When Boko Haram terrorists struck one night in 2014 in Baderi, Marte local government area, 83-year-old Hauwa Abu-Nasib was left with four grandchildren, including two suckling babies.
Every other member of the household had fled into the bush.
The siege on the Borno State community five years ago was one among many as the insurgents’ attack reached feverish pitch in the state with little resistance from Nigerian soldiers.
Usually, during Boko Haram attacks, the young and able-bodied take cover in the bush, leaving behind the kids and the elderly because they are often unharmed by the terrorists.
After the terrorists had left, those who fled into the bush return to reunite with their families.
But after the attack in Baderi – the terrorists chased the fleeing residents into the bush, shooting at them – Mrs Abu-Nasib never saw her children or other members of her household again.
“None of them (her children) could come back for us,” Mrs Abu-Nasib said, her voice lowering to a sad tone as the memories flooded back.
“The shooting went on for throughout the night and people were killed, everyone had to run far away from Baderi and Marte.
“I was left with an 11-year-old grandson, his three-year-old brother, as well as two suckling babies.”
Crippled by arthritis and frail of health, the octogenarian decided to seek for safety with her grandchildren.
“The attack was becoming intense and they were setting houses on fire and we feared they may not spare us,” Mrs Abu-Nasib said in a recent interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
“So I had to ask my grandson to get one of the wheel carts we use to fetch water from the borehole so that we could use it to escape.
“I managed to pull myself into the cart with the help of my grandson. Then I asked him to help me with the two babies who were all crying and that was how the little boy began to push us out of the village.
“We ran into some of the Boko Haram gunmen, but they didn’t show us any mercy, they ordered us to leave or they get us killed.
“They did not even worry how such a small boy will manage to push us all the way into the bush at such dark hours of the night.
“I pitied my grandson, but he is a very brave and strong chap. He kept assuring me that he will manage even when I know his strength had dissipated.”
Narrating the events of that night with the aid of a translator, as she speaks only her native Shuwa Arab, Mrs Abu-Nasib said they continued to move at snail speed in the bush for several days.
With time, the little water with them ran out, followed by their food.
They were alone, famished, and exhausted.
“We were almost lost in the bush and we did not encounter anyone who could even help us. We saw corpses of people in the bush,” she said.
She said from time to time whenever they got to some swampy areas, she would use her hand to scoop dirty water to feed the starving children with her.
“We did not eat anything for three days except drinking some unclean water we found in drying ponds.
“Our first meal after three days was a piece of groundnut which we found near an abandoned hut. And when I broke it open, I gave one seed to my 11-year-old boy and one to the other little child. They ate it happily.
“I tried everything, including attempting to suckle the two babies with my dry breasts but none helped them. That was how they died in my arms. I was heartbroken seeing those innocent babies lifeless in my hands.”
With the help of her 11-year-old grandson, Mrs Abu-Nasib said a shallow grave was dug and the babies were buried.
“I was heartbroken, and on that day I promised never to forgive or forget the torture Boko Haram had subjected my grandchildren and me to.
“I have heard of tales of hardship suffered by our people in the past, but never was I told of a grandmother watching her grandchildren starve to death and burying them in shallow graves in some unknown bush location.
“God has blessed my family with longevity that is why I am 83 years old today. I still have a senior brother who is over a hundred and is still alive.”
On the fourth day, Mrs Abu-Nasib said they made it to Monguno, another Borno town 45 kilometre away from Marte, with the help of some persons who later found them in the bush.
The grandmother and her surviving grandchildren now live in Jiddari Polo area of Maiduguri; where she continued to mourn the death of her family members.
Many other elderly men and women shared similar experiences with PREMIUM TIMES at a public screening of a film documentary on the Boko Haram insurgency titled ‘Uprooted.’
The movie, produced by a local NGO called PAGED Initiative, shows victims of the Boko Haram insurgency relate their stories of survival. The film is used as an advocacy tool for giving a voice to the underrepresented people, especially in conflict environments.