Activities of Boko Haram, the dreaded Islamic sect, continue to ruin many homes, bring sorrow into the lives of others, while survivors live in fear
Since her husband died in the January 20 attack on Kano by Boko Haram, Ewewarifgha Opaleye has refused to believe her husband of 34 years is gone forever. Although she saw his corpse, riddled with bullet shots to the chest and forehead, on the floor of Murtala Specialist Hospital three days after the Boko Haram invasion on the city, she said she has continued to hear his voice and feels that he is still alive and around the house.
But when any of her three children, all at different levels in the university, calls to ask for school fees or upkeep allowance, that is when the reality of her husband’s death usually dawns on her. “When our first daughter, who is studying Medicine at Madonna University, called me three weeks ago about her school fees, that was when it dawned on me that I am now the mother and the father of my children,” she stuttered, as tears rolled down her cheeks.
Opaleye, a matron at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, has also learnt to do a few things she used to take for granted. “I have never had to do anything in the house apart from cooking and keeping the house clean. He used to do all repair works, generator works and fix the car. Now everything is on my shoulders,” she said, crying some more.
Apart from the first daughter, the second child, a son, is studying for an engineering degree at the College of Aviation Technology, Zaria, and the third, another daughter, is a student of English language at the University of Maiduguri. “How am I going to cope with their school fees?” she asked amid tears. “But I’m trusting God to see me through.”
Her husband, a retired army major, was a consultant with the African Refugee Foundation.
Opaleye is not the only woman Boko Haram has turned into a widow. Chinelo Okeke, from Anambra State, was five months pregnant when her husband, a machine parts seller, was killed by Boko Haram while trying to escape from his shop located close to the Bompai Police Barracks, also in Kano. She has refused to stay in their house in Dakata since the killing of her husband. She said she could not bear to live in the house again without her husband.
She said she got married to her husband only two years ago, and now he had left her with an unborn child. “What would I tell my child? How would I raise the child alone?” Okeke asked, sobbing. Family friends told the magazine she had been looking blank and downcast since her husband’s death, and had had to be rushed to the hospital a few times. She now stays with some relatives of her late husband who live in Sabon Gari.
Victoria Onoh, from Imo State, has also become a widow, left to now fend for her five children. Her husband, a commercial motorcyclist, was also killed by members of Boko Haram in Kano. Onoh looked pathetic when she told the magazine how her life has lost meaning since the untimely demise of her husband.
“I’m sad and unhappy and tired of life. How can I continue to live alone here? It is the church that has been taking care of me and my children since they killed my husband. I want to go back home with my children,” she said, hissing with self-pity.
Her eldest child is just 14 years, and still in Senior Secondary Class Two. She said she would like to return to Imo State, because she did not foresee any immediate end to the Boko Haram crisis. “Since they say Boko Haram is in the government with them, I don’t know how they will end it,” she said.
Just as the widows mourn and miss their husbands, many men are learning to also become mothers to their children. One of them is David Dung, a mechanic with Jos International Breweries, JIB, whose wife, Regina, was killed in the bomb blast at St Finbarrs’ Catholic Church, Rayfield, Jos. His wife left 11 children.
Dung told the magazine in Jos that his life has never been the same again since the bomb blast. “You can imagine how you will feel to see your wife in pieces after a bomb blast. I went crazy, and I don’t know how I managed to survive till today.” The company where he worked closed down three years ago, and his late wife, a government sanitation officer, had been supporting the family until her death. Dung, a Catholic, said he has been looking up to God to see him through.
John Peter, another resident of Jos but an indigene of Adamawa State, has been looking up to God to help him be a good father to his four children. He was at the Church of Christ In Nigeria, popularly known as COCIN, in Jos when suicide bombers stormed the place. Peter was hauled against the concrete wall by the explosion, suffering severe damages to his chest, face and two hands. He had lost his wife previously to an accident. “I have not fully recovered from the blast because I still go to hospital for treatment due to the severe internal injuries I sustained. It is not easy because every time you go to the hospital you have to pay and buy expensive drugs and I don’t have the money,” he complained to the magazine.
Naomi Wambutda, who also lost her 30-year-old daughter in the blast, was still mourning when the magazine visited her in Jos two weeks ago. Looking sad and dispirited, she said she had not been able to recover from the sight of the pieces of her daughter’s body after the blast. Although she still lives with her husband, and other children, she said the death of her daughter, Nenbam, was a blow to the family. “She was more devoted to God than any of us, that’s why her sudden death is a great loss to us.”
When Jeff Sunday, a 40-year-old man, also lost his mother at the St Finbarrs’ explosion, he thought the world had ended. “She was everything to me and to all her children. If I’m sad, I go to her and my sadness disappears. She had a way of bringing sunshine into everyone’s life. I always remember her and feel she would come back. I cannot recover from the loss.”
Sunday Akogwu, elder brother to the late Enenche Akogwu, the Channels Television reporter killed by Boko Haram in Kano, told the magazine that the family had been in gloom since the “brightest star in the family” was brought down by Boko Haram last February. The elder Akogwu, a security man with the Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB, in Kano, said their mother was the hardest hit by the demise of the journalist.
Although their mother has eight children, the television reporter, who was the fourth, was a special child to her. She had had a premonition of his death and had pleaded with him to leave Kano and return home to Benue State to “take a wife and settle down.” She wanted to carry his child, and not his corpse. But he chose the line of duty and met his death in the hands of Boko Haram. “She has not been herself since then but because of her faith in God, she has continued to live,” Akogwu told the magazine.
Stories of loneliness and hollowness are told by dozens of people who have lost family members to Boko Haram attacks in different parts of the North since 2009. The dreaded Islamic fundamentalist sect has attacked Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Kano, Kogi and Plateau states, killing hundreds of people largely through suicide bombings and gun attacks.
The sect had carried out suicide attacks on the Nigerian Police Force Headquarters and the United Nations House, all in Abuja, the nation’s capital city. Three churches – St Theresa Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State; Church of Christ in Nigeria, COCIN, Jos; and St Finbarrs’ Catholic Church, Jos – have also come under suicide attacks during worship hours, resulting in the death of scores of people with several others wounded.
While the dead have been buried, leaving their families in grief and dejection, many are living with permanent disabilities and injuries inflicted on them. Ruth Dalong, 28, is learning to hear with one ear after a bomb explosion at the COCIN church in Jos destroyed one of her eardrums. She also suffered a broken leg and was at the Plateau Specialist Hospital for weeks before she was discharged.
Also in a similar situation is Henry Miri, 23, a member of the same church, who was hospitalised for multiple injuries to the head and legs. He has since left the hospital, but may never again hear with one of his ears. But he, like Dalong, is not bothered with his disability, but happy at the “miracle” of survival. “We just thank God that we’re still alive. We could have been dead if not because some good Samaritans quickly brought us to the hospital,” he told the magazine.
Miri, a student of the Plateau State Polytechnic, said he missed one semester due to the injuries he sustained in the blast. Now he is trying to pick up the pieces of his life so that he can return to living his normal life. “But I know I can’t go back to the life I used to live. I am a different person now because of the accident. You can see that the scars are all over me.”
In faraway Adamawa State, many are also grappling with life without dear ones. Ebenezer Arifalo, a university lecturer and elder at the Christ Apostolic Church, Jimeta, told the magazine that Boko Haram had brought sadness to dozens of homes in the state. He said 10 people were killed in his church on January 6 when Boko Haram gunmen attacked the church during service.
One of those who lost persons during the attack was Yemi Akinola, whose 64-year-old father was gunned down by the notorious sect. Akinola, who is the eldest of his father’s four children, has just completed his National Youth Service programme in Edo State and still searching for a job.
“Our education is the responsibility of our father and nobody is taking care of it now. We don’t know what will happen and everything is confusing but we’re only trusting God to help us,” he said.
But some governors are taking steps to bring sunshine into the lives of many of the victims by rehabilitating and giving them financial support. Rabiu Kwankwaso and Kashim Shettima, governors of Kano and Borno states respectively, have taken the lead in bringing succour to victims of the Boko Haram crisis.
Mogaji Dambatta, chairman of the committee set up by the Kano State government to identify families of victims of the Boko Haram attack on the state, said a total of 103 families had so far been identified as having lost persons in the attacks. Of this number, 43 were security personnel while the rest were civilians. The process of identification involved showing death certificates issued by the hospitals to show the victims died as a result of the attacks.
The Dambatta committee, three weeks ago, gave each of the families so identified the sum of N1 million. The money, he said, was not a compensation for their loss, but “a form of support,” and that nothing could compensate for the loss of a dear one.
Mustapha Aliyu, 52, an indigene of Kano who lost his elder brother in one of the attacks, said he had already bought a house at the cost of N800,000 for the family of three children and a wife his brother left behind. The balance has been given to the family to help them take care of their needs and pay the hospital bills of his late brother’s eldest son who had developed a high blood pressure since the death of his father.
Al-Kassim Haruna, also a Kano indigene who lost his father to the attack, said he had felt like an abandoned child since his father died last February. He said he missed the old man’s advice, prayers and presence, and believes he is irreplaceable in the lives of his children. He thanked the Kano State government for the monetary assistance, stressing that it would help the family and see him in particular through his undergraduate degree at Bayero University.
He has advice for the government: “The only solution to conflict is dialogue. Every day innocent souls are lost to the crisis. Government can end our trauma by granting them amnesty and talking with them.”
Non-indigenes in Kano have also benefited from the government’s financial support. Opaleye, Onoh and Okeke have all received N1 million each to support their families. Opaleye and Onoh said the money would help them with the school fees of their children. Both said no government in Kano had ever given financial support to any victim of the countless crises that had engulfed the state at different times.
“I knew that God would not abandon me and my children like that. And the sign of that is the gesture from the Kano State government,” Opaleye told the magazine with tears in her eyes. She also wants government to bring a quick end to the Boko Haram menace to save innocent lives. “Now there is so much fear in the land, and you can’t even go to the police because they are busy trying to protect themselves.”
But tears have continued to flow in different parts of the North and Abuja, as Boko Haram seemed to have stepped up its evil campaign. A car, apparently on suicide mission in Kaduna, exploded off Ahmadu Bello Way, at Sardauna Crescent, early last month, killing more than 30 people, mostly commercial motorcycle riders waiting for passengers.
On April 26, Boko Haram bombed media houses in Abuja and Kaduna simultaneously. The building housing the Abuja office of THISDAY newspapers at Jabi was attacked by a suicide bomber, killing two security men and injuring five support staff. The offices of THISDAY, The SUN and The Moment newspapers in Kaduna were also attacked, though no casualty was reported.
But the most dastardly act was committed in Kano on Sunday April 29, when members of the notorious sect threw explosives at a congregation of Christian faithful gathered inside a hall at the old site of the Bayero University, Kano, before opening fire on them. No fewer than 35 people were reported killed in the attack, including two professors of the university.
A day after the Kano killings, a bomber on motorcycle in Jalingo, Taraba State, rammed into the convoy of Manman Sule, the state commissioner of police, killing 11 people and injuring at least 20 others. Abdullahi Adamu, a commercial motorcycle rider and one of the survivors, said he carried two female passengers on his bike when the explosion hit them. Adamu’s left leg was shattered by the blast while his two passengers who suffered severe burns are still being treated at the Federal Medical Centre in Jalingo.
In Maiduguri, where the crisis started, the victims are not just those who lost family members to Boko Haram attacks. Many have lost family members during military offensives against the sect. Maiduguri is the headquarters of the militant sect, and the military, determined to smoke them out of the city, has launched several counter and pre-emptive attacks which have led to the deaths of innocent people.
The magazine spoke with several people, including women, who claimed the military broke into their homes and killed their husbands in their presence on the suspicion that they were members of Boko Haram. Inuwa Bwala, the state commissioner for information, said most of the victims being given financial support by the Borno State government were those affected by military operations.
A committee set up to identify the victims, headed by Zannah Mustapha, the deputy governor, has so far identified 77 people. Thirty-six of them were Muslims, while the remaining 41 were Christians. The state gave each of the families a sum of N250,000 to enable them, according to Bwala, “pick the pieces of their lives [back].” He said the money was not compensation, but “support,” and it was given to the victims without any publicity to avoid attacks from robbers.
Talatu Fulani, Saudi and Habiba Abdul, all widows living in Kaleri, were among the beneficiaries. They lost their husbands during a military operation against Boko Haram in July last year. Talatu’s husband left her with five children while Saudi and Habiba both had nine children for their late husband. The money, they say, would help them start a little business to keep body and soul together and care for their children.
The Niger State government has also given financial support to victims of the St Theresa Catholic Church bombing in Madalla, Niger State. A total sum of N150 million was given to the church out of which the families of the 42 persons who died in the blast got N1 million each. The sum of N250,000 was also given out to support each of the 84 persons that sustained injuries, while some of those who lost shops were given N500,000 each to start their businesses again.
Emmanuel Nnaji, a foodstuff seller who suffered a broken leg as a result of the blast, said the money given to him would enable him support his family financially since he could no longer “hustle like before.”
Emmanuel Obiukwu, who lost four daughters in the Madalla blast, is yet to accept the reality of his daughters’ death. Although he has since relocated to his home state in Anambra, he says the scars are indelible in his mind and that of his wife. But Peter Obi, governor of his home state, is trying to wipe away the tears of the family by giving scholarship awards to Obiukwu’s two surviving daughters. The scholarship covers their education up to the university level in any part of the country.
But unlike the other states where government has raised money to alleviate the suffering of the people, Plateau State government is yet to make any move. Victims who spoke to the magazine said government had not given any financial assistance to those who lost persons or property during the attacks by Boko Haram.
Abraham Yiljap, state commissioner for information, told the magazine that government did not have the resources to pay money to victims of the crisis in the state. He said the state had witnessed several crises, and payment to victims would be too huge for the state government alone to bear and said the state was collaborating with the federal government to see what could be done to help them.
In Yobe, where over 100 people were killed when Boko Haram attacked Damaturu, the state capital last November, the government has been silent on support for victims. Some residents who lost persons in the deadly attack on the city told the magazine nobody had invited them for any form of assistance.
Bukar Manna, a businessman, claimed that Boko Haram members, dressed in police uniform, shot his brother and his friend inside his car. They were asked to show their identity cards, and both worked with the Nigeria police in Damaturu, although they were not in uniform. “Up till today, the government has not given any form of assistance to the families they left behind,” he told the magazine
Goni Fika, the state commissioner for information, could not be reached as at press time, and he did not reply text messages sent to his phone. But a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said government was yet to take a decision on what to do about the victims.
The fate of victims in Yobe is shared by those in Adamawa State where serial gun attacks on churches and non-indigenes have left many families without their loved ones. They said even though the state government was not behind the attack, they expect it to show some humanitarian concern.
Many of the victims, northerners and non-northerners, said the ongoing Boko Haram violence in the North remains unprecedented, and that many are beginning to give up on the possibility of peace returning to the North. Some said many of the victims have relocated to either their home states or to other cities or states they considered safer. Theophilus Danjuma, a lieutenant general and former minister of Defence, said Boko Haram had turned northern Nigeria into another Somalia. Danjuma, a northerner from Taraba State, told a gathering in Abuja that the North was on fire, and that its leaders, including the governors, needed to urgently do something to reverse the trend.
A more lasting solution was proffered by Wambutda who waxed religious and spiritual when she said she had forgiven the killers of her daughter as the Bible taught her. She is praying for God to “change the heart of Boko Haram so that they can embrace Jesus Christ and repent from their evil ways.”