Unending gloom, pain still, 858 days after Chibok abduction
April is the hottest month in Chibok, a quiet town in the southern part of Borno State.
Most afternoons are suffocating, with searing temperatures sometimes rising to 40 degree Celsius and above.
So high are the daily temperatures that the thick foliage of dongoyaro trees planted in the front yards of many houses cannot prevent heat waves from penetrating and burning those resting beneath.
Yet the people of Chibok seek shelter under the trees during the day to avoid direct contact with the sun. At night, there is not much respite either as the weak air movement at dusk heats people up rather than cools them down.
On April 13, 2014, Rifkatu Galang, 17, woke up with cramps worsened by the dull pain of a recent surgery.
According to her mother, Mrs. Yana Galang, the senior student at the Government Secondary School (GSS) at Chibok was home for the weekend to recover but on Monday, returned to school to commence her final year examinations.
That was the day Boko Haram terrorists, the Islamic sect that had become a menace to the entire people of the northeastern Nigeria, struck.
They sacked Chibok and abducted Rifkatu along with more than 200 other students of the school.
“Anytime, I remember the condition in which she left home that morning, I become more worried for her. Where would she get her prescribed drugs?” the mother, who herself is an alumnus of GSS Chibok , asked, as if her daughter’s abduction happened recently and not two years ago.
The town Chibok
Chibok town , located in the southern part of Borno State, is the headquarters of Chibok Local Council , one of the 20 councils formerly under the vice-grip of the Boko Haram terrorists .
With an estimated population of 66,105, an agrarian, predominantly Christian community with a Muslim minority Chibok people, according to a retired soldier and Chairman of Nigerian Legion in the town, Mr. Mutali Mitra “are generally peace-loving ”where almost every family owns a farmland or keeps livestock at the backyard.
“Though we worship differently, we all speak the same language, Kibaku, alongside varieties such as Hausa, Kanuri, Fulfude and English language” Mitra said.
Contrary to the stereotype about marriage among the people of the northern Nigeria, Christians and Muslims inter-marry in Chibok without any problem, said Mr. Mutali, whom local folks call ‘Old Soldier’.
Unlike other communities in Borno State, where the call of muezzin rouses people to prayer in the morning because of the predominance of the Muslim population, Chibok remains dead silent except for the barking of restless dogs, crowing of cockerels and chirping of birds.
“Our people are so afraid of Boko Haram or anybody that does not look familiar,” said Mai-shai, a young man who sells tea and cocoa beverages at the market square.
Darkness descends early upon Chibok where the entire town is pitch-dark like soot at night, except for whatever illumination that seeps through from the stars above.
The last time the town had electricity supply was two years ago before the terrorists visited. Even the solar street lights commissioned in 2006 by the state government was functional only for few months before it went into outage.
The few people who own portable generators, use it for commercial purposes such as charging phones, making ice blocks or powering computers.
An example of such small businesses include Sambiz Computer Centre, which charges N200 to type and print a page of document.
Otherwise, no single house runs generator during the day or at night.
“We were buying fuel at N250 per liter, even when the pump price was N86:50k. We even bought a liter of petrol at N500 during the scarcity,” said Haruna Mutali, the son of the ‘Old Solder’. This is because there is not a single petrol filling station in Chibok: the residents depend on suppliers who bring fuel from neighboring Adamawa State.
When news of the coming of Boko Haram terrorist group filtered into Chibok late Sunday afternoon on April 13, 2014, the town went into panic.
They had heard of the brutality of the attacks in other communities such as Gwoza and Bama. People in neighbouring villages had called on phones to warn Chibok residents of their advancement.
Narrating his experience, Secretary of the Association of the Parents of the Abducted Girls Mr. Lawan Zana, said: “Immediately we received the information, we called our leaders, member representing Chibok community in the State House of Assembly in Maiduguri, Aimu and the Chairman of Chibok Local Council, Mr. Bana Lawan who in turn called the Borno State Governor, Kazim Shettima and other ‘powerful’ individuals in Abuja.But the authorities dithered ” he said.
No help came until the following day, several hours after the terrorists had already raided the town and razed several houses.”
Recalling the visit, Mr. Zana said: “We all woke up to terrifying sounds of gunfire.”
In blind panic, hundreds of Chibok residents hurried out of their houses, seeking refuge far from the reach of the raiders, some running into the forests, others towards Likama Hill which bounds Chibok to the west.
By the time calm returned to the town, and the people to what remained of their homes, the parents then remembered their children boarding at Government Secondary School about a hundred metres away from the entrance of the town.
“All of us parents rushed down to the school and met the gate keepers who told us our girls had run into the bush on sighting Boko Haram terrorists.
“But one of the students who escaped from the kidnappers told us that the insurgents had loaded them into Toyota Hilux pickup trucks , a vehicle commonly used by the military after assuring our girls that they were soldiers who came to protect them and then drove away with them.
“When other students who escaped kidnapping corroborated this story, we decided to pursue them,” Mr. Zana said. His second daughter, Aisha who turned 17 in April was also kidnapped.
Like Rifkatu, Aisha also was ill and came back home to rest. But she had already recovered and even showed up for the wedding of her uncle.
“I remember her sitting throughout the wedding programme.” That was the last time Zana saw his daughter before she returned to school. “It is two years now since she left this house,” the father said, his tone underlined with fresh sorrow.
Zana and another parent jumped on his motorcycle in hot pursuit of the abductors. Other parents followed on foot. But an old man they met in Kondi, a village nearby, told them their mission was suicidal .
“Go back home,” the man said.
“The men you are pursuing are heavily armed. I saw them kill a man now. So go home and get help of the soldiers, else you will be risking your life,” he warned them.
Reluctantly, the parents went back home without their daughters. “We all broke down in tears,” said Aisha’s father.
Too frail to flee
When the news of the abduction reached Mr. Musa Abana Issah, a primary school teacher in Chibok, his blood pressure shot up. His fifth child Auwal, 17, was among the girls kidnapped.
The thought of Auwal in the hands of the terrorists worsened his health condition. Since 2011, the man has been bed-ridden in a dark room in his mud house.
According to him, his spinal cord suffered injury in an accident that happened at his farm. So while other residents fled the town during the 2014 Boko Haram attack, only Issah remained in the house, together with his wife, Mary, who could not bear to leave her husband alone.
“I had resolved that if they must kill him, they must kill both of us, but we instructed our children to run away, ” she told The Guardian. But the couple survived.
Though there is a general hospital in Chibok, no doctor is willing to work in the town because of fear, so the workforce in the hospital is constituted mainly of nurses. Although, there are also local midwives who assist women to be delivered of their babies, they are incapable of treating cases as serious as Issah’s, the Chief Nursing Officer, Ciroma Boaz, said.
According to him, the nearest general hospital is in Yola, Adamawa State which is about 60 kilometres from Chibok, but the family is very poor .
Therefore, the bed-ridden primary school tutor is kept at home where the wife nurses him with the help of their children.
Yet, the man is presumed lucky by his family because no fewer than 18 Chibok parents are already dead.
“Many of them found the loss of their daughters too much to bear,” said Haruna Mutali, the liaison officer for parents of the abducted Chibok girls.
Had he known…
The abduction of Chibok girls has left many affected parents in grief and anger that time has not healed.
But it leaves more emotional disturbance for Mr. Jonathan Peter, the uncle of the 17-year-old girl, Rose Daniel, who was formerly living with her parents in Maiduguri,
Borno State until her father died in a car crash.
The loss took a toll on her, and she started missing classes.
Ordinarily a quiet girl, Rose began to have problems even with her mother. When she confided in her uncle about her growing dislike for school, he asked her to relocate to Chibok to continue her schooling, and she agreed. That was how Rose became a student at the GSS.
To the surprise of everyone in her family, she found her groove back and was doing well again in school.
According to her uncle, the very intelligent and hardworking girl took time off from school only when her provisions finished.
A weekend before her final exam, she came home for some money and returned to school immediately and was
She was among the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
“Now I don’t even know whether she is dead or alive. If I had not suggested that she come to Chibok, maybe she would still be with her mother now,” said Mr. Peter.
Boko Haram terrorists’ second coming
The first visit of Boko Haram to Chibok was the one that caught the world’s attention because of the number of girls abducted in one day, but the tragedy of that incident was incomparable to the sect’s second visit, according to residents.
On Friday, November 14, the insurgents again came to Chibok, this time not only setting houses ablaze and destroying properties but also killed as many people as they could, according to a staff of the Local Government Council in Chibok.
Like the first time, the arrival of the terrorists was heralded by several gunshots.
They accessed the town through the hills, and first attacked soldiers guarding the community.
According to the man who owns a grocery shop: “The terrorists initially were not killing civilians; they only targeted soldiers or any security man in uniform. So we all , including some of the soldiers, escaped into the bush.
By the second day, some of our people who returned to town thinking that the insurgents had gone, were all killed. It was then we concluded that they had come with the intention of taking over Chibok to establish their government as they did in Bama and several other towns.”
So, many residents of Chibok escaped to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in Maiduguri while the rest went far afield.
Though the military recaptured Chibok two days after the attack, the town had already suffered great desolation.
Survivors came back to see bloated, smelling bodies of their friends and relatives.
Mutali said: “My neighbour was killed right in front of his house; we saw his swollen , lifeless body three days after.
His dog had fed on his right hand.
Since then, I have not been able to eat meat. I don’t think I will ever eat meat again.”
Life after attack
Since the recapture of Chibok in November 2014 by the Nigerian army, normalcy of sorts has gradually returned to the troubled town, said Mrs. Esther Dunya who has been selling food at Chibok market for more than 15 years.
Farmers have started going to farm, but no longer as early as they used to because of the curfew which lasts between 6:00am to 9:pm; and there are soldiers everywhere to enforce the restriction order, she said.
Traders have also become bolder and the main market which had been deserted for months now attracts more buyers and sellers even from neighbouring villages such as Kuburvu, Kakilmari, Kaya, Kulali and Bulakar.
Although schools still remain closed because the state government has not lifted the ban, parents who could afford it send their wards to schools in other states instead.
For those children who are too young to be sent to schools faraway, there is Alheri Primary School , founded February 10 by a couple of young men, Bello Musa Yidau and Yakubu Wadai who had been unemployed for years.
With N50 as registration fee and N350 as monthly tuition, a child is enrolled.
“Now we have more than 400 children, but only about 50 percent can afford to pay the school fees because most parents lost fortunes during the terrorist attack,” said Yidau.
Since there is no bank in Chibok, most people kept their money at home and therefore lost their savings during the attack.
Those who use banks like Mr. Dazzband Mainna, a civil servant at Chibok local council, give their Automatic Teller Machine cards to somebody travelling to Yola or Maiduguri to collect money from the bank on their behalf.
Government workers at Chibok told The Guardian that the minimum wage of N18000 has never been implemented in till date.
“But we are not complaining, we just want to live in peace and we want government to help us bring back our girls.”