LEFT TO SUFFER (IV): Reporter’s Diary: A Journalist’s Self-Immersion In The Pains And Tears Of His Subjects
In the concluding part of this four-part series, IBRAHIM ADEYEMI recounts his personal experience while documenting the pains of women and girls who were serially raped by Boko Haram insurgents in pretend marriages and have gone on to become unwilling mothers to sons and daughters of terrorists.
My journey to Borno was mainly to tell the story of forsaken vulnerable people. But I never spent a moment with the victims without partaking in their sorrows. Whenever my interviewees bawled in pangs, I wailed too. After all, I’m first a human before a journalist
Everyone here was crying. Agony had overwhelmed the entire place. Eighty-year-old grandmother Fatima Bukhar was filled with grief, her eyes saturated with tears.
Five of her grandchildren are nowhere to be found. They were “mistakenly apprehended by the Army as Boko Haram terrorists”.
My son is dead, it is said, is far better than my son is lost. This is the seventh year of attempting to establish the whereabouts of the five grown-up men, but justice isn’t in sight yet.
And Babagana Bukhar, 43, an elder brother to the missing men, was still moaning, shedding tears as watery mucus snuck out of his nostrils. He had been on the forefront of seeking justice since 2013 when the illegal arrest occurred. But all his efforts had been fruitless.
Falmata Bukhar, 13, the daughter of one of the missing men, also burst into tears when asked about her missing father. She was too little to even identify the father when the incident happened, she said.
“I want to see my grandchildren before I die,” the grandmother cried out.
It was mid-day in mid-March at Munakumburi, a town in Borno State. The shedding of tears in the shoddy room seemed contagious. Seeing full-grown men and women in tears, I was overwhelmed and was soon reflexively scratching my itchy eyes as salty tears strolled down my cheeks.
“Ibrahim, you’re crying,” observed Zannah Muhammad, my reportorial chaperon, his eyes were blood-coloured too — a sign they were starting to court tears.
“Oh! Sorry, am I crying?” I asked, rhetorically.
TRAVEL NOTE: A TEARY REPORTING ADVENTURE
Travelling from Lagos to Borno to unveil the agonies of children of Boko Haram rapists and their abused, abandoned, and aggrieved mothers was an idea I had harboured since early 2019.
On January 25, 2020, Boko Haram terrorism made another heartbreaking headline: Leah Sharibu, a Christian teenager who was among the 112 students of Girls Technical College, Dapchi, kidnapped in February 2018, had given birth to a baby boy after being forced to convert to Islam and forcefully married to an unnamed Boko Haram commander.
The headline of the sad news alone made me want to tell the stories of many other girls and women like Leah who gave birth to children after being severely raped by terrorists.
So, when in March, I got a nod from my editor to march on with the story, I had no hesitation at all despite several discouragements and panic-induced comments by some family and friends on the life-threatening dangers in Borno.
“Why do you want to go and die deliberately?” a friend had asked frankly and funnily. He is someone who previously turned down a well-paid job offer in the state “for security purposes”.
THE ELEVENTH HOUR DISAPPOINTMENT
It was 9: 00 am in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State. The sun rayed and reigned, piercing directly into my eyes and prompting tears without sadness. My guide and I had arranged, even before my arrival, to visit the Dalori IDP camp. Some internal sources had pledged to help gather children of Boko Haram rapists and their mothers in the camp. An agreement had been sealed.
“But there is a problem,” my guide announced as I stepped out of my hotel room into his car. “The camp manager just called me.”
“What did he say?”
“He said he can’t allow us come and interview people on such sensitive issues.”
There was silence.
Receiving such disappointment at the 59th minute of the eleventh hour came with a rude shock. I couldn’t have been more embittered; that was my third month of trying, without success, to find ways to document the story.
I already had many turndowns while seeking access to victims. A prominent Borno indigene had told me I could find such victims everywhere in the northeast, not only in Borno. “But I can’t start mobilising those girls for you; it’s a sensitive matter,” he added.
Another one had given me his words. He pledged only to later renege, saying: “I don’t think I have time for that now, I’m just too busy nowadays.”
An alternative contact who promised to walk me through a long journey to Chibok where I can talk to victims of Boko Haram rapists also declined to proceed after I arrived in Borno. The young man was scared by the fresh Boko Haram attack that was unleashed in Chibok few days before my arrival.
“I’m sorry, I can’t go to Chibok now,” he said. “That place is very dangerous.”
I FOUND A WAY, ANYWAY
One great challenge throughout my days in Borno was that I was a journalist. Many other persons working with nongovernmental organisations had reservations about whether I should be given access to such people. One of them tagged my move a “breach of privacy”.
So, as I returned to my hotel room that sunny morning, I had a flashback of all the efforts I had put together to get the story. Then, a thought visited my mind.
What about going undercover?
Accompanied by an NGO worker, I finally got access to the Bakassi IDP camp in Borno, in the dusk, when the state’s sweltering sun had returned to its base.
One of the managers I approached in camp had cleared the way although he didn’t know I was a journalist.
To the victims whose terrible living conditions were to be documented, I disclosed I was a journalist.
THE SO-AND-SOS OF SORROW
At his tender age, Abubakar was taught how to kill by the terrorists in Sambisa. And there are many of them who are mainly born to kill, said Aisha, mother of Abubakar, a child born of a Boko Haram rapist.
“There are many of them — four, six or eight years of age — who are taught how to use guns and weapons to kill human beings,” Aisha reveals, adding that her own son was sadly among the lot.
When Aisha expressed her premonition over what would become of her only son, what quickly flashed through my mind was the scene of a video released by the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), an ISIS-affiliated terror group in Borno.
In the horrific video, a boy believed to be eight years old wore a black shawl and a blank expression. A full-grown man was kneeling before him, tied and tired. The boy spoke radically, spitting some mumbo-jumbo.
“This is one of the Christians from Plateau state,” the child terrorist declared chillingly. “We want to tell all Christians that we have not forgotten what you did to our parents and grandparents. Christians all over the world must know that we will never forget their atrocities against us until we avenge the bloodshed vested on us.”
He shot the man in the head from behind and then in the back. The captive fell flat on the ground and his life blacked out.
The victim of the untimely death, Ropvil Daciya Dalep, was a member of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) who was kidnapped on January 9 on the Damaturu-Maiduguri Highway while returning to studies in Maiduguri, Borno State.
Children, in their hundreds, are recruited by terrorists; many of them are said to be fathered by terrorists, mostly out of rape. One, Abubakar, is the only son of Aisha, who is now living in abject poverty and neglect at the Bakassi IDP camp.
But Aisha isn’t alone in mothering children of terrorists. During my days at the camp, I saw a number of them in their base in the outskirts of the camp. I saw mothers who had great trepidation about the future of their children. Their children offered little promise for their future — same as the government that was failing woefully in catering to them.
How would they then have a fulfilling future?
FIVE BROTHERS ARRESTED BY ARMY NOW MISSING FROM DETENTION
Some soldiers asked me to pay N500,000 to get my people released but I had no money. I couldn’t pay– Babagana
Every single day in Borno was sorrow-ridden and panic-filled. I spoke with over a dozen internally displaced persons who are left to dive in the pool of doom. These are men and women who poured out a stream of tears while telling me their stories. Most times, I shared in their agony.
The few moments I spent at Munakumburi, along Ngala Road, showed me the cruelty of disconnected from one’s loved ones.
When Babagana wept over the loss of his five kinsmen, his face was defined by activism; either by hook or by crook, he wanted the freedom of his brothers.
It was on a Thursday evening, he said. The five brothers — Abubakar 31, Usman 29, Hamza 27, Ibrahim 25, and Mustapha 23 — had all returned from work and were set to settle down at home. But there was trouble everywhere. Everyone at Munakumburi was restless.
Then the soldiers invaded the village and whisked them all away, all in the name of arresting Boko Haram fighters.
“On Friday, I went to see them at Section 2 Barack, in Maiduguri, where they were taken to, only to meet them cutting grasses inside the Barack. They were also sweeping,” recalled Babagana.
“I talked to the soldiers but they wouldn’t listen to me. I met their RSM and he took me to some of their senior officers. But he wouldn’t listen too, so I left there, leaving everything to Allah”.
“I followed up with the President of the Civilian JTF. I explained everything to him. I gave him the list of my people detained by the Army. At that time, they were arresting people indiscriminately; even the innocent were arrested. The barrack was later attacked but there was no news about my people; it is now seven years.”
Babagana has been the only one fighting for the release of his brothers; others are either too old or not literate enough to follow up. In 2017, he wrote to the Borno State Ministry of Justice and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)to seek justice for his kinsmen.
“But I heard nothing from both offices. I took a Lawyer, Barrister Mai Aji, I hired him 2014-2015, but he was not serious with the case, so I left him,” he said.
“The vigilante helped me to get in touch with some soldiers; still nothing good came out of it. Some soldiers asked me to pay N500,000 to get my people released but I had no money. I couldn’t pay.”
RANDOM BLUES: ‘WE’RE ALL VICTIMS’
My journey to Borno was mainly to tell the story of forsaken vulnerable people. But I never spent a moment with the victims without partaking in their sorrows. Whenever my interviewees bawled in pangs, I wailed too. After all, I’m first a human before a journalist.
Meanwhile, apart from suffering abject poverty and government neglect, one random complaint gathered from a number of women who are victims of Boko Haram rapists is discrimination among abductees by government.
Many of them lamented that while the Chibok and Dapchi abductions get the government’s attention, others are less important or even forgotten altogether. And that is not far from being the truth.
Marking the sixth year of their abduction, President Muhammadu Buhari recently vowed that he had not forgotten about fighting for the release of the remaining 112 Chibok girls who were abducted by the terrorists on April 14, 2014.
Recall that Aishah Hassan, one of the victims of Boko Haram rapists, had protested about how their abductors would give Chibok girls preferential treatment in captivity, leaving others to languish in hunger and suffering.
“But we are all victims,” Aisha lamented.
As a matter of fact, the same discrimination happens to many of them even after narrowly escaping the terrorists’ den. Government continues to show significant concern about the release and welfare of Chibok and Dapchi girls, but what about others who were abducted, raped and are now unwilling mothers to Boko Haram’s sons and daughters?