‘We buried 73 men killed by terrorists, delivered pregnant women of babies in the bush’
By Sam Eyoboka
MRS Monica Stover is about 50 years old. Her husband, Maita Stover, is an indigene of Chibok, the headquarters of Chibok Local Government Area located in the southern part of Borno State. . Chibok, a Christian community, occupies an area of 1,350 square kilometres and a population of 66,105 by 2006 population census. Most indegenes of the village speak the Kibaku language.
Since the night of April 14 when the Islamist group, Boko Haram, murdered sleep in Chibok and wrote the name of the village in the world map for a wrong reason by kidnapping almost 300 schoolgirls there, residents, some Christian leaders, and thousands of concerned Nigerians have vowed not to rest until the schoolgirls are released.
Some of the kidnapped girls apparently escaped from their captors. But the mother of one of the remaining 215 girls still in captivity, Mrs. Stover, was in Lagos, last week, and, tearfully, narrated how her people in Chibok now live in the forest for fear of terror attacks which have reduced one of the 16 local government headquarters to a ghost town. Her story is representative of those at hundreds of mothers in the community, some of them giving birth to babies in the forest without any form of medical attention.
Mrs Stover, mother of nine children, has a unique case. Her husband underwent a surgical operation for prostrate cancer. While still in hospital, Boko Harâm struck and took away about 300 girls from Government Secondary School, Chibok hostels on April 14. Her daughter, Saraya, is among the victims. In order not to worsen her husband’s case, the family tried to keep the news away from him. But, a few days later, the Islamists returned and looted everything they had, and torched their house alongside several other houses in the town. As if that was not enough, her first daughter, Nancy, who couldn’t stand the trauma, relapsed and now needs urgent psychiatrist attention. Over 100 days of her daughter in captivity, Mrs Stover, now seeking N3.5 million from public spirited Nigerians to relocate her family from the war zone, denied receiving a dime from the alleged presidential largesse to the Chibok abducted girls’ parents.
Her story: “My daughter, Saraya, came home on April 14 morning to collect some food items and went back to school that day because they had examination the next morning. Apparently disturbed by the father’s condition, she told me she would return home after her examination the next day. And since then, we have been waiting for her to come back. Later that night, we received calls that Boko Haram had entered Chibok. My sons confirmed that Boko Haram was truly in town and they were on their way to the Government Girls College.
“My sons went there and helplessly watched, all night, Boko Haram taking away the girls before reducing the school to rubbles. The next morning, I took a bike to the girls’ school. On my way, I saw shattered men and women crying and, when I asked what happened, I was told that all the schoolgirls were kidnapped. I went blank. I didn’t know what to do.
“So we went to the school. All the children’s luggages were scattered outside. I sat down on the floor and was soliloquising, wondering within myself how, as brave as my daughter is, she allowed herself to be kidnapped? Then I went to the storekeeper who also expressed shock that my daughter was kidnapped. I took a bike to the forest in search of my daughter. On the way, I met a girl who told me that Saraya, my daughter, was the first to escape. Then I went back home but didn’t meet my daughter and didn’t see her that night.
“The next day, I went to the house I was told Saraya went to and asked if they saw my daughter escaping. The occupants confirmed that she was the first person to jump out of the terrorists’ truck. I told them that the girl I met on the way also said she jumped out of the truck. So I took another bike that early morning and began to search the bush and all the villages. Some people said they saw some girls that passed not quite long and I followed the lead till about 7:00 p.m. when I may have covered over 20 kilometres from Chibok to no avail. I was shown another road where some persons claimed to have seen females’ wearing apparels like shoes, hair ribbons, heard ties left along the road presumably as leads for people looking for their missing girls. “So I followed that path. On the way, I saw a heap of spent teargas cannisters, boxes and collapsible beds belonging to the Nigerian Army. I saw belts and spent magazines. I went to another location where I saw a heap of burnt items belonging to the army. In another location, there were bottles of drinks on the floor as if those who consumed them were jubilating. I was in panic. I went to another village, asking every person I saw if they saw any girl that escaped from Boko Haram; even of it was her corpse.”
The search, she added, continued for three days that looked like three decades, until she encountered on the fourth day some of the girls that escaped.
“I asked one of the girls if they knew my daughter, and they said they knew her. One of them said she escaped but the Boko Haram men picked her up and put her back in the truck but she still came out. I was told that some parents were there and they caught one of the Boko Haram members. So I went to the people that caught the Boko Haram member that they should help us because our daughter had not returned home. The people told us Boko Haram people are traditional people. I was told to go to the council chairman and principal of the school so that they could give the permission to search for Saraya and in three days she will be found.
“I told them to forget about permission and just go in search of the girls and we will give them any amount of money they wanted. So they asked me and some parents also looking for their kidnapped daughters to write their names which we did. We waited for two weeks after which we were called to Abuja. Till now, no step has been taken to locate the girls. We hear in the media that the girls’ whereabouts have been discovered and the girls are being treated and I keep asking myself what are they treating?
“Apart from the eight girls that escaped, no other one did. Nobody went to Chibok to console the mothers of the girls. There was a time the parents were invited to Abuja to meet the President.. And now they say in newspapers that they gave us money. It is all lies. Those who have their children at home with them are the ones eating fat. They are using our names and our daughters’ names to collect money which they share amongst themselves and push us away.
“My husband had surgery one month before our daughter was kidnapped. Our house was also burnt and I came out of the house without anything. The dress I’m putting on now was given to me by the president of Gabasawa, a non-governmental organisation specializing in the welfare of hurting women and children, Mrs Doris Yaro.
“In my community, door to door, neighbour to neighbour, 73 men were killed by Boko Harâm. I was among the people that buried those 73 men. Now it’s women that are burying men. We put them in wheel barrows, dig holes and buried these men. Sometimes during funeral, we would hear that Boko Haram terrorists are coming and we would abandon the dead bodies and run for our dear lives.
“Women run into the bush with babies. Once you see the headlight of a vehicle coming, you hide so that you will not be seen. It is always cold at night in the bush. If you cough and anybody hears it, they will run and leave you there.”
Continuing, the mother of nine children noted that whenever the men hear any sound, no matter how remote, they will run and leave the women with the children.
“We sleep in the bush. There was a girl that has gone blank because of the insurgence. Boko Haram went to her and asked her to come out of the house. She was asked if she was sick and she said yes. She was asked if it was AIDS and she told them yes. She was asked to leave the house and they burnt the house. They packed all the motorcycles and burnt them. When she was asked to come out, she refused so they pushed her away and removed her mattress and blanket and burnt them. That is the situation. We are suffering,” she stated.
Overwhelmed by the burden, Mrs. Stover narrated how she decided to involve Gabasawa, a non-governmental organisation specialising in the welfare of hurting women and children as well as Macedonia Initiative, both of whom asked her to come to Lagos. “I told them I was in the bush and we sleep in the bush. We use nylon to shield ourselves from the rain. I have sustained several injuries in the bush. Women give birth even in the bush without medicare. There was a woman that had twins and she called me; I didn’t have a blade or any sharp instrument so how do I cut the placenta. Then I saw a blunt object on the floor which I used. Before I did that, I told her that if I use this object to cut the placenta and if anything happens, I won’t be held responsible. And she said if we leave them, they’ll die so let’s do it. I used the rope from the bag of rice to tie the placenta and I prayed that God should help me.
“I also told the mother that if after using this object to cut the placenta tetanus affects the baby that I am not to be blamed and she agreed. I cut the placenta. This is what we have been going through. I am traumatized. I have been with so many women like that in the bush. The twins died anyway. The place we were is called Kotikori, but we call it Jerusalem. People are being killed for calling that place Jerusalem. Women and children are displaced. There’s another village called Cucurigu and Shawa. All the inhabitants of these places are now in the bush,” Mrs. Stover narrated, appealing to Nigerians to come to their aid so they can start life again.