How A Punch Saved Bana From Boko Haram
By Sani Adamu Musa.
Bana Abatcha, 45, sits on the bare floor with his hands placed on his laps in a makeshift tent in Bakassy internally displaced persons camp, Maiduguri as he recalls his traumatizing experiences, fleeing from the weapons of Boko Haram.
The logo of the International Organisation for Migration is printed on the white tarpaulin that makes the side walls. His mattress tilted on the other side of the wall.
He lived in Gwoza with his family of a wife and four children. Gwoza is a town with over 400,000 people- mostly Muslims. The insurgents invaded the town in 2014 and took over control before it was recaptured by the Nigerian Military in 2015.
Abacha was a taxi driver and also a member of the Civilian joint Task force.
The father of 4 recalls when the insurgents stormed the town on a Tuesday around 5:00 in the evening 2014.
He was chatting with his father when the insurgents stormed in a convoy of Hilux vehicles painted in military camouflage and motorcycles.
The residents, Abatcha recalls, heard sporadic gunshots and deafening sounds of explosives renting the atmosphere from every direction. The insurgents were dressed in military uniform with turban, screaming “Allahu Akbar!” (God is the greatest!).
“I was sitting with my father, chatting when I sighted the Hilux Vehicles coming toward our ward,” he recalls, continuing, “I told my father this couldn’t be soldiers because of their appearance; they had all masked their faces; some of them came on motorcycles, while there was already an order restricting motorcycles movements in Gwoza; this confirmed to me that it was the bad boys”.
Still traumatized Abatcha recalled how the Boko Haram terrorists raided the town, setting ablaze schools, houses and vandalising government structures, killing most of the men and enslaving some while the women were being collected house by house.
That was when the people realised that the military in the town had withdrawn.
“They started with burning a school at my ward, they also burned down the military base,” he said, continuing, “Young women were asked to converge in an open field where the terrorists began preaching to them”
Abatcha said the seemingly endless onslaught by the terrorist group continued on the innocent unarmed civilians mostly women and children who could not escape, saying, “These people are considered to be infidels by the insurgents.”
Two terrorists on a motorcycle chased Abatcha. He recognized them. Both of them were his former friends who tried to inject him with the their ideology, but he defied them. He ran helter-skelter in an effort to dodge them. Unfortunately for him, they caught him, tied his two hands and took him to the outskirts for execution.
On arriving at a location, he saw five members of the vigilante group slaughtered, with their copses littering the ground.
“They were virtually floating in their own blood,” he recalled.
He tried to overpower his executors and escaped being butchered.
“When they untied me, I observed the other one whose gun was pointing down was feeble, I straightened my hand and gave him a dirty punch on his chin, he fell down instantly,” Abatcha recalled with a renewed fury.
“The second was trying to bring out a knife which was tied to his waist, but in the blink of an eye, I took to my heels; I ran the race of my life” he said with a renewed sigh of relief.
As a civilian joint task force member, Abacha wanted to rescue his family and his blind neighbours, he spent three days inside a ceiling because the terrorists realised that he was still in Gwoza and he is known to them because half of the attackers also hailed from Gwoza.
“I know almost all of them; some of them were my friends before they joined the bastards,” he acknowledged.
Women were warned not to conceal men. Abacha’s family managed to keep the secret not minding the consequences should the insurgents find out that they had breached their warnings.
The punishment for any captured CJTF member was to have his throat slitted, because the terrorists believed that the civilian joint task force members were their enemies for helping the Nigerian army in fighting them.
Therefore, for committing the blasphemy of joining forces with the Nigerian military against them, the CJTF members they would be castigated.
It was raining heavily the following night when Abatcha seized the opportunity to escape with his family and two blind men. They were nine in number.
He carried one of his children on his shoulder and sneaked into a river which is not far from Mandara mountains. The river was not deep, which made it easy for them to wade across it successfully.
“I dipped my two hands in the river and began to crawl to check how deep the river was,” he recalled, continuing, “When I observed the river was shallow, I asked them to follow me carefully; I instructed the two blind men to be in the middle”
The nine fleers prayed fervently as they wandered in the wilderness, in fear of possible attack by the marauding terrorists, until they reached a village called Balaketera.
After their all-night-long journey, the Nigerian army intercepted them at the outskirts of Madagali.
After spending some days in Madagali there, the military took them to a camp in Yola where they spent some weeks.
The Borno state government ordered the evacuation of Internally displaced persons from yola to Maiduguri Borno State. Abatcha and his 8 dependants were among the evacuees.
Abacha has, since then, been living a miserable life in the Bakassy IDPs camp in Maiduguri, with little support from the state government and international humanitarian aid workers.
He said: “Sometimes we spent the night without eating”
Abatcha and the other IDPs from Gwoza spent six years in the camp. Athough the Nigerian government reclaimed their town from the terrorists since 2015, they still feel unsafe because of the devastating experiences they went through.
“Honestly I am afraid to go back to my town, because there are still some pockets of attacks by the insurgents,” he said.
Getting a job for people like Abatcha seems an uphill task. The people around do not trust them. They are being segregated by the majority of people in Maiduguri.
“No one will give you work to do if you said you’re an IDP,” Abatcha lamented with a grief-ladden tone of voice.
“I used to fetch firewood and sell, but now the soldiers have banned that. because the insurgents are lurking around the outskirts to hit soft targets,” he said.
In March 2015, the Boko Haram terror group aligned its self with the Islamic State of Iraq.
Since the current insurgency started in 2009, Boko Haram has killed and kidnapped tens of thousands of people and also displaced 2.3 millions from their homes and was at one time the world’s deadliest terror group according to the Global Terrorism Index.