- Captured Boko Haram commander, combatants relive life in Sambisa, other Boko Haram strongholds
- How Nigerian Army de-radicalises terror suspects
Joseph David hushed boys to sleep with bullets in Sambisa. He shot hot lead into their parents in Baga. He watched blood drip through their perforated innards, to soak the sands and scorched earth of Borno. David a.k.a Ibrahim Al Hajar, abducted peasant girls and housewives too.
At 22, the commander of the dreaded terrorist sect, Boko Haram, forcibly married two Chibok girls: Precious a.k.a Faridah and Elizabeth a.k.a Amina,soon after their abduction from home and his marriage to his first bride, who is also named Faridah, from Madagali.
David has killed people. Thus at 25, three years after he took command of Boko Haram’s 150-man guerrilla unit, he has lost grasp of his body count. But he remembers the peasant families he dismembered. He remembers the husbands, wives, beloved sons and daughters that he ‘wasted’ in cold blood. David remembers too, the soldiers he ambushed and killed in furious glee.
In the wake of his bloody exploits, David seeks redemption. He fights a desperate battle every day, against demons no one can see. “I want everybody to forgive me and forget because I did it mistakenly. It is not my fault. They forced me…I am sorry for my past. I am sorry for what I did. I am a Christian. I did not intend to do these things but they forced me. I did it to save my life. That is why I say I am sorry,” he said, urging his victims to ‘forgive and forget.’
I want everybody to forgive me and forget because I did it mistakenly. It is not my fault. They forced me…I am sorry for my past. I am sorry for what I did. I am a Christian. I did not intend to do these things but they forced me. I did it to save my life. That is why I say I am sorry
Can his victims ever forgive and forget? Most of them are dead; very few people survived David and his rampaging horde. From Baga to Bama, Patawe to Pita, Monguno to Sambisa, David left a bloody trail as a fearless slayer. But how did the unassuming youth from Mubi, Adamawa State, mutate into a terror of Nigeria’s northeast?
“I was kidnapped,” he said; “The people that kidnapped me named me Ibrahim Al Hajar. They (Boko Haram) kidnapped me three years ago in Mubi (Adamawa). I was 22 years old. They took me to Sambisa Forest.”
In Sambisa Forest, David’s abductors indoctrinated him with spiritual texts regarded as Boko Haram’s holy grail. This was the prerequisite for training him to use guns and other weaponry. Thus after three months of brainwashing, Joseph was renamed Ibrahim Al Hajar.
Afterwards, he was transferred toShababu Ummah. “That is where they train people to use guns. I spent almost four months there, learning to use machine guns and other weapons of war. After that, I passed out (graduated),” he said.
For his first assignment, he was given a Hilux truck with an Antiaircraft (AA) machine gun. He was assigned to lead ambushes against Nigeria’s Military Joint Task Force (MJTF). David led his squad on several successful missions, ambushing the JTF and halting military onslaught against Boko Haram in Sambisa. Then he got caught.
“Before I was caught, I went on a mission to Patawe. I went to Gwoza. In 2015, I attacked Babangida (a town) and there was a time that the Nigeria Army attacked Sambisa Forest, so they permitted me to walk over them. So I did…That was the time Buhari defeated Goodluck Jonathan.”
David regrets many things: “You know, the lives of people that I have wasted. At the end, I don’t know how it will be…on the last day of judgment. And I regret because I was a student before Boko Haram kidnapped me.
“I was schooling at SPY. That is, State Polytechnic, Yola. I was studying Criminal Law…I want to say sorry because these things that I did, I did them to save my life. If I didn’t do them, they may think I am trying to bring problem within them. So, I did those things smartly and logically, till the time that God provided way for me to escape,” he said.
“You know, the lives of people that I have wasted. At the end, I don’t know how it will be…on the last day of judgment. And I regret because I was a student before Boko Haram kidnapped me. I was schooling at SPY. That is, State Polytechnic, Yola. I was studying Criminal Law…I want to say sorry because these things that I did, I did them to save my life.
Life as Boko Haram Commander
Being a Boko Haram Commander attracted several perks. David enjoyed a great deal of respect and modest wealth. He had his own army, numbering 150 to 250 men. He also received at least N500, 000 every month for his upkeep and that of his soldiers. The money was disbursed to him and fellow senior officers in Nigerian currency and sometimes, it was disbursed to them in foreign currencies: Euro, Dollars or Riyal.
With such liquid cash at his disposal, David was rich enough to marry three wives. Thus in one year, he forcibly married three abducted teenagers; his first wife, Faridah, was kidnapped from Madagali and the other two, Precious a.k.a Faridah and Elizabeth a.k.a Amina, were abducted from Chibok. His first wife, he revealed, was pregnant at the time of his arrest by the Nigeria Army.
Didn’t he feel sorry for them? Didn’t he ever imagine that they could be his sisters and thus cringe from marrying them? To these, he responds: “I felt sorry for them but I treated them well. Due to my position, I had some wealth, shelter and other things. So, I took care of them. Because they were Christians and I was a Christian too, I treated them well.”
Did they love him? “They loved me too much,” he enthused.
David’s wives are still in Sambisa and he believes they will still see him ‘By God’s grace.”
Frosty relationship with Shekau
“Shekau captured my wives. He took the two Chibok girls from me because I treated them well. He said he did not trust me. He said, one day, I would run with them back to Nigeria,” said David. According to him, his frosty relationship with Shekau was caused by moles in his unit who fed unpalatable information about him to the Boko Haram leader. David said because he didn’t maltreat his wives like the other officers, his actions became suspect to his soldiers and peers.
David is sure that his wives and Boko Haram leadership know that he is still alive. “They will know because of the information that goes around and they have computers and other digital gear,” he said.
David met with Shekau at the completion of each stage of his training in weapon handling. For instance, Shekau hosted him and gave him a Hilux truck with Anti-aircraft (AA) machine gun immediately he completed his first training. He also fought alongside Shekau against the military in Pita in a bloody gunfight that led to deaths on both sides.
Is Shekau a good leader?
Shekau is not a good leader due to what he is doing. His Muslim brothers are blaming him. He spoiled the religion of Muslims. So, he is not a good person. If you look at the people and widows that he has taken as slaves, he is not taking good care of them. People are dying, especially the small children. He is not taking care of them – David.
The 25-year-old dreams of pursuing a career in Criminology. He also dreams of reuniting with his siblings and parents in Yola, Adamawa.
Boko Haram’s dangerous use of minors
Over the years, Boko Haram has constituted a security challenge to Nigeria. Since its birth in 2009, the group has expanded its operational tactics to include the use of suicide bombers – mainly underage girls – and forcible recruitment of underage boys as combatants to execute its terrorist attacks.
Boko Haram’s modus operandi (MO) includes the abduction of underage girls and boys and even adults to feed its badly devastated militant army. Abductees or hostages of the terrorist group oftentimes harden into stone-cold killers on the watch of the group’s leadership.
One such victim is Yau Damina, 14. The teenager was abducted from Potiskum by Boko Haram and taken to an unknown destination several months ago. Damina spent five months in Boko Haram’s terror camps, training to become a combatant soldier. And he became a stone-cold killer. In five months, Damina developed deadly skills. For instance, he killed five men in the blink of an eye, because they disrespected and killed his team leader.
“I killed them because they killed my team leader,” he said. In retrospect, Damina feels bad over what he’d done. He said he wishes he hadn’t joined Boko Haram. Damina has no hobbies. He has no dreams. And he has no hopes for the future. He is simply content living in military detention. Yau was arrested while attending a wedding at his grandfather’s village in Potiskum.
Unlike Damina whose body count tally at five, Ali Mustapha, 17, killed 13 people during his time with Boko Haram. Mustapha revealed that he was forced to kill his victims in Chikungudu Forest, Kalabalge, where he was held in captivity for three years by the insurgents.
Mustapha was intercepted by security operatives while on espionage mission in Maiduguri. He was allegedly sent by his Commander, Umar, fromChikungudu Forest in Kalabalge.
Ali Mustapha told The Nation in an interview, that he was sent to spy and report on likely soft targets in Baga Road, Monday Market and Custom Market in Maiduguri, Borno capital.
“I was kidnapped in Marte by the insurgents; when they stormed the town in 2013, they took us away to Chikungudu Forest in Kalabalge council. I was held in captivity for three years at Chikungudu. Within the period, I have killed about 13 people in separate locations.
“First was at Chikungudu, where we were held hostage by Boko Haram. Whenever the insurgents returned from a mission, they would line up their hostages before us and ask us to kill them. They forced us to kill innocent people.
“They said they were testing us. The first time I killed, I killed five people. They told me, ‘Ali, you will kill five people today.’ I initially declined but when they threatened to kill me, I had no option but to kill the five people they brought before me. They later came with three other people and forced me to kill them.
“The second time I killed people was at a village called Burssari. While we were there, they brought another set of five people and asked me to kill them and instantly I did. I had no choice because they threatened to kill me if I didn’t kill them. Then we went back to Chikungudu where they held us. They also went to a town and came back with some people and told other victims like me to kill them which they did,” revealed Mustapha.
The 17-year-old was trained to couple and dismantle AK 47 rifles. “More than 500 children of my age, including younger ones, were conscripted as child soldiers in Chukungudu Forest in Kalabalge. Even kids younger than I am were trained to handle and shoot AK 47 rifles in the forest. There were girls too, who were trained to go on suicide bombing missions,” he said.
‘Children of pagans’
“Although they gave us some inscription written in Arabic to drink, I declined and threw mine away. We sometimes declined to do what they wanted us to do, so they nicknamed us children of pagans and spat on us and refused to give us food.
“At Chikungudu in Kalabalge. Our leader is Umar from Mamman Nur’s faction of Boko Haram. I have never seen him but they usually sent people to greet him and they always told us about how powerful he is.
“My father’s name is Mustapha and my mother’s name is Ya’zara. The last time I saw them was at Marte, when Boko Haram stormed our town and took us away,” said Ali.
Mustapha arrived in Maiduguri in company of two younger child soldiers, Muhammad and Ba’ana. While his beats were Baga Road, Monday Market and Custom Market, he did not know his accomplices’ beats in Maiduguri. He was arrested at the Bakassi IDP camp after refugees in the camp identified him as a member of Boko Haram. The 17-year-old’s parents were identified as IDPs taking refuge in the camp.
Abducted, forcibly conscripted from Cameroon
Muhammed Abubakar, 31, had a wife in Cameroon, Fatima, and a two-year old son, Hadji Muhammed. Two years ago, Abubakar was abducted in common hours, while he laboured to fend for his family. Life was hard but bearable for the 31-year-old until the rampaging hordes of Boko Haram struck his community on the outskirts of Cameroon. Abubakar was whisked to Sambisa Forest where he was forcibly recruited as soldier by Boko Haram. He lived in Sambisa for two years. During those years, he tried to escape thrice. At his third try, Boko Haram commanders lost patience with him. Thus they amputated his left leg and right hand. Then they set him free.
“Fool, you can escape now. You are of no use to us or anyone now,” they taunted him. Abubakar bled and writhed in his own blood for three days. It was a miracle that he lived. He was given no analgesic neither was he accorded the luxury of first aid treatment of his wounds. Thus at the risk of contracting life-threatening diseases, he clung desperately to life hoping for a miracle.
Abubakar’s limbs were amputated for trying to escape from Boko Haram’s terror camp
That miracle came in the form of a rescue by the Nigeria Army. The latter freed Abubakar during a decisive onslaught against his captors in Sambisa Forest. Boko Haram was dislodged from the forest and Abubakar and thousands of the terrorist group’s captives were liberated.
Use of hard drugs, hypnosis
The Nation findings revealed that the terrorist group plies its foot soldiers, underage kids in particular, with intoxicants and hard drugs. For instance, David revealed that he binged on Tramol (A variant of Tramadol) as stimulant and analgesic before and after his missions. Further investigations revealed that the terrorist sect’s leadership plies members, underage kids in particular, with LSD, cannabis, codeine, tramadol and other hard drugs, to stimulate them to commit grievous crimes they would otherwise avoid.
Members of the group, in an exclusive chat with The Nation, revealed that they had to take such narcotics to incite the ‘courage’ by which they perpetrated grisly killings and sexual abuse of their victims.
Recently, the Nigerian Army intercepted supplies of cannabis, condoms and sex-enhancing drugs that were headed for Boko Haram camps. Troops of the 3 Division of the Nigeria Army intercepted and arrested suppliers of the hard drugs and other stimulants between Depchi and Geidam, Geidam Local Government Area in northern part of Yobe State. The suppliers were allegedly found in possession of Cannabis, Tramol(Tramadol), Chlorofone substance (aka Madaran suck and die) as well as fuel.
The Nigeria Army’s ‘de-radicalisation’ approach
The Nigeria Army recently initiated a de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programme for ex-members of Boko Haram in its custody. “Contrary to claims by Amnesty International and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that we are killing them off like cattle, we aren’t. We have a comprehensive programme in place to de-radicalise them. Many of them are underage boys and girls who were abducted and forcibly conscripted by Boko Haram. We found out that they committed most atrocities under duress, oftentimes at the risk of being slaughtered by their captors,” said General Lucky “Leo” Irabor, Nigeria Army Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, northeast zone.
While Irabor expressed confidence in the military’s rehabilitation programme, he stressed that the Nigeria Army continues to adjust how the detainees and participants are counselled, re-orientated, educated, monitored, and reintegrated into society.
We’ve had some organisations with interest in human rights issues make allegations against the military. Those allegations are so untrue; untrue because they are mere allusions. They did not in anyway come to us for verification. They didn’t confront us with the issues before they went to the press. When you talk about human rights abuses in a detention facility, the question to ask is: what are those human rights abuses? The detainees themselves know and speak to the fact that the treatment we give to them in the detention facilities is the kind of treatment they never envisaged. They never thought that they would be well fed or that there will be a kind of medical treatment for them.
There is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), we give them unfettered access to the detention facility. Well of course, you could say there is congestion. Again, congestion in my view is also relative. Once you are in a solitary confinement; of course, there will be issues. In our state-run prisons, there are issues. It cannot be the same as living in your own house.
We are a professional force. We set out for our operations guided by rules. We do not set out to make life unbearable for anyone. Not even in the frontlines let alone in the detention facilities. In fact, if we had it in mind to make life unbearable for them, why didn’t we eliminate them at the point of capture? That we didn’t do that, speaks to the fact that we are bound by laws that govern operations generally: the international humanitarian law and the international human rights law. And of course our code of conduct and rules of engagement compels us to do what is right.We have those who come to monitor all that we do, within the military. The idea is to ensure that we do what is right.
Allegations of child abuse
Some have also accused us of keeping children but the children. The only set of children we have are the children of some of the detainees that refuse to let us transfer the children to appropriate facilities for children, like the facility set up by the Borno state government for such children. The others are those children that have also taken part in war. Some of them…a boy of 10, 12, 13, if you know what they have done in terms of killing and what they’ve gone through by way of training and operation of weapons, you will be shocked.
But of course, it will be improper of us to see such a boy of such age and say he is a child and take let him go. No. We have to keep him to change his orientation. And our deradicalisation process of course have yielded results.
In sum, I will say that the allegations that a good number of people and some international organisations, especially the Amnesty International (AI) have leveled against us are untrue and very unfair with respect to the operations and the detention of some of the detainees. What is on ground is very different from the picture they paint.
We also have the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that has engaged us in respect of similar issues and they have not in any way faulted what’ve done. The ICRC like I said, has engaged us at various times and they have commended us in respect of those issues concerning how we treat those in our detention facilities.
There is no system that is perfect. We are always open for engagement, particularly with those with interests that are positive in orientation, not with those who believe that nothing good can come out of the Nigerian military.
Deradicalising Boko Haram
It’s been quite challenging no doubt but of course, it’s been very successful thus far; because we have brought our ingenuity into the operations. We have been able to evolve and answer the necessary questions: What is it that has motivated them to stay so long in this fight? And what is it that if we take out, it could make them surrender?
The aggregate of all these is that we have evolved a progressive approach to dealing with arrested members of Boko Haram. When they come to our detention facilities…not only do we address their medical needs, at the point we receive them, some of them appear so emaciated. They appear to have been starved of food. They appear very sick. Not only do we address those immediate needs, we also go as far as ensuring that their immediate hygiene requirements are met. Then we provide them clothing and change the rags in which they arrive.
Then we have evolved a humane process of interrogating them. It laid the foundation for properly interrogating them. And a large percentage of them have begun to open up and have a different impression as to the falsehood they were fed with whilst in the bush. They confessed to us that they were made to believe in the bush is that as soon as they come out, we would kill them but surprisingly to them, we are keeping them alive. We also treat them humanely and even provide them medicines and food.
We allow the ICRC to visit our detention facilities from time to time because of their pedigree. And then they also talk to the inmates. Then they talk to us and highlight areas they would like us to address. In following visits, they try to ascertain if we have addressed issues they raised in their previous visits; and to a fair extent, they see that we do and they have commended us for the progressive improvements in the treatment of the inmates and the facility itself.
Due to our humane interrogation approach and deradicalisation programme, the inmates have been coming forward with very useful information which has helped a great deal in our operations.
Those in the bush are finally getting to know that they stand to benefit a great deal if they surrender peacefully or come to us. They know that we have in our custody, a great number of them that surrendered and those that we also arrested.
A great deal of reformation has taken place in the lives of some of them to the extent that, they have volunteered to speak to their colleagues that are still in the bush with Boko Haram. They are eager to counsel their colleagues to lay down arms and surrender using themselves as examples. They want them to see that reality is different from what they have been made to believe by their captors and colleagues in the bush.
The onset of change
As the deradicalisation process progresses, sometimes, you are forced to wonder, are these the same fellows that were responsible for the kind of carnage attributed to them? Many of them have become so remorseful. If not for their