By Sam Eyoboka
TUESDAY, July 26, 2009 will remain indelible in the memory of Elder Emmanuel Ndah. Until that day, the Kogi State-born middle aged man had lived peacefully with his wife and son in Low Cost area of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital trying to eke a living through the sale of patent medicine.
For 15 years he had lived among people of different cultures in that part of the world, doing his legitimate business which had earned him enough income to marry a wife of his choice with whom he has a son.
On that humid Tuesday morning, there was no danger lurking in the Low Cost area where he had stayed to practice his trade forÂ Â several years and when pastor of Good News of Christ Church, Maiduguri came calling and urged him accompany him to see a Christian sister nearby, he did not hesitate.
That voyage, remains the most fatal trip, Ndah had ever embarked upon. Indeed, he is lucky to alive to tell his story now. His pastor companion, Pastor George Orji, a father of three and an expectant wife, at whose instance that trip was made, did not leave to tell the story, instead his last wishâ€”â€œTell my people, I died wellâ€ now forms the theme of a spiritual programme in honour of victims of the dastardly acts of the religious fundamentalist group, Boko Haram in parts of the northern states at the tail end of July.
Pastor Orji of the Good News of Christ Church is one of the martyrs the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, will honour next Thursday at the National Ecumenical Centre, Abuja with a memorial service for victims of the religious mayhem that left over 800 persons dead.
The proposed service of songs and Word ministration will also be held simultaneously in London, not only to extol the virtues of the fallen heroes but also to draw international attention to the activities of religious bigots in Nigeria and attempt to find a lasting solution to the nagging problem. Itâ€™s a big social menace thatÂ had taken its toll on the nationâ€™s fledgling economy.
For instance, Elder Ndah who had done his legitimate business in Maiduguri for years, is now so scared that heâ€™s already thinking of relocating his family to more conducive environment where he can raise his children without let.
Few hours after they left his home for the sisterâ€™s place, they ended up in the hands of knife-wielding Boko Haram fundamentalists and all efforts to save their lives proved abortive as Pastor Orjiâ€™s throat was slashed with aÂ Â knife on the orders of Mohammed Yussuf. What was Orjiâ€™s offence? His refusal to renounce his Christian religion and demonstrating an unusual faithÂ and courage to tell Yusuff to confess his sins and repent so that he can be converted to Christianity. That angered Yusuff.
Narrating their ordeal in the hands of sect members, Ndah who jetted into town in company of Pastor Enoch Atiyaye of Hospital Chapel, UMTH, Maiduguri for the PFN news briefing, painted a very gory picture of what happened in Maiduguri on that faithful day and how he managed to escape while his pastor companion was not so lucky.
Pastor Orjiâ€™s third baby would now be delivered in his absence because his life was brutally terminated by theÂ Boko Haram members who promised to spare his life if he renounced his Christian faith and take on the Islamic faith instead.
Fighting tears, Emmanuel, an elder with the Good News of Christ Church and a father of one, narrated his sordid story: â€œI donâ€™t have much to say about the origin of how the crisis started because many residents of Maiduguri will tell you that the term Boko Haram was until that mayhem, unknown.
We, however, know that a few days before the crisisâ€”I donâ€™t really call it crisis because what happened can better be described a war on the nationâ€”there was the usual tension. No doubt, many people know about
Mohammed Yusuff as a person who had been mobilising people against Western culture.
Everybody was aware that trouble is brewing in the air. The man (Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuff) had sent clear messages that he was going to retaliate an event that took place between his members and some security operatives known as Operation Flush. He openly swore to retaliate.
Perhaps, they must haveÂ chosen a particularly time to strike but felt that their secret had leakedÂ Â to the security agents. They had planned to strike at a certain time, but was cut short in the sense that, at a point, a few days before the attack, some of his members were preparing local bombs and one exploded.
That seems to have been what triggered the attacks. It was a Sunday night, while everybody was asleep, they began to attack churches and some police stations. By Monday morning, it was an all out war.
The Boko Haram thing came suddenly when they started the trouble. Before that time, it was just normal Mohammed Yusuff. We also know that he had preached that western education was a taboo. There were people who actually left schools and their government jobs to join him fully.
But the truth also is that; I think they a thinking that western education has a link with the Christian faith. On the day of their attack, 21 churches were attacked by this same group in the state.
They told us that they also attacked some Muslim clerics who didnâ€™t share in their ideals. Somehow, at the end of the whole problem, not a single Mallam was killed, it was only pastors that were slaughtered and many Christian churches burnt. Mohammed Yusuff had actually preached that he had a list of the pastors that he would eliminate.
The police was not the original target.
Because of that clash with Operation Flush, the man had so much hatred for the Police. The whole thing started on Sunday, July 25. My house is just about half a kilometre fromÂ their station.
This issue started about 6.00 p.m. when we saw them, we panicked in the sense that they covered their faces. You cannot see their faces; you can only see the two eyeballs. We tried to connect to our people to inform them what was happening around us. It is almost a normal situation as we used to have them around us from time to time because weâ€™re very close to them.
But this very last one, I didnâ€™t know Boko Haram until the day I heard it on the news. What I know is Muhammed Yusuff, some will say Makart, thatâ€™s the name of the avenue where they hold their Jumaâ€™at service which also serves as their headquarters.
On that fateful Monday, we escaped, but on Tuesday, in the morning after eating breakfast, Pastor George Orji asked me to accompany him to a neighbourâ€™s. We went and we saw that there were cars moving in the town. He then asked me if we can go out and see.
We found out that there was no thorough way toÂ the other side, so we came back to the house. Later, he said he wants to get some clothes for his children, that can we go to the town, if we cannot enter, weâ€™ll come back.
He gave me the car keys and I was driving. When we got to the area, there was much problem. When we got deep into the heart of the area, we found out that there were some church people there. Then I told him that the way Iâ€™m seeing this area, it seems that these people are around. Letâ€™s go back. That was the only time he did not argue with me.
I didnâ€™t even turn because I felt that there might be an obstruction. I just reversed the car, put on gear and wanted to move. Then he said thereâ€™s one of our church members in the neighbourhood and we should go and see her with a view to moving her out of the area.
Coming down from the car, he moved and asked me to lock the car but I said no; for security reason, we can run back to the car at anytime. He didnâ€™t argue. On reaching the womanâ€™s door, he found out that the door was locked. Coming back to the car, we saw them coming towards usâ€”two of them with knives.
We were very close to them and we know that some of them carry guns. We couldnâ€™t move anywhere. I now moved forward ahead of him and met them and asked what the matter was. They said â€˜where are you coming from, are you a CID or a police?â€™ I said no, I am a business man. Then they asked him, he said he â€˜is a pastorâ€™.
In that situation, when they were interrogating us, trying to see if we had any weapon, I stretched my head, and I saw that the other man was holding a short knife in his hand. The other one had a long knife inside his long babaringa.
I could have said; since they are two and weâ€™re two, letâ€™s do fight out, but I know my pastor, he would not fight and he would not make trouble. If I attempt to make trouble with the first one, the second one will kill me right there in-front of him. So, not to make it violent, I just relaxed but my spirit kept telling me thereâ€™s a way we can escape.
None of them know how to drive. So, they asked me to enter and drive the car. That was my prayer, for them to leave me on the steering. I now got to the steering and kicked the car. On my own, I could have escaped, but I canâ€™t go leaving pastor behind. Today, it would have been a terrible thing in my heart, crying for.
So, I said letâ€™s die together if need be. The other one said we should move with leg and I said there is no need for that when there is car. Then, two of them entered behind me and put knife behind my head and the other on pastorâ€™s. They said if you make any move, weâ€™ll cut off your neck.
I had one option, because I was the one holding the steering. I could run the car and smash it on the wall but when I spoke to pastor, he said no. He said just go, if weâ€™re to die, letâ€™s die for Christ. They saw some of their people again. One was carrying a gun and he climbed the car.
Two shifted towards my neck and one was holding Pastorâ€™s neck also with a knife. If I made any move, theyâ€™ll cut me. I said Pastor what do we do. The fear had now gone out of us, because we know where we are heading to. About half a kilometre, they asked me to come out of the car, they put me by the side and asked someone else to drive the car.
Immediately, they laid us down. Lying us down, they tied my pastor first because he was in front of me; they tied the legs and the hands. Next, I was tied also on the ground. Another little chap somewhere was tied close to me.
The last message my pastor gave me, he told me that what â€˜we are about to go through now is likely to take us to heaven. If they give you anything to drink, donâ€™t drink, donâ€™t eat. Letâ€™s die here. If they ask for any offer concerning your faith, donâ€™t agree. Letâ€™s die for Christ.â€™
He repeated it three good times. The last word when we were lying down was that if he died and I survive, I should take the message to his family, â€˜tell them I died wellâ€™. The next one, he said if I die and he himself lived, he would take the message to my family that I died for the sake of Christ. And if two of us die in this situation, letâ€™s die, to God be the glory.
Later on, when the military men began to advance towards us, our captors now separated us. They now cut the rope on my legs and hands, but I couldnâ€™t go to their place again. They said I should move inside.
My fear at that time was that as the military was advancing they could eliminate us because there were bullet coming. But we thank God, the bullet did not kill him, and at the same time, they asked them to go and lie down inside. Later on, they asked pastor and the rest in his group to go and lie down.
Thatâ€™s how he managed at that particular time to be alive for a moment. Later on, they now brought some other people that they will teach them how to pray and recite all those Islamic things. We had more than 200 Christians. Some did.
They now freed those people that prayed that evening. They left around 5.00 in the evening. They brought another set of captives to join those of us refused to renounce our religion. It was then they asked that those who want to worship Mohammed should come.
Before then, those people who prayed, some of them were still slaughtered outside, some of them were hit by bullets. They asked us to face the wall and not to look back. That was around 6.00 in evening and because it was getting dark, I couldnâ€™t check the time because my phone and everything had been taken from us.
That was the first thing they did before tying me. They now took their weapons and moved out, sophisticated weapon. The man was calling for his followers to come forward because the enemies were advancing. Those people behind now heard from the mic, the mic was so loud it reached people all over. They all now came out to confront the military men. They now started shouting Allahu Akhar.
Thereâ€™s a zinc behind where we were staying. They hit the zinc while running out of the place, many people stood up. When we came out of that place running towards the front, we then discovered that there were other people coming after us with knives. We were running and some of us managed to escape.
I believe some were not able to escape. I was not feeling fine when this thing happened, but I thank God for giving me strength. Thatâ€™s how I ran to escape. The persons in the first house I ran into, drove us out. When I met an Igbo guy and told him whatâ€™s happening, he threw me out.
Thank God for one Sierra Leone boy that beckoned on me to enter his house. He was the one that hid me. That was how I managed to escape on Tuesday.
That night, I had to communicate with my sister in Abuja that she should send me credit, so I could communicate with my wife.
I donâ€™t want them (my wife) to go out looking for us because if they might also be caught.Â So, I called them and told them that they should not move anywhere because Iâ€™m in the house of one brother that gave me shelter. It was 10 minutes later, the wife of the late pastor now phoned me.
She asked after pastor, I told her that â€˜right now, Iâ€™m not with pastor, but we have ran away from their hands and I canâ€™t go out because the military men are shooting.â€™ I will say that God has made it that this war could not take my life. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m still alive. If not the military men, the Boko Haram people would have killed me.
How many children?
I have a child and a wife. Iâ€™m expecting a chid any time from now.
Whatâ€™s the name of your place in Maiduguri and did you rent the place?
Yes. I rented it. Iâ€™m in State Low Cost. That same Tuesday I escaped.
Did you see the body of pastor?
(Interjection by Rev Ladi Thompson) The person who was there when the pastor was killed, just didnâ€™t feel like describing the whole ordeal because the only way he was able to escape was by declaring that he no longer wants to worship Jesus Christ.
He was supposed to be here actually, but for him, itâ€™s a very unpleasant experience. So, he just said â€˜I donâ€™t think I can come because I donâ€™t want to talk about it again.â€™ They asked Rev. George Orji to deny Christianity, he refused. They tortured him.
He actually blessed them. Thatâ€™s exactly what they did to two other pastorsâ€”Pastor Sylvester Akpan of the National Evangelical Mission and Pastor Sabo Yakubu of Church of Christ in Nigeria, COCIN). Some of them were burnt in the church.