Editor’s note: This is a story of a young boy who was captured by Boko Haram in Bama in September 1, 2014, when the local government was taken over by the insurgents in what was one of its deadliest attacks. He noted that the experience is still causing him sleepless nights. The story is the first part of Boko Haram: My Story, a series meant to collect victims’ experiences of the 7year-long insurgency in the North East first-hand.
Compiled and narrated by Abubakar. H. Muhammad
When Modu Lawan paid a visit to his senior sister in Bama, a town less than 200km from Maiduguri, he didn’t know he was taking himself closer to being a Boko Haram.
It took him less than 24 hours to realise that.
Struggling to wake up from an untiring sleep on a cold morning to catch up with subhi prayer, Modu was to be faced with a greater challenge—he did not just wake up for the prayer; he woke up to the reality of a Boko Haram attack!
‘It was gunshots and bomb blasts all over the air’, he said. ‘I was told that it was in Goniri, because Boko Haram were used to raiding that village from time to time.’ But it was not Goniri. The attack was at his doorstep!
‘When we went out to get the real situation as the gunshots were coming closer and unending, we saw large number of people running away for safety’. Modu, before he knew, joined the pool, for safety, but there was nowhere to run, there was no safety anywhere close.
‘Because I didn’t know the direction I was going, after running for too long, confused, I came to the same house I ran away from.
‘My sister’s husband had already moved out, as he received the news earlier, leaving behind my sister with her three kids.’
The attack lasted the whole day and there was nowhere little Modu and his sister, and even much younger nephews could go to. Till dusk, they had nowhere they could feel safe, and the attack did not seem to be ever ending.
‘We ran to a nearby village, but we were told that the greater danger was in the village, we had to quickly return; and hopelessly crammed into a neighbour’s house who is a cleric’.
The resolve was to set out early morning to Maiduguri, but that ‘was the longest nights of my life’.
13-year old Modu and his team set out at the dawn of the morning to Maiduguri through the thick, equally dangerous bushes that punctuate the about 150km distance; but he realised they were quite late: ‘we saw hundreds of footsteps ahead’.
He said though it guided them, it at the same time frightened them because ‘it may likely be those of the insurgents’.
Unfortunately, it was: the footpaths lead exactly to a Boko Haram camp and that was the beginning of a greater ordeal to a confused teenager!
‘It was Ariyari village’.
‘As we continued to move, we ran into an old man—with a very scary face, full of beard, seated under a neem tree!’
Modu and his team were so tired and sat under a tree close to him.
As they start eating the corn his sister took with her, the old man—the supposedly good Samaritan—came to offer them a better food—spaghetti.
But he was a Boko Haram!
Soon as they were done, he ordered Modu and his 10year old nephew to come forward.
‘I didn’t know he was a Boko Haram until when he intercepted a passer-by’.
‘The passer-by told him that he was looking for his wife and amir (commander of Boko Haram) has given him permission’. ‘But he asked him to join us, seizing his phone, money and all that he had’.
By now, they were certain they were in the wrong hands. They burst into tears. He sent away Modu’s sister who, realising the situation, came forward to plead for their freedom, ‘threatening that he will take hostage of her too’.
Scared and helpless, she left—she left her 10-year old son and 13-year old brother! The beard Boko Haram took the three of them to a nearby camp where they met 7 other Boko Haram members.
‘There were five, yet-to-be-loaded guns there with several magazines of bullets’, Modu recalled.
By 1:30pm, they were once again moved to another camp.
There, Modu met a Boko Haram who knew him.
‘He said he saw me in Konduga when Civilian JTF gave him Quran to swear for his innocence, which was surprising considering that he swore he was not part of them’.
There were other five boys of Modu’s age, who, he remembers, were already indoctrinated to believe in the hellish cause. ‘They were keen to be taken to a certain place they call Markas’, Modu observed. The first day went for Modu hopelessly and in tears because he believed that it was a matter of time for him to follow suit. ‘The next morning, the three of us were told that we would be taken to Markaz after breakfast to enrol in Quranic school’.
But Modu was not ready to eat or drink anything again ‘because I was suspicious’. He believed they insurgents use charm and other spiritual rituals to enlist people into the sect. Though many believe in this, there is no any scientific proof yet.
They were given pap, but Modu refused to take anything.
As the breakfast went on, the terrorists went out of the house and observant Modu, having observed that they might have gone far, saw a chance of an escape: ‘it was the only chance to reconnect with our family’.
Modu convinced the other two who agreed with him but asked him to go first and because he was determined to take the risk even if alone, he did.
‘I sneaked out and ran into the bush but I didn’t know that they were everywhere; I was caught not too far.’
For this, Modu was put on the to-be-killed list. He was proving tough.
‘When one of them pointed a loaded gun on me, despite my plea, I then decided to recite, as a last resort, the kalimat ash shahada loudly, and luckily, his colleagues ordered him to stop’.
The irony was that, this meant, Modu has ‘accepted’ to join the cause. All along, to the insurgents, Modu, until this, was not a Muslim! Boko Haram consider all other people except those who subscribe to their cause infidels and non-Muslims. It seems also, besides the rumours that charms and rituals were and are still used to enlist people into the group, the insurgents ‘terrorise’ people to forcefully join the group.
However, since Modu has now formally become a Muslim, it was time to take him to Markaz, the administrative headquarters of the group. And by noon, they were on their way already.
Unknown to Modu, Markaz was Sambisa.
As a form training, Modu remembered how they were made to trek instead of using a vehicle or motorcycle. On their way, they met with several other groups of the insurgents and it was until then that he realised the gravity of the risk he took to escape. Actually, there was nowhere to run to.
At a point, he recalls a camp they went to where there were several of them with sophisticated weapons—and he has to, because it was where he found ‘salvation’.
‘They were a lot in that camp with a lot of weapons; at first I thought it was where they called Markaz. It was later that I knew Markaz meant Sambisa’.
At the camp, the commander said Modu and his nephew were too young to be taken there.
‘However, our captors argued that even if we were too young to fight, we were not young to learn’.
‘As we sat to rest, another commander who they revere a lot, Mallam Umara, came’.
Modu has heard about him a lot, his ruthless brutishness but he never saw him. However, Umara was actually Modu’s senior brother’s friend, Kaka.
‘Are you Kaka’s brother?’, Modu remembered Mallam Umara asking him. ‘He knew and asked of all of us in my family, including the village head of Yale’. ‘He ordered me and my nephew to follow him, directing that the other man who is older than us to be taken there.
‘I was afraid considering that I have heard of his ruthlessness. I thought he was going to slaughter or shoot us since we could not fight because that was what I have always heard about him—that it was his pastime to slaughter security men and ‘infidels’.
‘I broke into tears that that was my end. ‘But he told them, very surprisingly, that they two of us should be returned to our families in Konduga.
‘I was dumbfounded, my tears doubled: did he really say this or mean what he said, I was confused.
‘But after the directive he left. I was both apprehensive and thankful—real mixed feelings.
‘Though the commander has ordered them to free us, when he left, one of them tried to convince me, showing me a video of young boys clenching guns and RPGs in their attacks.
‘But I resisted, insisting that they should allow me go to Konduga as directed’. They agreed to this but it had to be the next morning as it was already late.
‘The following morning as we were about to leave, there was a sermon by the Ameer after Fajr prayer where he advised his fellow Boko Haram to recite a verse from the Holly Qur’an, that the verse will instil fear in the hearts of the enemies in time of war.’
By sunrise, a jet dropped a bomb in a village nearby, where one of them was injured on his leg.
They all became furious that they had a change of mind about freeing them.
But luckily for them, the commander returned and still found Modu and his nephew. It was him who took them with him and other two captive women, the young boy recalls.
‘We arrived at a bridge between Bama and Kallimri. The sight of the place was terrifying as the bridge was paint with blood of slaughtered people and dead bodies thrown into the river’.
They went into Bama and met the ruins the town was reduced to. ‘Everywhere was opened and scattered.
‘Our Bama was finished, it was reduced to nothing and the experience and thoughts still come to me that to this day, there’s no one thing that I am happy about my life’.
Modu is now in Maiduguri, living with his relatives.
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15 September 2022
05 September 2022