Heart-Rending Stories of ‘Survivors’ in Bama After Boko Haram Invasion
Bama and Damboa, two towns in Borno State, were recently siezed by Boko Haram. As the military seeks to retake the towns, survivors and residents recount their stories of horror to Kayode Idowu
‘I’m looking for my two wives, eight children’
How did you escape from Bama?
I was driving in my car when I heard gunshots everywhere. I rushed back home to pick my eight children and two wives and I drove towards the army barracks. As we entered the barracks, suddenly an Air Force fighter jet started dropping explosives. We were caught between the Boko Haram’s Armoured Personnel Carriers and the military fighter jets. As I opened the door of the car to see how we could escape on foot, a stray bullet grazed my head and I was drenched in blood. In confusion, I ran but when I saw one of my children running after me, I rushed back to pick him up and placed him on my shoulders. When I looked back, I saw my car in flames because it was hit by a bomb. My fear is that my family could have been killed in the explosion. Up till now, I cannot locate them despite several and continuous searches. I think they died in the explosion.
How did you get to the camp?
While running with some people, including soldiers, we came to a river which we managed to cross and we continued on foot until we reached Konduga. The journey took us two days. I paid N700 to transport myself to Maiduguri. When I got to Maiduguri, I saw some people who had fled Bama and together, we managed to get the attention of some government officials who provided buses that conveyed us to Internally Displaced Persons’ camps at Yerwa and the National Youth Service Corps orientation camp.
According to some government officials, the Bama motor park where we initially stayed was not safe as it was on a major highway and the fear was that we could be attacked as our number was growing by the hour.
How do you eat in the camp?
We are provided with adequate food and shelter at the camp but that is not enough for me as it will not bring back my family. Every day without them is a nightmare.
Will you return to Bama after the crisis?
If peace returns, I will like to go back to see what remains of what we left behind. But my concern is to know if my family members are still alive, every other thing comes second.
How do you feel about living in a camp?
I am satisfied with the sanitary condition; we have toilets and bathrooms for males and females.
— Umar Aisami, 30-yr-old driver
Some infants died of thirst — Mohammed
How did you leave Bama?
During the early morning prayer time, there were sounds of gunshots everywhere. In confusion, my family ran out and I also ran. We all ran towards the army barracks, but there were gunshots coming from that direction too. We had to run back towards the river. When we got to the river side, the little ones were taken to safety by some swimmers because the river was wide. The men among us ran through the bush. On our way, we saw bodies of infants who died due to thirst and harsh conditions. We saw two corpses. We trekked from Bama to Kawuri in Konduga through the bush before getting a vehicle that conveyed us to Maiduguri. We slept over in some empty houses in Kawuri and continued the journey to Konduga the next day on foot. I was with one of my children and a bicycle I was able to retrieve while fleeing. We paid N600 to transport ourselves to Maiduguri.
How did you get to the camp from Maiduguri?
When we got to Bama Motor Park in Maiduguri, I saw many people who had fled from Bama. When we saw one another, we all burst into tears and wept badly. Then we were told that arrangements had been made for us at the NYSC orientation camp and Yerwa Girls Secondary School. It was from the park that we were transported to the NYSC camp.
It was when I got to the camp that the reality dawned on me that I could not locate my family members.
How many are they?
There are 12 of them: eight children, one wife, my elder brother, my mother and father. Only one of my nine children is with me. Till this moment, it has been hard to sleep deeply because I keep thinking about them. I cannot eat well too. Whenever I see people with children, I weep wondering what could have happened to my family.
How is life in the camp?
We have a place to sleep at the camp. We are given food three times in a day but the pains of not seeing my family is telling on my health.
Where do you sleep?
I have been sleeping in the open on the parade ground. They have given us mosquito nets, mattresses and blankets. Though I would have loved to be given a room, my major concern is the return of my
We fled as soldiers ran — Abubakar
Why did you leave Bama?
We started hearing gunshots and explosions around 4:20am while some of us were praying and others were preparing to join in prayers. We were used to the military giving warnings but this time, the sound was quite unusual and we came out of our houses with the little arms we had, some with cutlasses, swords and other defensive tools. We started noticing movement of soldiers from the different roadblocks mounted by the Nigerian Army. What was unusual about their movement was that they were moving with their baggage which made us suspect that they were also fleeing. Then we also took to our heels moving towards the barracks. Fortunately, for us, when the insurgents attacked the barracks, a soldier took us in his Hilux van and we ran. But while fleeing, he rammed the van into a fence and from there we escaped, leaving behind the van. Those of us fleeing were about 40. We left Bama around 10am on the fateful day and reached a village called Ajiri near Kawuri at about 2pm. We later moved to Kawuri where we met some soldiers who were stationed there. We also met some volunteers who came with vehicles from Maiduguri to convey the displaced persons. The soldiers in our midst stayed with their colleagues at Kawuri and we moved to Maiduguri. We were dropped at a primary school near Bama Motor Park in Maiduguri. We slept over there and food was provided for us from well-meaning people of the society. From there, the government brought us to the NYSC orientation camp.
How do you feed?
We lack no food and we have been accommodated. The food is so much that even some have been coming from within the town whenever it is time for lunch to eat with us.
What of your family?
I have a wife and four children but I am with only one of my children. My mother, my wife and three children are still missing. Even though there is so much food, I have lost appetite because I’m yet to see my family.
— Abubakar Mohammed, 38
Everything I worked for is gone — Manjari
How did you escape from Damboa?
On that fateful day, I was at home preparing for my next business trip to some villages which was to come up the following day. Suddenly, we heard deafening sounds of gunshots and explosions. It then dawned on us that we were in trouble. On Friday morning, when the insurgents began to go on rampage, killing and burning at will, I tried staying indoors thinking that women were not targeted but I was dead wrong. The insurgents invaded our home and ordered me to take my praying mat and leave the house without anything else and from that moment till now, I have not recovered because right before my eyes all I laboured for went in flames as they set the house ablaze. Thank God, my children are all alive but we have to start all over again.
Will you go back to Damboa?
Yes, I wish to return to Damboa one day to see how I can re-launch myself. There is no place like home and mine is not different, Damboa is still on my mind.
— Zainab Bukar Manjari, 50-yr-old businesswoman
I don’t know the fate of my relatives — Bukar
How did you leave Damboa?
The insurgents attacked our town on Thursday evening. That day, I was busy trying to tidy up our house because we were expecting some relatives who were displaced from some villages by the insurgents. Then on Friday morning, the insurgents came to our house and ordered me (being the only occupant) to vacate it, they also instructed that I take nothing with me while leaving. I managed to leave the town through the bush path and resurfaced around the Mandaragarau area of Biu before help came our way from the Biu Local Government Council. After a few days in Biu, we moved through Gombe to our final stop in Maiduguri.
Will you return to Damboa?
Our stay in Maiduguri is temporary because once our town is fully reclaimed, I will not waste time in returning to see what remains of my property. My prayers are for my relatives to be alive and safe wherever they may be because till this moment, I have not heard from them or about them.
— Ya’zara Bukar, 60-yr-old widow
My pregnant sister was kidnapped — Grema
How did you flee your town?
I was doing the usual domestic chores when I heard gunshots from almost all directions. It was as if we were surrounded and the residents became apprehensive that the insurgents must have come to attack the town. It was a Thursday evening. We fled to a village on the Damboa/ Biu road and returned the next morning thinking that it was the usual way of their operations which would only last for a few hours but we were wrong. Alas! On Friday, the insurgents were more ferocious, they went on a killing and burning spree which forced us to flee to Biu. We were driven by a family friend in my husband’s car to Gombe, then we came to Maiduguri where we were able to finally secure an accommodation. My greatest worry is the abduction of my pregnant younger sister and three children who were orphaned when the insurgents killed their father. We left Damboa with nothing but we thank God we are alive.
Do you want to go back to Damboa?
I will return to Damboa if the town is secured.
— Fati Grema, 46-yr-old housewife
Boko Haram wanted to burn us alive — Bulama
How did you escape?
On that Thursday evening when the insurgents struck, I was at my neighbour’s house to see their daughter who was ill and suddenly, there were gunshots from all directions and people were running helter-skelter. There and then, I knew we were in trouble. For close to five hours, sounds of gunshots and explosives rent the air and no one seemed to know the situation as we all remained indoors. After sometime, the firing stopped and we heaved a sigh of relief, thinking that the insurgent must have finished the business for the day and left but, we were dead wrong as they went from house to house checking for males to kill. Meanwhile, all I was thinking about was my home and children who were also traders at the main market; there was no way for me to move out of the neighbour’s house due to the fear of the unknown as one could never tell with insurgents who are always unpredictable. As I battled with these thoughts of my home, children and the insurgents, we resorted to prayers which seemed to be answered, when the insurgents started shouting out that, women were not their target and were free to stay in the town. I managed to move out after closely watching the movement of some women within our area which indicated that the insurgents were keeping their words. On reaching home, I met everything turned inside out. A few minutes after my arrival, my sister-in-law came in and informed me that my two sons had escaped through Chibok disguised as women in clothes she provided them with. I felt relieved and thanked her.
When did you leave?
We spent the night in great fear but kept on praying. The next morning, which was Friday, the insurgents started burning and killing again and ordered us to vacate our homes or risk being burnt alive. We had no option than to run away, leaving behind all our properties. In fact, I left home in a faded dress and headed towards Chibok through the bush path on foot and continued the journey to Biu which took me two and a half days to complete. I survived on water and fruits. In Biu, I met some of our people who had also fled from Damboa and was told that our houses were burnt down by the insurgents and it was a painful one for me especially, because all my earnings were kept at home that day. From Biu, I moved again to Gombe where my sons relocated to, after their escape from Damboa; together we moved to Maiduguri before they returned to Gombe to start a new life.
Have you ever considered returning to your home town?
I am grateful for the lives spared and would gladly return to Damboa anytime peace is restored to the town because there is no place like home.
— Fussam Bulama, 55-yr-old businesswoman
I spent two days in the forest — Zara
How did you get here?
I went to Damboa for holiday. I am a student of Yerwa Government Girls Secondary School in Maiduguri. I had barely spent a week when the insurgents attacked our town, Damboa, on a Thursday evening. And it became worse on Friday. We managed to escape on Saturday morning. My step-mother took us towards Biu through the bush path for two days; it was a horrible experience that will forever remain with me.
Do you wish to return to Damboa?
No one will convince me to return to Damboa after what I went through. I am done with the town for now.
— Zara Grema, 12
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