Unique insight into life under Boko Haram
(Voice of the Persecuted) Baga is a town at the extreme north of Nigeria’s Borno State. The town has had more than its share of atrocities at the hands of the notorious Boko Haram. In January 2015, the fishing town became internationally known when it was targeted in the deadliest massacre in the history of the extremist Islamic group. The attack lasted 5 days (Jan.3-7). Security forces had quickly responded against the militants, but fatalities were reported as ‘heavy’ with possibly 2,000 people killed or unaccounted for. The Ministry of Defence claimed no more than 150 killed, some said the massacre never took place or that the terrorists had been repelled. But this claim was refuted by local officials, survivors, and the international media.
Baga and at least 16 other towns were thought to have been destroyed with 35,000 people displaced. Many were feared to have drowned while fleeing across Lake Chad, others were trapped by the Boko Haram on islands. At that time, the attacks resulted in Boko Haram extending its control to over 70% of Borno State. Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the massacre, considered the killings as “not much” and threatened the insurgency “would not stop”. Their goal: Total Islamic Sharia Rule. The group had links to al-Qaeda, but later announced their allegiance to ISIS in March 2015.
If you don’t recall the attack, it may be due to the coverage of attacks in Paris beginning at the the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The terrorists killed a total of 17 in four shooting attacks between Jan.7-9. For weeks, the attacks in France dominated headlines and televised news reports. On January 11, 2015 about two million people, including more than 40 world leaders, met in Paris for a show of unity. 3.7 million people joined in demonstrations across France. The phrase Je suis Charlie had become a worldwide slogan of support. But compared to the coverage and solidarity with Paris, reports of the Baga massacre were barely a whisper. While the world has had their attention on ISIS, thousands have silently been slaughtered for the past 7 years by the Boko Haram, also known as ‘the deadliest terror group in the world‘. Outside Nigeria, most attacks go virtually unnoticed. The Baga attack was picked up after it claimed so many lives. See our report, World Ignores Victims of Boko Haram Terror Group (VOP January 14, 2015)
Heartbreaking Case of Abduction, Rape and Slavery
Some weeks ago, Voice of the Persecuted received a report from our project leader in Nigeria that literally brought us to tears. In full detail, the report described the ordeal of a Christian woman who had escaped the clutches of Boko Haram militants after being held by the terrorists for 2 years. The family of Mr. Bitrus and his wife Rebecca have an extremely sorrowful story to share. They were residents of Baga when it came under a ferocious attack by the Boko Haram on the August 21, 2014—an attack that came before the brutal massacre and complete terrorists occupation of Baga in 2015. It was extremely hard for the couple to discuss all that had happened. But bravely, Rebecca narrated her story to one of our Nigerian correspondents, Fr. Gideon Obasogie, Directorate of Social Communications in Maiduguri, Nigeria.
With a sober look and a deep feeling of depression, Rebecca explained that in great confusion she fled her lovely home with her husband and their two sons, Zachariah who was 3 years and Jonathan 1. At the time, she was also expecting a third child but lost her pregnancy due to the subhuman conditions she was subjected to.
While fleeing the attack on that fateful day, Rebecca knew her husband would be the terrorists primary target. With the radical militants in hot pursuit, she feared Bitrus could not run fast enough while carrying their one year old son. Rebecca had developed severe pains from running and found it hard to go on. She pleaded with her husband to run and save his life and fervently urged him to leave them behind. In the panic, Bitrus finally heeded her advice and quickly ran to hide in the bush.
While Bitrus shared his story, he looked at his wife with a feeling of deep shame for not being her hero at that desperate moment of their lives. Guilt for not protecting his family when they needed him the most. But Rebecca had been correct, the militants did go after Bitrus. They continually sprayed bullets in his direction but were unsuccessful to find him. Praise be to God, no bullet ever touched him. After some time, Bitrus emerged from his hiding place but had become separated from his wife and children. When the Boko Haram fighters quit hunting him, they had turned back towards the location of his family. He was left imagining what would become of his wife and children and wondered what to do next. Promising himself to reconnect with his family, he trusted God would keep them alive. Bitrus moved with renewed hope to the nearby town of Mongonu. He waited in Mongonu for 15 days, as he scanned the crowds in anticipation of the arrival of his wife. Day after day, Bitrus searched for his family. He met and spoke with a lot of people coming out of Baga..
“I kept on asking them of the whereabouts of my wife….no one could tell me any good news. I became depressed with severe migraines and my blood pressure hit the roof. Some soldiers assisted me with a shelter to lay my head. They gave me some money, which I used to transport myself to Maiduguri. My uncle pleaded with me to not to be discouraged. He even took me to the hospital for medication. He tried to renew my hope, but he couldn’t stop the nightmares or my heartache. Leaving my family and everything I ever had behind was not an easy experience to come by.”
“When Bitrus fled to hide, Boko Haram came to me. They kept saying, “…da mun kashe Mujin ki..da mun Sami lada….ama ton da Allah bai bari ba…ke da yaran ki sai ku je ku yi aikin Allah,” meaning if only we had killed your husband we would have received Allah’s reward…but since Allah did not permit that…. you and your children will go and work for Allah. Thereafter, they hit me with the butt of a big gun and knocked out some of my teeth.”
When asked what happened next, Rebecca broke down in tears. With great compassion, Gideon encouraged her and she quietly told him, “That was when my nightmare began”. After killing all the men they had caught, Boko Haram militants moved Rebecca and her sons into the Lake Chad. They were fed nothing but chin-chin (a crunchy, baked or fried dough) as they were forced to wade through the water for nearly a week. Rebecca said, “crossing the lake was like an evil journey” with the water often coming up to her neck. On the seventh day, they arrived at a place called Kwalleram and stayed there for about 53 days. Rebecca was forced to clean, wash and cook for the for militants and their wives. Sometimes she was assigned the task of clearing pathways for the militants motorcycles.
For fear she might try to escape, the militants move her and her sons to Gurva, a town in Chad. There she found 2000 other Nigerians who had been captured by Boko Haram and forced to farm and cut wood for fuel.
About two months later, she move again. This time they were taken to a town called Tilma.
“It was in Tilma that they branded the number 69 on my back. I don’t really know its meaning, and I never cared to ask. They sold me to a man called Bage Guduma and I was with him for 55 days. I was given palm fruits to eat, but thank God I didn’t eat any of it. It would have drugged me and resulted in the loss of my senses. Most nights, Bage Guduma wanted to touch me, but I did not give in to him. I couldn’t bear the thought, so I took the feces of my children and rubbed it on my body…this kept him away. But for this, his sons would beat me ruthlessly. They made me dig a hole for three weeks until I hit the water level. They often flogged me 98 lashes and I became ill for two weeks. Then, they took my one year old son, Jonathan and threw him into Lake Chad. My son drowned and died. With deep sorrow as tears rolled down her cheeks, she said, “All these terrible things happened because I refused to give my body”.
Rebecca was then given to another Boko Haram militant called Malla.
“They tried to force me to sleep with him but when I resisted they threw me into their prison, a dark pit. I was in the pit for two whole days without food or water. When I came out, Malla brutally forced himself on me and I became pregnant. I tried to kill myself, but the wife of a Pastor, herself abducted from Gwoza, pleaded with me not to take my life. She already had two children fathered by the militants. When the time came for me to give birth, I delivered alone. No one came to my aid. I cut the placenta myself and was in great pain. I received no medical attention. They named my son, Ibrahim. They liked him because he is a boy. The fighters want women who give birth to male children. Malla had traveled out and returned six weeks after I had given birth. I had nothing to do with him.”
Malla began to grow tired of Rebecca and promised to sell her to another man. It was then she decided to try and escape. At a time when most of the Boko Haram fighters had left the enclave, Rebecca sought permission from a female Boko Haram militant, probably the commander’s wife, to see a friend in another area controlled by the Boko Haram. When permission was granted, Rebecca headed instead to a small community called Maitele. From there, Rebecca took her sons and joined others as they walked for 6 days towards what they thought was the Nigerian border. Her son became ill for lack of water and food. Praise God, there came a heavy down pour which renewed and revived their strength for the journey, which for many would be towards an unknown destination. However, not for Rebecca, though she was unsure of her location, she pressed on with much hope and faith in the Lord to have a safe landing.
She eventually ended up in Diffa, a town in Niger. With the help of others, she met military personnel operating in the area. The military in Niger gave them much needed medical care and something to eat. Soon after, they were taken to a town called Damaturu, in Nigeria and left in the care of some Nigerian soldiers. The military eventually helped her to reunited with her husband, Bitrus. Rebecca has nothing but praise for the military personnel she met in Niger and Nigeria, including some of whom she thinks may have been US military personnel.
Reuniting with her husband
Bitrus claimed, “seeing my wife with the son of a Boko Haram father frightens me a lot. I was very happy to see my wife but the boy makes my heart break.” May God make me love him…yes, the son of a snake,” he said with some bitterness.
Rebecca is unsure what will happen between her and Bitrus. If Bitrus does not come to terms with the presence of the child, she is contemplating relocating to join her parents who are currently in Cameroon. She has pleaded with her husband to receive her as she is…and if he is hesitant she said in a hopeless tone, “I will give him his son and go to my parents”.
Sometimes, she too has mixed feelings about her son, Ibrahim. This is compounded by the stigma that traumatized women and girls rescued along with children fathered by Boko Haram fighters encounter from their own communities. Rebecca has even tried to give the child “to the government” but the military personnel encouraged her to keep the child. Ibrahim is only eight months old.
Caring For This Family
For now, Bitrus, Rebecca and the boys are in the custody of the Church. They’re staying in the IDP camp that Voice of the Persecuted helps to care for. Currently, there are 500 people staying in the camp. This case seems to place everyone in a moral fix. But time heals and Rebecca is really a strong woman of faith! All she needs is thorough medical attention, food to eat, cloths to wear, a good shelter, bedding for her troubled head and love from the Body of Christ, us! With the generosity of all of you who are helping to support this mission, Voice of the Persecuted has been able to provide Rebecca and her family with their immediate needs. Thank you so much! It’s because of people like you that we are able to step in and care for this family. To give them hope and know God is with them providing their needs. Rebecca will also need systematic trauma counseling. Her older child, now six years old, would need to go to school. Her husband, Bitrus also needs time to heal and guidance from the Lord. We can do our part by loving and having compassion on this family. Let us step in to continue covering this family, monthly, until they are able to stand on their own. Please could you show them some LOVE?
What horrors Rebecca has faced. Pray for her healing. Pray for her 6 yr. old son, Zachariah, that his little mind will heal from the things he has witnessed. For her husband, Bitrus to have a change of heart towards Ibrahim. Certainly these children born in captivity are not at fault in their fathers brutal sins.
Think of Joseph and the struggles he must have had learning Mary was pregnant. Our Heavenly Father must have loved Joseph very much to call on him to help care for the most important child ever born, His begotten Son, Jesus. Nothing is by chance. This child, Ibrahim may grow up to be a great hero of faith, entrusted by God to Rebecca and Bitrus to keep him safe and raised in faith.
Pray our brother, Bitrus will quickly come to see Rebecca’s son as a gift, not a reminder of his shame. To lift the child to the Lord and raise him to know the sacrifice Christ freely gave so that he may have life. Pray he can sacrifice his bitterness to the Lord and show Ibrahim, he is greatly loved. That he will treat the boy as his own son, equal with Zachariah. To teach him GOD’s word, how to worship HIM with his life and explain he too has a purpose in the Kingdom of our Lord.
Pray he will welcome Rebecca back into his heart, even stronger than the first, accepting her as she is with the boy. Pray for understand of the relief he will give her when he does. Father, have mercy on this family. Comfort and bless them with peace and joy. Surround them with compassionate brothers and sisters in Christ. Bring those with the means to help get them back on their feet. In Jesus Holy name, we pray. AMEN