INTERVIEW: We were lodged near abducted Chibok girls —  Escapee Boko Haram Victim

Today makes it two years since over 200 high school girls were abducted from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, with their whereabouts remaining a mystery.

There are several schools of thought about them. It is  believed in some quarters that they have been sold, while others doubt their safety and say they possibly aren’t alive.

But Lami John, a 25-year old mother of two, who narrated how she was captured by Boko Haram and used as slave, told PREMIUM TIMES some of the girls were once camped near her location. She recounted how her village, Ngoshe in Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State was subdued.

She narrated her ordeal in captivity, escape, bloodbaths, coping with the trauma of her abduction, how she arrived at a displaced person’s camp in Abuja, and a lot more.

PT: When was the first time Boko Haram attacked your village?

They came on the 24th of November, 2013. When they got to our homes, they started killing people and burning houses. Later, soldiers came to rescue us and we went back home from Maiduguri. But Boko Haram later came back to start killing people so we ran away again.

PT: Before they struck, did residents of Ngoshe Gwoza know they would be coming for them?

When they first came, they looked around and left only to return with weapons and started killing same day.

PT: How were you captured by Boko Haram members?

They came back on the 22nd of September 2014 and started picking us one after the other. As at the time they came to abduct us, I was with this my little son while his elder brother ran to the mountain. I had ran to the mountain before I was abducted.

PT: How did it happen?

Nine of us had run inside a little enclosure in the mountain being pursued by Boko Haram. They commanded us to come out. One other woman had answered that we were coming out. She even asked me “Mama Yakubu are you not coming out”?  I was praying silently. Boko Haram said if we don’t come out, they would spray us with bullets inside the cave. I then decided to come out instead of everyone being killed. I came out with my son and two other girls followed me. Our captors said they would convert we pagans and took us to Sambisa.

PT: So, what happened to the other six women?

The other six were saved. They thought we were only three inside the cave.

PT: Were any of your family members killed?

Yes, two were slaughtered. One was elderly and the other wasn’t feeling too well so they couldn’t run.

PT: How were they related to you?

The elderly one was my uncle and the other a church member who’s become family to me.

PT: How many people were killed that day?

I witnessed those two being slaughtered. So many other people were killed but until normalcy returns before we can ascertain the actual number.

PT: Are you still in touch with your family members?

I can only reach those in Cameroon. I’ve lost contact with those from my village. We are all scattered. All my family members have been converted to Islam. I’m the only Christian Left. My mum is now deaf.

PT: Where’s your mother?

She’s at the village. She’s become a Muslim if not, she won’t be alive. The Christians can’t remain there.

PT: How long were you with these Boko Haram members?

I spent two weeks with them. I was able to escape when I got some money.

PT: How did you escape and what money were you given?

I trekked to Mubi. I was given N10,000 by Boko Haram. It was meant to be my bride price but because we were escaping, I spent the money to run away from them.

PT: Where were you kept?

Reserve.

PT: Where is reserve?

It’s a part of Sambisa forest.

PT:  What’s the place like? Are there houses there or what?

They don’t have any house there. They only use people’s cars as homes.

PT: Whose cars?

Cars they must have stolen from people. They sleep inside them. These are their kind of homes.  Sambisa is an open forest. There are no houses there.

PT: Where did you sleep? In those cars or what?

No, I was sleeping on the bare floor. I never had the opportunity to sleep in the cars.

PT: Did they select those to sleep in the cars?

No, they slept in the cars while we the abductees slept in the open place with their members guarding us.

PT: While there, how were you given food and water?

At the time we were abducted, we were given an option to become Muslims. Those of us who refused to become Muslims were tagged slaves, kept in an enclosure and given a spoon of food and water once a day.

PT: A spoon? What kind of food?

They used to give us any kind of food they feel like giving us.

PT: Who were preparing the food?

Their wives. Those who had accepted to be converted to Muslims.

PT: Did you at any point agree to become a Muslim?

I refused to become a Muslim. Had it been I had agreed to be one, I would have joined the crop of wives and won’t have difficulties again.

PT: So, were those who converted to Islam treated specially?

Those who accepted to be Muslims had everything going on well for them. Had I accepted, I would have become part of them and wouldn’t escape since I would have been a part of the family. It’s because I refused to be one, that’s why I was able to escape.

PT: How were you able to escape? Was there no Boko Haram member watching you people?

They had the believe that we would want to escape since we refused being converted. Three days earlier, I had gotten a hint of where this my son was kept. He had been taken from me. At about 3am when someone forgot to lock the padlock, I sneaked to were my son was kept, placed him on my back and started my journey to Mubi. It was raining heavily that day.

PT: Did other abductees escape as well?

The day I escaped, I left alone.

PT: Where was your other son?

The day I was abducted, my first son was already at the top of the mountain. I ran away with only this one and got united with him at the mountain top before I was later abducted.

PT: How did he get to the mountain?

He ran with some of our neighbours.

PT: How old is he?

He is six years and six months old.

PT: How long did you spend in locating your way out of Sambisa?

I spent five hours trekking.

PT: Ok. So, on leaving there, where did you go? What happened?

I went to a place called Dutse to pick my first son who initially escaped to the top of the mountain. Then I told my relatives that I was leaving for either Cameroon or Abuja. They asked if I had money. I said no. I told them whatever happens to me on the journey is what fate has destined for me.

PT: So, where did you then head to?

I left Dutse for Cameroon. It’s a walkable distance. I hadn’t even a foot wear on. I spent a day there then left for Mubi. While in Mubi, I went to the park to board a bus that will bring me here.

PT: But you earlier said you hadn’t money, so how did you pay the fare from Mubi to Abuja?

When I got to the park, I told the park officials what had happened to me and begged to be assisted but they refused. I then begged someone else who spoke to the park officials, gave them a written note to the other park officials in Abuja that I should be brought here while I locate my relations who will then pay them the transportation fare incurred. But when we got to Tipper Garage, they ended the journey and seized my little belongings that I should come bail them with the transport fare. I then found my way down here and found some of my relations already living here. But my relations are poor like me so my things are still being held at Tipper garage.

PT: When you were in captivity, what did you do as a slave?

We the slaves washed plates, broke firewood, swept and carried very heavy stones for their masters.

PT: Very heavy stones? What did Boko Haram members use the stones to do?

Nothing. They weren’t used for anything. It’s just to give us manual labour for refusing to be one of them. We carried as many as they commanded us to.

PT: Did you ever see Shekau the Boko Haram leader?

No, but I saw the second in command; Yakubu Musa.

PT: Did you ever witness any activity linked to the abducted Chibok girls?

When the Chibok girls were abducted, they were divided and taken to different camps. They have different camps in Sambisa.

PT: How did you know these girls were taken to Sambisa and to these places?

I was in captivity with some other people abducted in Gwoza. Some of them had been kept in the same place with the Chibok girls before being moved here. They were the ones who told us that the girls were a stone throw away from us.

PT: You said captives were given a spoon of food and water daily. What was the health of captives like in the camp?

So many people were very ill and we were malnourished. The Boko Haram members loot hospitals and patent medicine stores for medications. That’s what they administer on the sick.

PT: Are there doctors amongst them?

Yes, there are professionals amongst them. They just chose the kind of wicked lifestyle they live.

PT: What about your husband?

Since April 2014, I have not seen him nor heard from him. I don’t even know if he is still alive.

PT: What happened the last time you saw him?

The last I knew of him was everyone running to the mountain. At that point, it becomes very difficult to identify or know anybody’s location. Since then, I’ve not seen him. I can’t really say if he’s alive or dead.

PT: During that period, did you hear anything about people being killed?

Yes, I heard people had been killed in the neighbouring village. About 134 people had been killed and most of them were men. I can’t really say if my husband was involved.

PT: About your escape, how were you able to find your way out of Sambisa? Is it an open space? What’s it really like?

Sambisa is a forest. You can’t find your way around. You’ll just be going, following the turns and bad roads. You just manoeuvre your way through.

PT: I have a tough question. Do you think you can answer it?

Yes.

PT: While in captivity, were any of the girls who refused to be converted manhandled, as in, raped?

For the period I was there, no one was manhandled. We were only kept aside for whatever purpose they had in mind.

PT: You mean, there was no violence in any form?

While I was there, I was beaten with the edge of a gun. I even had a dislocation in my waist due to the intensity of the beating. That was my punishment for refusing to become a Muslim.

PT: Were your wounds treated?

There was no medical treatment for me. It’s the grace of God that saw me through the ordeal in their camp. Getting food to eat was a challenge not to talk of medical care.

PT: While in captivity, were people killed? As in, in your presence?

Yes, so many were killed. They were slaughtered with knives as if goats were being killed.

PT: Who were they? As in, were they men or women?

They were mostly men. There were just three females.

PT: Do you possibly know who and why those women were killed?

The women that were killed were those whose relatives are Muslims. If I’m a Muslim and my relations are Christians, I’ll be saved. But if a Christian and my relations are Muslims, I’ve committed a crime so must be killed. For the men, they were scared that if left to be alive, they would point them out whenever the dust settles. That’s why they were not spared.

PT: Please, repeat the Muslim/Christian relatives analogy.

Women who are Muslims but have Christian relatives are spared, while the Christian relatives are killed.

PT: But how come weren’t you killed immediately for refusing to become one of them?

They were going to marry me with or without my consent. That’s why I was given the N10,000 which I later used in escaping. I spent the money on my way. The money helped me get to Mubi.

PT: What do you think would have happened had you been caught while escaping?

I would have been killed. Even after escaping, they came looking for me on the hills.

PT: Looking for you? Why?

They had given me money for my bride price so they came looking for their supposed wife.

PT: How did you manoeuvre your way again with them?

I had to hide myself inside one cave with a snake. There’s a big snake in the cave. I was there with it and with my son. Had I been found, I would have been killed instantly.

PT: Were you not frightened being in an enclosure with a snake, a big one at that?

One sighting the snake I was very frightened but resolved that it’s better to be killed by the snake than allow the Boko Haram members kill me. It was a drastic decision I made but thank God I’m alive today.

PT: What did you do for a living back at Gwoza?

I owned a patent medicine store and also farmed. When they came, they destroyed my shop. I had harvested 18 bags of corn and beans but Boko Haram took everything when they raided our village and set our house ablaze.

PT: What do you now do for a living?

A Good Samaritan who came to visit us here gave me N10,000. I used N4,000 out of it to buy a used generator. I got some cashew nuts and sold to make more money which I used in opening this shop where I charge people’s phone batteries in return for money to support myself and my two children.

PT: Since your arrival here have you received  Post-Trauma medical care?

So many people have been here. The chairman of this place encouraged me that everything would be fine. But no counselling from doctors.

PT: What about your children?

No, they haven’t received any care for trauma.

PT: Are they not affected by all the horrible stuffs that happened?

Yes, they are. They cry a lot and have very poor appetite.

PT: What’s next? Any plans of re-marrying?

I’m not thinking of getting married to any man. All I’m interested in is to work, get money to feed and take good care of my kids. Because of the horrible experiences I had with men (Boko Haram members) I don’t want to have anything to do with a man. The trauma is still there. But the advice from friends here have been helpful but regarding men, it’s a no-go area for now.

PT: What if your husband turns up tomorrow?

It’s part of the reason I don’t want to have anything to do with a man. Even though I don’t know his whereabouts now, I still can’t have anything to do with a man. I can’t cheat on him. It’s not good. If fate brings us back, I’ll gladly accept him.

PT: How long will you wait for him to return before moving on?

If it takes forever, I will wait. If it is not my husband, I won’t remarry.

PT: How do you feel about Boko Haram members?

I’m praying that God should touch their hearts and forgive them the sins they’ve committed. They claim they got into it because of poverty so the government should do something to tackle poverty in the country. To those who have been victims of Boko Haram, I pray you find a place in your heart to forgive them and pray for them. Many of them are professionals with different talents but chose to go into this heinous crime for their own selfish purpose.


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