Boko Haram. That calmed me to stay with the pregnancy, to the point of delivery. I almost passed out due to hunger. I delivered at home; no one came to my aid. I cut the placenta myself and in great pain. I received no medical attention.
They named my son Ibrahim. They loved him because he is a boy; they wanted women to give birth to male children. The Boko Haram father Malla, who had travelled, came back six weeks after my child birth. I had nothing to do with him, because they had promised to sell me to another man.
They saw terrible and fearful things in the past two years and some months. They had a lot of experiences of people who tried to escape but met their death.
There was a Benjamin, an Igbo man who wanted to escape but he was intercepted and both his legs were broken. They left him in severe pain.
We were forced to go for their prayers and recitation from 7am-10am and from 12pm-2pm and 4pm-6pm. They killed some Christians who refused to pray with them. They raped young girls of eight and nine, forcing forms in their month and raping them to death.
On a faithful day, when most of the Boko Haram fighters had travelled out, Rebecca obtained permission from a female Boko Haram leader, probably a commander’s wife, to go see a friend at another area under Boko Haram control. When this request was granted, she moved to Maitele, a small community perhaps around Chad. They walked for six days towards the Nigerian border. Her son took ill for lack of water and food. Praise to God, there came a heavy down pour that renewed and revived their strength for the journey, which for most would be towards an unknown destination. But not for Rebecca, though she didn’t know the precise route she was on, she kept on moving with much hope and faith to reach safety. They arrived in Diffa, where they met with some US Army and Army of Niger soldiers; they treated her son and gave them some bread to eat. After some while they brought them to some Nigerian soldiers in Damaturu. The soldiers were so wonderful; they brought me directly to my husband in Maiduguri City.
MY NEW SON IBRAHIM
For Bitrus the husband of Rebecca, in a calm and yet disturbed tone said “seeing my wife with a son from a Boko Haram father frightens me a lot. I was very happy seeing my wife but the son makes my heart break. May God make me love him … yes a son of a snake …” Bitrus comments with bitter anger.
Rebecca with mixed feelings said the little Ibrahim is my son, despite his wicked father Malla. She had tried several times to give the child to the government, but some soldiers ask her to wait since little Ibrahim is just eight months.
Rebecca whose parents are in the Cameroons had pleaded with her husband to receive her as she is … and if he is hesitant she said in a hopeless mood “I will give him his son and go to my parents”.
Bitrus and his family are in the custody of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri. The Bishop, Most Rev. Oliver Dashe Doeme, is caring for them, since they have moved into an uncompleted camp, where there are over 500 IDPs. With your prayers, solidarity and financial support they will soon forget the wickedness and pains of the past. We have had an emergency food stuff provided for Rebecca; we only pray that more would come her way!!
This seems to place everyone in a moral fix. But time heals. What Rebecca needs now is thorough medical attention, food to eat, clothes to wear, a good shelter and beddings to lay her troubled head. And her child Zachariah, now six, needs to go to school. She also needs systematic trauma counselling.
Please could you show her some LOVE!!! She is really a strong woman of Faith!!