Boko Haram insurgents
Two years after members of the terrorist group Boko Haram invaded Mubi town in Mubi local government area of Adamawa state, many of the victims are still counting their losses as they struggled to get back on their feet. Assistant Editor, Seun Akioye visited the town and reports
Nafisatu Mohammed (surname changed) packed beauty, charm and sanguine character into one body. Between conversations, she could switch moods; discuss a wide range of subjects. She has a large body, too large perhaps for her 17 years and a well-formed face complemented by fitting dentition.
But Nafisatu has a dark secret which she unsuccessfully tried to hide from the young men in her Shuware community, in Mubi north local government area of Adamawa state. Shouware, a predominantly Fulani community is filled with young boys and middle-aged men, prosperous and willing to take on the many beautiful girls as wives. Weddings occur regularly for many of the young girls who are not as beautiful or charming as Nafisatu, but in the last one year, nobody has proposed to her, a great source of worry to her aged parents.
Nafisatu’s pathetic story began two years ago, on October 29, 2014. It was a day that began like the many others with renewed rumours that the dreaded Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram was only miles away from the town, in the past; such rumours had turned out flat.
But by the time Boko Haram fighters got to Mararaba in Hong local government, only about 10 kilometres from Mubi, chaos took over the town with everyone trying to escape. The point of convergence was the Western gate of the town which locals call “Welcome to Mubi”. Hundreds of cars were parked there ready to flee.
“The soldiers stopped everybody from leaving the town, they said Boko Haram was not coming and that everyone should go back into town,” Abubakar Buba, the Director, Community Reach Initiative (CRI), a civil society group which provided help to the victims said.
Soon Boko Haram entered the once proud and historical Mubi town and visited upon it the most vile destruction. According to several indigenes of the town, soldiers stationed at the gate ran away when the terrorists arrived leaving the hundreds of people stranded. As Mubi fell, the terrorists renamed the town “Medinatu Islam” meaning the town of Islam.
“The people left their cars and ran into the bush when the terrorists got to the gate, they just started killing anyone they saw and burnt hundreds of cars there, you should have seen the carnage at the time,” Buba recalled.
Lawan Muhammed, a cousin to Nafisatu was at the gate when the terrorists entered the town in a convoy of about 60 vans. They made straight for the 28 Task Force Brigade on Barracks road and captured it. The barracks which is built against several hills – which was to serve as protection became the death knell for many of the young soldiers who became trapped.
“Many of our men were killed here, our soldiers stood no chance because of the number of the insurgents,” a senior officer who preferred not to be named said.
But 15-year-old Nafisatu and her younger sister Zainab did not run. Alone with a few relatives, they trusted in the relative security of the community. When the terrorists arrived nothing could save the sisters, they were captured and taken away.
Two years after their ordeal, Nafisatu has lived in denial preferring not to talk about the experience as a “forced bride” of Boko Haram. For two years, her nuclear and extended families have not spoken about the almost two months the sisters spent as wives to the terrorists.
“Even though we all know what has happened to her, we never talk about it, we just played and joked as if it never happened. It is a sad and terrible thing and nobody wanted to be reminded of it,” Lawan said.
It took a long and stressful persuasion for Nafisatu to agree to an interview with The Nation and even then she backed out halfway. “My brother knows everything that happened, let him tell you,” she said.
Nafisatu has been a victim of a terrible stigmatisation in Mubi, everyone knew her as a former wife of Boko Haram, and this has had an adverse effect on her life and future marriage.
“She is ready for marriage, all her age mates are married but everybody is running away from her because of her past. She has everything you require in a good wife, she has bought all her wedding things and the only thing remaining is a husband which is not coming,” Lawan said.
When Nafisatu and her sister were captured, they were forcefully married to the terrorists; it was a small ceremony which included the short recitation of the Quran as the husbands were “eager to try out the new brides in bed.”
They took the new brides to a house in Wurubulude area of the town, a formerly Christian-dominated community and made them housewives. They were repeatedly violated, threatened and beaten. Weeks later when the local vigilante group arrived with the army to save the town, the two escaped their captors.
On entering the town, the army met only remnants of the insurgents as the larger number had escaped. The army and vigilante were desperately looking for collaborators of Boko Haram, houses were searched, young boys were dragged out and executed. “It was a bad time, anyone could be accused of being Boko Haram and shot,” a resident said.
“Zainab went back to the house she shared with her Boko Haram husband to pick her belongings; she was tired and so fell asleep. The army came in and on searching the house they found a rifle belonging to her former husband and arrested her as a collaborator. She was severely beaten, when she brought the soldiers to our family house, she was half-dead,” Lawan said.
The soldiers believed her story a little too late, two days after the beaten, Zainab died allegedly from her injuries. Since then, the family has not spoken about the incident until now. Nafisatu’s bid to get married has seen her relocate to Jigawa and Yola but “she always comes back here.”
Deborah Haruna Saliko ran when she saw the terrorists pass by her house on Barracks road on their way to the 28 Task Force Brigade, then she ran. But three of her cousins were not so lucky, although Christian girls, they were forcefully married off to Boko Haram fighters.
“When the army came, they wanted to carry them off to Sambisa Forest, but the girls have been fasting and praying and anytime they put them in the car, the vehicle would refuse to start until they put them out. It happened many times and so they left them,” she said.
Saliko said the fighters did not consummate the marriage; it was a debatable claim especially as the three girls have been sent away from Mubi to relatives living in distant cities.
There are many girls in Nafisatu’s shoes in Mubi, they are scared for life. Following their harrowing experience, they received no sympathy from their own kinsmen, in Mubi, they are known as the “forgotten girls.”
A town under siege
The town that fell to Boko Haram was not an ordinary town, In Adamawa, the Mubians as they were fondly called is known for their industry and enterprise. Mubi was also the chief commercial centre of Adamawa.
Due to its closeness to Cameroon, commerce booms and trade with Cameroon takes the largest chunk of it. It is not unusual to see Cameroonian traders spend days in Mubi, buying stocks which would then be transported over the border through Gella and Akwaja to the Central African country.
The Mubians are proud of the Yedseram River, which flows into Lake Chad, and the Mandara Mountains which acts as a natural fortress to the town. Although the town was under the Emirate council, it has lost none of its touch for civilisation with modern houses dotting the landscape. With three tertiary institutions, it is not short of the vibrancy that youths bring to a community. But on October 29, 2016, the Mubians traded all their heritage and prosperity for a run of their lives.
Boko Haram, an Islamic fundamentalist group was founded in Borno state by Mohammed Yusuf around 2002 with the current insurgency starting in 2009. Since then, it has killed at least 20,000 people and displaced 2.3 million other. Boko Haram was ranked as the world’s deadliest terror group by the GlobalTerrorism Index in 2015.
A conquered and vanquished people
Abubakar Hamidu is the Dan Galadima Mugulvu of Mubi, it is a great traditional title and he has influence at the Emirate council. Hamidu backed up his title with considerable wealth and a large family consisting of four wives and 18 children. But October 29th, 2014 would be an indelible day for Hamidu, not only because his 18th child was born, but of the horrible event that followed the birth.
“I was in the shop when I was told that my wife had given birth, I rushed home to see the newborn, then people started running around saying Boko Haram has entered the town. There was panic everywhere before I could run, they have captured the town, my mother-in-law carried the newborn baby and I carried my wife and we ran out of the house,” he said. The time was 3: am.
Most of the people who were caught in the town as Boko Haram took control escaped in the middle of the night; Hamidu said it was impossible to run during the day. “ Boko Haram was killing everyone during the day, all of us had to hide and wait for the cover of darkness.”
After sacking the 28 Task Force brigade and taking a large cache of ammunition, the terrorists went to the Nigeria Prison on Polytechnic road, using bombs, the wall was breached and prison doors were thrown open.
There were some gallant officers who decided to defend the prison, they were quickly shot dead, and residents around the area were also killed. “ I have the picture of the carnage,” says Hassan, a guard at the prison. “If you came here, you will see piles of bodies, blood was flowing, they burnt my new car right here in front of the prison.”
Next was the Federal Polytechnic Mubi, a few kilometres from the Prison, students who were yet to run away were caught in their houses, dragged outside and executed. They moved to Adamawa State University, Mubi campus and executed the students found. The Emir’s house, Mubi Police station was not spared too.
Lawan was at the city gate when the insurgents came into town, he ran towards his house and found his wife and two children had left. “There was chaos everywhere, everybody was running towards every direction, but many people went towards Gella with the aim of climbing the mountain towards Cameroon.”
Esther Zachaeus began to run with her husband and three children, then they met the fighters by the police station. The terrorists had just touched the station killing some policemen who were unlucky to still be around. “They were shooting ratatatata, I rushed and covered my children, my husband ran away and left us. We went to Gella and climbed three mountains, it was terrible, my children’s legs were swollen. We went to Kasuwandire, they followed us there, we ran to Mararaba Pela and got a car to Yola.”
The trail of blood
It is difficult to find someone who was not affected by the insurgency in Mubi, every household had its fair share of the horror, but the degree differs. Many of the residents hid during the afternoon and in the dead of the night sneaked out, many of them towards Gella road on the way to Cameroon.
Gella is the capital of Mubi South local government, it is surrounded by mountains and hills and behind the hills is Cameroon. Because the West gate has been blocked by the terrorists, the only way open was towards the hills to Cameroon.
“It was a terrible journey, in the middle of the night, we were running without care, you will see some people fall by the wayside begging for mercy, nobody waited. Many people also gave birth on Gella road, only a few of the children survived,” Hamidu said.
Gella road became a trail of blood and death, “when anyone dies, some men would wait and bury the body, after a while, nobody was waiting again, so the bodies were all over the road,” Lawan said.
The real tragedy of Mubi was the desperate attempt to escape and how it tore apart families. “My mother in law carried the newborn on her back and ran towards Maiha, I carried my wife, she was too weak and she fell but I stayed there with her. Other children followed their mothers, we all eventually met on Gella road, but it took two days before we could find the newborn, he had not eaten anything but water for two days,” Hamidu recalled.
Children born in exile or on the road to freedom abound in Mubi; they belong to a special class of kids and were generally called Danhijira. Hamidu’s son, Adamu survived, he is now two years old, his father sent for him.
Adamu or Danhijira is a pretty and pleasant boy, he has an unusual affection for his father, tagging around him and refusing to let go. Adamu has bright large eyes and he smiled a lot especially at his own pictures which he continually pointed to.
“I trekked to a village called Dumo in Cameroon with his mother, after that I paid a tipper to take us to Maiha, I was picking my family members one after the other in the bush, In Gella, I found uncooked potatoes for the mother who was losing so much blood. That was our food for two days,” he said.
Thousands of others found their way to Cameroon after climbing the treacherous Gella hills and then made a detour towards Maiha where truck owners made a fortune charging N10,000 per passenger and packing them “ like sardines into the truck.”
Muhammed Jalo is an iron bender; he did not wait for his family before he escaped. “I ran and they followed from behind, I had N35,000 in the house and I told them to use the money to escape, it was later that we met, I could not have waited for them, terrible things have happened in Mubi.”
News that a reporter was asking about people’s experiences during the insurgency spread very fast around Shuware and soon, Hamidu’s homestead was filed with men who said they still suffer and are looking for closure. The men came in from the Jumat service and sat in a semi-circle on several mats arranged on the dirt floor. One of them is Mallam Ali Adamu, he came in wearing all his life’s worries on his face, his first son, 30-year-old Usman Ali was about to get married when Boko Haram struck, he ran with others but for two years, no one has seen him.
The old man who could not recollect his age has been living with the trauma of a lost son, he seems to be angry every time but with nothing in particular. At such times, the closest people to him bear the brunt of his unjustified anger.
“I have not been myself,” Adamu said through a translator. “He is my elderly son and when he ran, he left his phone at home, nobody has seen him, I am suffering everyday, but I have left everything to Allah,” Adamu said.
Mustapha Muhammed sauntered into the gathering, he was eager to say he lost all his cows and goats to the insurgents, a loss he is yet to recover from. Mustapha ran with others towards Maiha but returned after two weeks to take care of the elderly who have refused to leave.
“ I came back to care for the old people or they would die. I dressed like them (Boko Haram) and just blended in with them, they told me to call back all the people that ran that Mubi is now in their hands. When the army returned, I had to run away on foot to Gobir which is about 80 kilometres or the soldiers will kill me,” he said.
Many people perished on the hills, according to several accounts by the survivors, many who were too weak were trampled upon and children suffered. “Dead bodies littered the hills as people lost all forms of humanity, it was the survival of the fittest,” Hamidu said.
It was time for prayers and the men filed into the community mosque, prayers done, they settled down to a meal of Tuwo Shinkafa and Kukah soup, a supply from Hamidu’s kitchen. More men joined the semi-circle and in less than five minutes, the meal disappeared.
Victims count losses
It is not unusual to find Esther Joshua singing religious songs as she went through the motion of her cleaning job at Sterling Motel Mubi. Formerly a housewife, she had stayed at home to raise her four children before the insurgency and the death of her husband. Now, she was forced into menial jobs so she wouldn’t starve along with her children.
“I don’t want to talk about what happened,” she said. But her colleague, Deborah Saliko who was also a victim came to her rescue. “ She doesn’t talk about Boko Haram, her husband was brutally murdered when Boko Haram came, she has been managing since then, her life has been upside down, please leave her alone.”
Alhaji Umaru Modibbo stood in front of his shop at block A, number 3 at the Mubi main market where he sold household utensils, it has been a long day and sales was poor. This has not always been the case as he had a full store before the insurgency.
“When they came, I ran away with the others, they came to this market and burnt all our shops, I lost everything. I borrowed money to start afresh and as you can see, things are never going to be the same, or it will take more than two years to get back to normal,” he said.
Mubi market is full of sorrowful sound. While it has resumed a semblance of activity, in its belle were formerly prosperous merchants who have been reduced to penury. Ibrahim Shuaibu had a shop full of jewellery and cosmetics, now he squats by the side under a small shade, Abubakar Gamdugu; also a former jewellery wholesaler now hawks body enhancing drugs and supplements around the market. “You will not believe I had a big shop before it was burnt, I could not get anyone to borrow me money to start again so that we would not starve, I have to hawk these drugs to survive,” he said.
Mustapha Muhammed has continued to struggle to feed his young family. “ Rice is costly, maize is beyond all prices, we now cook only once in a day, this life is oh my God,” he said drawing laughter from some men, he did not join in the sanguine moment and the men who had laughed were soon quiet.
Esther Zachaeus lives in a room with her husband and three children, the couple once owned a house of their own but it was burnt down by Boko haram. “ We have not been able to rebuild the house, our main goal is to feed our family, the house can wait,” she said with some philosophical calmness.
On the popular Ahmadu Bello road otherwise called Bank road, the impact of the insurgency confronts the eye. Boko Haram fighters made the banks a prime target, bombs and explosives were used to open the vaults and several millions of money were stolen.
Not satisfied with the theft, the terrorists used bombs to demolish the buildings, today in Mubi three of the banks, namely: Guarantee Trust Bank, Keystone Bank and United Bank of Africa are yet to be reconstructed. They serve as horrifying reminders to Mubians and visitors the evils of the terrorist group called Boko Haram.
No church was left standing
Mubi is a pluralistic town, with a large population of Christians, churches dotted the skylines and in some places, mosques existed side-by-side with the church. The Christian population was hit hard by the insurgency.
“ No church was left standing, there are more than 100 churches burnt to the ground in this town, they came to destroy the churches, we are yet to recover fully,” a church leader said.
Three flags danced sadly to the rhythm of the afternoon breeze in front of the Church of the Brethren on Bank road. It was one of the prominent churches in the town but had since worn a melancholic look. “ Come and see inside the church, it was totally burnt, our pastor’s house inside the premises was not only razed, it was demolished, they burnt several cars too,” said a church worker named Bala.
The pastor Shawulu Auta Ndahi told The Nation that many of his church members trekked to Cameroon to escape Boko Haram. He also lost 20 members of his church while three were abducted and never seen again: “ I like the whole world to hear our outcry, as a church we really suffered, on that fateful day when Boko Haram got to MUBI it was not easy for us, it was like the world would come to an end, it took us unawares. We trekked to Cameroon, I met with Boko Haram on the way and they interviewed me and I answered them but God delivered me.”
“When we got back in January 2015, we met our church burnt down my five bedroom flat, all my properties, church properties burnt down, the house of my members about seven burnt down, we did not find it easy when we returned.”
Other churches suffered the same fate, all the Lutheran Church of Christ Nigeria (LCCN) were burnt, St Andrews Catholic Church in Matakan was razed, the clinic and the school in the premises are yet to be rebuilt. The LCCN was only partially built by the help of a good Samaritan. “ Our children’s church has not been built and the Pastor’s house too, we just raised the roof here so we can worship under the cover of the elements,” Emmanuel James said.
Adamu Alhaji Buba has a fearful reputation as one of the greatest hunters in Mubi; this reputation is backed by tales of him possessing terrifying magic which can make him disappear at will and the men who gathered in Hamidu’s homestead speak of him in glow and fear. “Bullets and knives cannot enter him, you can’t kill him if you are looking for him, but he will disappear but he will be seeing you,” they cried.
Adamu’s fearful reputation did not come from his exploits at killing large games, but for his courageous fight against Boko Haram. In Adamawa state, many of the ordinary folks are quick to give the local vigilantes credit for the victory in Mubi. They claimed the vigilantes used supernatural powers to vanquish the terrorists and the army simply joined later to claim the spoil and terrorise the victims.
Before the invasion of Mubi, scouts of the terror group had tried to eliminate the members of the hunters association who could problematic during the invasion. That was when Musa Nepa ( so called for his technical abilities) and Ahmed barber were killed, they came for Adamu too, but they could not see him.
There is another vigilante member the people spoke about, a woman who played an active role in the recapture of Mubi. Heavily bearded and muscular she usually isolates herself inside the forest for several months in a year, drawing powers from the forest. But all attempts to locate her proved abortive. “She can even be in town and you will not see her but she will be looking at you,” a woman who was familiar with her said.
Adamu in person has none of those fearsome appellations people in Mubi ascribed to him; he wore faded black jeans, a worn out white tennis shoe, grey sleeveless shirt and on his head was a traditional hunter’s cap adorns with pink flaps.
His house is as Spartan as his attire, there was no item of furniture on the dirt floor save a small mat, the house itself has no door; there is nothing to steal in the house- and the walls are cracked in several places.
Adamu sat on the dirt floor and began to play with a stone he had picked on the floor; he has four silver rings on his right middle finger. “ I am a hunter and the vice president of the Traditional Hunters Association, I kill big animals,” he began after the initial awkward moment between reporter and the supernatural being.
He was modest about his exploits in the fight against Boko Haram, he had been in the forest when the terrorists invaded his town, he got back and pretended to be an itinerant water merchant called “ Mai Ruwa.”
He stayed in the town, monitoring the activities of the terrorists and their accomplices’, soon his fellow hunters leading the army back to the town heard he was inside and made contacts with him. Adamu’s knowledge of the terrorists’ mode of operation was invaluable to the army.
“We killed so many of them as they tried to run away, the vigilante would be in front because the bullets cannot kill them and the army would come behind us. We shielded the army from the bullets, through that means we were able to drive many of them away from Mubi,” he said.
Adamu said the war against Boko Haram cannot be won without the vigilante; he is willing to go into Sambisa forest and root out the insurgents. “Taking these people alive is risky, they should be eliminated, I beg the government to allow the vigilante to go to Maiduguri and help, I am still angry about what they did to my people.”
Boko Haram still with us
Many residents of Mubi who spoke to The Nation believe that the remnants of Boko Haram insurgents are still in the town. They also believe that many of the group’s foot soldiers had been in the town before the invasion.
“ They used to give loans to the young boys, any amount you want. They will collect your passport and details, but they will never let you pay back, instead they recruit you. I know many boys who took the loan in Mubi,” Saliko said.
Hamidu said Mubi people were living with members of Boko Haram without knowing and even now a lot of them are in town. Recently, an itinerant sugarcane trader was found with several caches of arms under his wheelbarrow, he confessed to being a member of Boko Haram.
Other arrests were being made by the vigilante, the suspect tried and given justice, but Adamu said he and his colleagues will continue to arrest any Boko Haram member in Mubi, but another invasion of the town would be impossible.
We received no help
But two years after the Boko Haram insurgency was quelled in Mubi and alleged several millions of relief materials allegedly flooded into the town, many of the people directly affected claimed they have not received any help from the government.
Hamidu said he has been able to get back on his feet through the help of Allah despite the destruction of his store and goods worth over N2million and the theft of his car worthN2.4 million. “ I did not receive anything from the government, they didn’t give us anything,” he said.
The other men agreed, none of them claimed to have received from the government any of the mouthwatering support announced in the media. But Lawan said international organisations have been coming to the aid of some people.
“It is organisations like the Red Cross and Recover that have really helped us. They were the once who paid several young people to clear all the dead bodies on the streets when we returned and they have given some relief materials.”
Most of the churches said they have not received any help from anywhere, they claimed the few relief materials from non-governmental organisations were not given to the churches but members have been helping each other to forgive and live together with other religions.
“I heard relief materials arrived in Emir’s palace, he invited some ward leaders for distribution, the relief didn’t reach any church, we have never received any support or a bag of rice as I speak to you. We still have many members squatting, their houses were burnt and because they are farmers they find it difficult to rebuild, as the church we have not been able to do anything. We find it difficult to pay workers, we can’t even recoup what we have lost, we are praying that one day some NGO will hear our cries and help us,” Pastor Ndahi said.
In October 2016, appalled by the conditions in the various camps of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the ravaged conditions of the Northeast, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Presidential Initiative on Northeast (PINE) under the leadership of retired General Theophilus Danjuma.
The PINE is to serve as a humanitarian organ to bring succor to the millions of displaced people and help in the reconstruction of the Northeast. President Buhari said: “Many humanitarian intervention efforts, national and international, have worked over time to assist in coping with the task of bringing succour to the IDPs in and outside the region, with most of these efforts aimed at providing short-term emergency assistance and relief to the victims of the violence and displacement.
He acknowledged many of the refugees have nothing to return to. He said: “However and sadly so, many have nothing to return to. They have lost everything to the insurgency. In addition, social and public services are also absent due to the massive destruction of public and private infrastructure. The government is committed to providing effective coordination and guidance towards addressing the humanitarian crisis, the resettlement and reconstruction of the North East region.”
But The Nation found no evidence that the PINE or other government agencies before it ever reached Mubi or the other communities ravaged by Boko Haram apart from rebuilding the Police Divisional Headquarters in Song and another police station in Kaala, Hong local government.
The chairman of Mubi North local government, Hon. Musa Ajayi was not available for comment when The Nation visited Mubi. He has also not been reachable on his mobile phones in spite of many calls placed to him.
But the District Head of Gude comprising of Gella and surrounding communities in Mubi South local government, Alhaji Sali Bello told The Nation in his palace that his people are still suffering. Gella played a prominent role in being the host of several refugees from the larger Mubi North local government and a gateway to Cameroon.
Bello: “We suffered a lot from the insurgency on 29th October 2014, after Mubi they went to other places, destroyed properties and killed some people, so many people left their places of abode and went as refugees, some in Cameroon, others as IDPs in Yola. Peace has returned and people are back to their homes, but the problem is we need empowerment of the people, because they lost all their means of livelihood, some have lost their capital.
“We need our people to be empowered so they can be self-reliant, the assistance like food or whatever will not last for long. But when the people are empowered, they will sustained themselves and come back to their former position of livelihood, we have so many businessmen who have lost their capitals, so many atrocities that have been committed too numerous to mention.
“The basic thing is that all those concerned should come and assist and empower our people, any little way like the people welding, the people selling akara (beans cake), the little businesses, they need to continue with their life.”
Mubi is struggling to return to its pre-Boko Haram state where Islam and Christianity coexist, children go to school and peace reigns. It was also a state where the people dread the supernatural and witches and wizards are appeased.
Around 4:10 pm, words went round in Shuware that a boy who was born a day earlier had died. His mother was in a terrible labour for three days, it was said that the witches prevented his birth and an Islamic scholar was sent for. After the prayers, the baby was born but died less than 24 hours later.
The puny body was wrapped in a shawl and placed on the mat in front of the mosque, an Imam led the prayers with several men standing behind him, boys who were only a few years older than the deceased also joined in, it seemed they were determined to give one of theirs a befitting burial. Women were not allowed into the sad proceedings.
The quiet prayers over a man carried the body gingerly in his arms, the boys followed him closely and then the men. The father of the dead infant followed behind them all; intermittently he admitted the greetings of sympathisers as the procession moved towards the community graveyard.