Alhaji Yusufu, a 68-year old businessman, said happiness is to him seeing his grandchildren around him. Every evening as dusk sets in, Mr Yusufu sits under a tree in front of his house, listening to the radio and looking at his kids as they play or run errands for their mothers.
On Tuesday, February 23, at about 5.30 p.m., the grandfather saw five of his grandchildren dashing towards the street’s public water point, each carrying a bucket. It was his last sight of them alive.
“They usually run such errands like fetching water from the public tap, for their mothers in the evenings,” Mr Yusufu said.
“I saw them leave the house in a group to fetch water at the tap. No sooner had they left than we heard a deafening explosion. After the storm had settled, we rushed to the scene, and my heart sank when I noticed five of my grandchildren were affected. Three were wriggling in pains, while two were lifeless. It was a sad episode in my life, but what can I do? No one questions God.”
Mr Yusufu said the five were between the ages of nine and three years. They were among the nine children killed by mortar bombs fired into Maiduguri by Boko Haram terrorists on Tuesday evening.
The parents, just like Mr Yusufu, shared their painful experiences in the last hours of their kids.
On Tuesday, Boko Haram fighters attacked the Borno State capital from the eastern flank. They fired about a dozen rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) into crowded neighbourhoods during the attack.
About sixty civilians, mostly children, were hit by the motorised explosives, with ten of them, including nine children, killed. The other was a man in his late 40s hit by a mortar inside his home where he was reading the Quran.
Most of the deaths were caused by the mortar bombs that landed in the Gwange ward of Maiduguri.
On Wednesday morning, Governor, Babagana Zulum led hundreds of mourners to join the parents of the slain kids at mass funerals in Gwange and Adamkolo wards of Maiduguri.
When PREMIUM TIMES reporter visited Gwange, the streets were deserted, as adults were seen sitting under trees in front of the homes of the bereaved parents.
Telltale signs of the attack were evident in the broken branches of the trees, walls with large holes and vehicles with shattered windscreen.
The bomb that landed on Gwonge Laying Bori Street was massive. A dented portion of the earth indicated where it landed before exploding to kill and injure the kids fetching water some 50 metres away.
While Mr Yusufu was watching his grandchildren skipping to the public tap, about five kilometres away, the terrorists were plotting to fire the mortar bombs that would soon land in the heart of Gwange, a crowded suburb of Maiduguri.
Shetima Badamasi, 51, said his 13 year-old daughter, Hajara, was also killed in the bomb attack.
“I was in my business place in the market when I was called and told that a bomb landed in our street and it affected many children including my daughter, Hajara,” he recalled.
“The blast opened up her face and shrapnel pierced her chest. She was in primary five; we were hoping that by next year she would complete her primary six and then enroll in secondary school. But God plan for her is the best. And I am happy she was devoted to her prayer and faith in Islam.”
Hajara was the eldest child of his second wife.
Babagana Mustapha, 35, was also in the market when he received the message that his son, aged five, was hit and killed in the blast.
“I was not allowed to see my son who was still alive but badly injured when he was being rushed to the hospital. He had multiple fractures and his entire face was mutilated. I saw his corpse at about 8 p.m. when the doctors lost the battle to save his life. We buried him together with other children this morning.”
Another resident, Ali Husseini, who is in his early 40s, said he also lost his daughter in the bomb attack.
“It is God that destines everything; and I, being a mortal human, have no powers to question Him,” he said.
“I had to rush down when I received the news of the bombing in our area. Upon my arrival, I was told that my daughter’s corpse had been recovered from the scene, and my friends insisted I should not go to look at her because it was not a good sight to behold.
“We later retrieved her corpse from the hospital and brought it home. Initially, I thought the bomb had affected two of my children because we could not account for the other child of mine. But I had to thank God when we later found my son, a younger sibling to the one killed in the blast.
“My daughter was still in her school uniform at the time she went to fetch water at the tap. She had not pulled off her uniform because she had just returned from school and needed to help fetch water at the public tap. She was eight years old.”
PREMIUM TIMES could not get some of the parents, especially the women, to speak about their dead children because they had not recovered from their emotional seizure at the time our reporter visited.
The Tuesday attack was the first in Maiduguri since the eve of the 2019 general election day when insurgents and soldiers fired long-range munition, some of which landed in IDP camps.
Tuesday’s attack had stirred fears and concerns amongst the residents of Borno because such attacks pose more threat than suicide bombing.
Governor Zulum said the attack “is a new trend we have to rise and stop.
“We experienced a similar incident exactly one year ago. The solution is to deploy an appropriate form of technology, which we will have to work on,” the governor said.
Sources at Kaleri, a suburb of Maiduguri, said they saw the insurgents firing the mortars from a gun truck.
Kaleri to Gwange, where the explosive warheads landed, is about five kilometres.
Thomas Hassan, a 17 year-old resident of Kaleri, said, “while hiding inside out homes and peeping from the windows, we saw men in black, all armed with AK47. Then suddenly, we heard whistling sounds flying over our rooftops and some seconds later we heard an echoing sound of blast far away.
“They kept on firing.
“Some of the soldiers guarding the parapet ran away. Only one of them stood his ground and kept on firing at the insurgents before some reinforcements later came that finally forced the attackers to flee.”
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