No one knows exactly how many women, men, and children have been abducted by Boko Haram since the terror group began its insurgency in 2009, though, kidnapping has been part of its operational strategy even before the infamous seizures of school girls from Chibok in Borno and students from Dapchi in Yobe. Chineme Okafor recently spoke with some family members of Boko Haram’s abductees
For years, Mohammed Gambo has lived in Bulabulin Bolibe area of Jere in Borno State but with an impaired vision. He told THISDAY during an encounter facilitated by the PAGED Initiative that kidnapping of people in the state was a longstanding menace, though only very few people spoke about it or even had the means to speak about it. Borno is the most affected state in the North-east, which is the epicentre of Boko Haram terrorism.
Wearing a depressed look, Gambo narrated to a THISDAY correspondent, who was with a group of social researchers from the PAGED Initiative, how a good number of his family members were abducted by Boko Haram. He explained that no one actually knew where they were now and if they were still alive.
In his account of what happened the day his father and his wives where kidnapped from his home, Gambo said but for providence, he, too, would have been a victim.
“My father asked me to come to his house, but I couldn’t go. That same day, my dad and two of his wives were abducted. If I had gone, I probably would have been abducted as well,” said Gambo.
The PAGED team were in Borno to have a personal knowledge of how people who fled their homes following Boko Haram invasion had managed to settle in new abodes within Maiduguri and its environs.
According to Gambo, as the years rolled by and the terror group continued its abductions across communities in Borno State, he discovered that 15 members of his family – immediate and extended – who were seized by the terrorists were yet to find their ways back home. He lamented the death of one of his relatives and said he was informed about the death by one of the terrorists.
Similar to Gambo’s experience was that of Modu Sheriff, who told the PAGED team that four members of his family were abducted and were yet to be found. Bukar Mallam Abba, another victim, told the team that five members of his family were abducted, just as Ali Goni Bukar, a victim, stated that one member of his family was abducted and still unaccounted for.
Sheriff, Abbah, and Bukar, all currently live in Bulabulin Bolibe, a sprawling community that is probably the most affected in Borno, which houses lots of people displaced from their communities by Boko Haram.
“When my community in Damasak was attacked, we escaped through the river to Gamari in Niger Republic and later came to Maiduguri through Damaturu. I will never go back to my community because it brings back bitter memories and I have seen a lot to last me a lifetime,” Bukar explained through a translator.
Bulabulin Bolibe’s Untold Abduction Stories
Loosely translated as a new town in Kanuri language, Bulabulin Bolibe harbours many untold stories of families whose relations have gone missing. They settled there because Boko Haram has chased them away from their respective communities.
Ba Umar, a victim reminisced on how the sect stormed his community to kidnap young people perhaps for conscription. He explained that while two of his brothers went missing that day, some other people also died on that occasion.
He said: “They came to my community for the purpose of abducting young people. In the process, six people that I know were slain. I ran to Mainari then to Ngom at 11pm. To this day, I still haven’t heard from two of my brothers.”
Similarly, Mohammed Muazu, who left Bama when it became too difficult to reside there, explained that he hadn’t set his eyes on his wife and six children who he said were taken by Boko Haram.
He said, “I came alone from Bama. My wife, with six children, was taken away by Boko Haram and I have not heard anything about them. I am in Maiduguri, and I think of them always.”
Musa Idi, also left Bama, and told the social researchers that: “For over three years now, I don’t know where my family members are, I ran from Bama to Maiduguri on foots.”
Another victim, Babagana Mohammed also escaped to Maiduguri for safety, but told the team that one of his daughters has not been found since the group took her.
Mohammed told a story of how he was compelled by people who were hiding with him and his family from the Boko Haram to hand her over his daughter to the insurgents when they saw her through the window of the home they hid in. He said it was a decision he made to save other people hiding with his family, adding: “It was either this or they all risk being captured”.
A father, Babagana Modu, could not hold back his tears when he told the team that his teenage daughter was abducted so close to the Shehu’s Palace in Bama. Modu said they took away his daughter and she never returned to them.
Narrating an unusual story from the abductions, another resettled resident of Bulabulin Bolibe, who simply identified himself as Abdulkarim, told the team that while about 40 of his friends were shot and killed at different times by Boko Haram, the tortuous reception an abducted female member of his community got from her husband when she was liberated by the Nigerian military, left him with sad memories.
“About 40 of my friends were shot and killed during an excursion to Federal Government College Potiskum in 2013. But I know a woman who helped her husband to escape from Boko Haram (and was subsequently abducted). When she was liberated by the military, she was already pregnant for one of the Boko Haram members. The husband rejected her,” said Abdulkarim.
Speaking to THISDAY on the abduction stories of people in Bulabulin Bolibe, Project Coordinator of PAGED Initiative, Ummi Bukar, explained that the stories of people kidnapped by Boko Haram from the North-east might never be completely told because the statistics of such kidnap incidents were hard to come by. She noted that people should be encouraged to come forth to tell their stories and perhaps hope for a reunion with their lost family members who may have managed to escape from the group’s hold and ate probably living within any of the camps set up for internally displaced people, or any other places they may have resettled.
Ms. Bukar said stories told by community people – mostly women and young girls – PAGED had worked with to help them come to terms with the changing roles the insurgency had brought upon them indicated that a lot of people were kidnapped by the group. She said from the stories, women and men were randomly kidnapped by the terrorists, adding that Chibok and Dapchi incidents are recognised by the world because the targets were huge and the act was committed at once, unlike the many random abductions.
Bukar said there was an urgent need for a thorough search for the lost family members, stressing that this may reveal their locations or circumstances. It would also help the families to overcome their misfortune, she said.
1) About 40 of my friends were shot and killed during an excursion to Federal Government College Potiskum in 2013. But I know a woman who helped her husband to escape from Boko Haram (and was subsequently abducted). When she was liberated by the military, she was already pregnant for one of the Boko Haram members. The husband rejected her
2) When my community in Damasak was attacked, we escaped through the river to Gamari in Niger Republic and later came to Maiduguri through Damaturu. I will never go back to my community because it brings back bitter memories and I have seen a lot to last me a lifetime