By Esther Umar
It’s a little over four years since my closest shave of death, but the experience still rings fresh in my mind. It is one that I would not wish for my worst enemy. On the day of the event every year, the trauma returns like a wound that has refused to heal. This is my story and that of many others in North-East Nigeria, who have witnessed at least one attack of the dreaded Boko Haram sect and still traumatised even after several years. Truly, many may never recover!
My name is Esther and I was born in Damaturu over thirty years ago but moved to Maiduguri following my parents’ relocation to the city in 1995. We later made residence of Dalori, some 5 kilometres from the capital city of Borno state, Maiduguri. My earliest memory of both Damaturu and Maiduguri was peaceful. But that was soon to change from about 2011 when the first widely reported attack of the Boko Haram sect took place in Maiduguri, making hollow a place of peace I had known all my life.
My moment with fate took place in the village of Dalori in September 2015. It all began that evening after dinner with my family as I made my way to church. As gunshots rented the air, seizing Dalori’s serenity, I hid beside an abandoned vehicle till the invaders added what I instantly recognised as bomb blasts to their assault. For hours, the attackers who had come on bikes and in lorries ravaged Dalori, leaving sorrow, tears and blood.
In my moment of confusion, I found an abandoned, unroofed hut in the village, towards an inhabitant area surrounded by bushes. That single decision was my saving grace. In my seclusion, I saw as households and livelihoods went up in flames. That night, I discovered true anguish. It was the loud cries of children in evening school burnt to ashes for no sin of theirs. It was the rape of girls and women, and the plea from innocent ones to the listening of deaf assailants. It was in homes and places of worship razed to the ground.
It was in the dead bodies that littered the streets and was in the lifeless hands of a little girl not older than 7 years who had been sent to buy sugar and tea. It was in the voices of my sisters, brothers, father and mother I lost that night. It is in the trauma I have lived with for more than 4 years. It is with me as I write this piece.
Dead. That was the state of the criminals’ conscience. Dalori was no longer the same; the tale of the occurrences that evening would be told for generations. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the attack that was reported to have left more than 300 people dead and hundreds more seriously injured.
The attack was intended as a warning to people who spread Christianity in Northern Nigeria. A certain pastor, Hammed Bello, was the Boko Haram’s chief threat in Dalori and they had come hard for him, his family and followers. Bello, a prominent pastor in the neighbourhood who had converted from Islam to Christianity with his household and shared the convictions of his new faith with everyone he could.
His towering influence increased even as the homeless found his church as a place of solace. And as he built a community of followers, he posed an even bigger threat to the extremists whose push is for an Islamic state. With a growing follower base and his wife’s support to needy female victims of suffered domestic violence and abusive marriages, his influence increased with each passing day– so did the threat he and his family posed.
The punishment of the Bellos was their death, the razing down of their church building, the rape of their daughters and their subsequent killings and that of everyone within their vicinity at the time of the attack. Little girls between ages 8 and 15 were kidnapped and were later raped and married off to Boko Haram members.
It did not start with Hameed Bello, history has it that his brother, Hakeem and his wife, Fatima Bello, were murdered in their homes way back in 1986. Fatima, a Hausa woman, had committed an abomination, in those days, by marrying Hakeem, a Yoruba man. They had fled Dalori to Lagos where they had converted to Christianity and led a peaceful until they were hunted down and murdered in cold blood. The police arrived just before the killers could take out their only surviving daughter who then just 5 years of age.
More than three decades after the murder of the first Bellos and almost a decade after the killing of the second Bellos, their followers and my entire family, it is sad that those in authorities in Nigeria do not seem to be sufficiently concerned or capable of defeating extremism and the Boko Haram Islamic sect. Technical defeat upon technical defeat, lives are still being lost to the criminals who now seem more powerful than the state and have become a government unto themselves. They have exposed the extreme level of irresponsibility of the Nigerian government and the worthlessness of Nigerian life. They have exposed our failings as a people and we must no longer keep quiet or suffer in silence!
Esther Umar works in the financial services industry. She writes from Ibadan.