by VOP Foreign Correspondent, Nigeria
In an area of Northern Nigeria where the government has been fighting to crush an insurgency by radical terrorist group Boko Haram, a Christian girl finds herself a prisoner on the frontlines. And literally, in a battle for her own life. In an interview with our Nigerian Correspondent, she tells the story of her captivity and daring escape.
19 year old Hajja was asked by her grandmother (Kaka Saratu Musa) to go with her to pick and gather corn from her abandoned home at Ghwa’a village in the hills of Mandara Mountains in Gwoza local government area of Borno State, Nigeria. Among those that volunteered to accompany them was Hajja’s friends, Salome Umaru (12 years old), Jaka Hassan (15 years) and Gudere who was the youngest among them.
After they reached the abandoned home where the grains were kept on the mountaintop, a slim black woman who was suspected to be a Boko Haram informant approached them asking if they would allow her to take the cornstalks. When Hajja’s grandmother refused, the woman then left without saying anything. Unknown to them was the woman’s true purpose. She came to confirm their arrival and report it to the cousin of Hajara’s father, Isa Varah and Shuaibu Kalakwa Bala who had joined Boko Haram as active members.
Not long after, the Boko Haram informat and the insurgents came to attack them. All of girls fled except Hajja’s grandmother who was not fast enough to run. Hajja hid among the rocks, while they caught the older woman and began beating her. She could not stand to watch them beat her grandmother, so she emerged from her hiding spot. They seized the young girl and released the grandmother to go home.
WHEN SHE WAS ABDUCTED
They took Hajja to a cave in Klala hills, an area of the mountainous region adjacent to Cameroon Boarder in Gwoza local Government, Nigeria. There she met a heavy, black bearded insurgent called Kalakwa Wala. They proceeded the same day reaching the Boko Haram Camp inside a dreary cave of Ghraza hills, in the night. There she spotted Ibrahim Tada Nglayike, the commanding leader of the insurgents. The following morning, the leader told her that she had been kidnapped, because she was among the people that invited the Joint Task Force (JTF) who killed many of their members. After beating Hajja mercilessly, he demanded she immediately convert to Islam. When she refused, he tied a rope around her neck and brought out a knife to slaughter her. The cousin of her father, Isa Varah then intervened and took the knife from Ibrahim’s hand. She was then was given seven days to accept Islam or die.
FORCED INTO ISLAM
On the Seventh day, Isa came and pleaded with her to accept Islam. He told her even if she did not accept it in her heart, it was better she become a ‘pretend Muslim’ or she would be slaughtered like animal. He added by saying, “It is the only way to escaped premature death.” Under the extreme pressure and fear, she converted and was given a Muslim veil called (Hemar). The leader himself started teaching her Quranic verses and how to pray five times in a day. The group was elated with her conversion, as it was the early days of Ramadan fasting. They claimed Allah would reward them bountifully for this great thing they had accomplished.
HER LIFE IN THE BOKO HARAM CAMP
Speaking to our correspondent, Hajja said that throughout her captivity, they were always on the run. They slept in caves and open places for fear of the Joint Task Force (JTF). They gave her food only after they had eaten, even though she had been the one to prepare it. She was one of only two women in the group with fifteen armed men. The other woman was called Amina, the wife of the camp leader, Ibrahim.
In the Mandara Mountains, they continually moved from place to place and cave to cave. They were always based in the mountainous region, such as Ghwa’a, Jiga, Klala, Tighadighile, Hirdimbe (Kai-Ktha) to plan and carry out operations on the Christians villages. Among their popular route was to mingle with civilians and pretend as innocent people through the Government Secondary School in Ville ward that directly linked the valleys to local government headquarters. On another route they had to wade through rivers.
Narrating her story to the correspondent, Hajja described the locations of the insurgents as rocky and rugged with misleading routes where they usually traveled. They journeyed to Shiya Dawe near the Sambisa Games Reserve to get ammunition from the larger insurgent group. They took Hajja and the woman as cover to mislead the security personnel at checkpoints, but women were left afar from where the weapons were kept. The men moved further into the reserve to meet with their members and came back with dozens of ammunitions.
Some among their weapons were very heavy, but she was not shown where they stored the sophisticated weapons, Hajja said. She recalled an event where four of the insurgents could not carry a single weapon on their shoulder, while they attacked a village. Stating her experience, Hajja told our reporter that she was taught how to cock a gun, but her major duty was to carry bullets behind the insurgents while their operations were going on.
Hajja had been held in the camp for almost three months serving as cook to the insurgents, who she described as heartless people with wild behaviors. They beat her and warned that if she dared tried to escape they would go and kill her parents, burn their houses and destroyed whatever belonged to her. They believed she had become loyalty to them. The insurgents began to trust their hold over her and assumed she would no longer try to escape. What they didn’t know was she had planned to ran away.
One day, Hajja pretended that she was very sick with a severe stomach problem. The leader decided to have his wife, Amina take her to the Hospital in Gwoza to be treated. When they arrived at the premises they saw the hospital locked, so the woman took her to the brother of one of the insurgents. He refused to host them, so from there Amina decided to take her back to the camp. Hajja set her plan in action, she was not going back. She started struggling with the woman in mist of the populace. Out of the usual capacity of captivity, the leader’s wife wanted to force Hajja, but the girl held her ground and alerted the people around them. Her captor started running and disappeared, so as not to be caught. From there, Hajja was taken to her father’s house and later preceded to a different location for safety.
It was quite empathetic how Hajja’s parents suffered a double tragedy. Her brother had been labeled as a Boko Haram member by a powerful politician who disguised insurgents as civilian joint task force. Her brother was then arrested by the so-called civilian JTF and handed over to Military personnel in Yola. After his innocence had been confirmed, her family was celebrating his release when they saw Hajja after she gained her freedom from the physical and psychological torture. She looked deeply traumatized with a ghostly appearance. They were all brought to tears. The young girl was very anxious and apprehensive, as if she would be returned to captivity again.
Hajja told Voice of the Persecuted’s representative,
“I felt very bad about my conversion as if God would never forgive me.”
It took several counseling sessions from several sympathizers, before she finally agreed that God would not count it against her. The mental trauma she suffered was not yet fully healed. She was disturbed by sleepless nights with a series of nightmares about the activities of the insurgents. She told them she had not been raped, but she felt like her life had come to an end. She was taken to a medical specialist to be examine medically and psychologically. It was recommended that she would eventually get over it once she changed her environment.
Hajja was then taken to Polytechnic school in Nigerian State to study an engineering course. Her education fee was paid by a bank draft ($1,260) offered to her by VOM. She was given a Bible as well to serve as her companion, she said.
The recent campaign by Boko Haram of kidnapping young women and girls like Hajja, continues. They threaten them with death to convert to Islam and then force them into marriage. Many are raped and brutally beaten when they cry or try to speak. They are forced into submission and become their slaves. The Boko Haram has also been using these women as decoys to capture Nigerian soldiers. They suffer great psychological torture when they see the terrorists murder the soldiers by slitting their throats. Though some may gain their freedom by escape, many remain trapped by the mental trama of what they have endured. Unable to bear what has been done to them, they are often at risk of committing suicide.
Please pray for all those suffering by Boko Haram and other extremists.
Pray for Divine protection of all Nigerian women and girls.
Pray for endurance of those who have been taken captive and for their grieving families.
Pray these captives will be quickly freed from the terrorists.
Pray that God will quickly heal the physical and mental injuries of those who have been abused. And that they will become productive for Him, their communities and in their own lives.
Pray for the insurgents hearts and minds to be severely convicted by God for the atrocities they are committing. Pray they will turn from evil and become followers of Christ. Pray these lost men will come know the love of Jesus and be saved.