By Fr Gideon Obasogie
Rebecca had been with the terrorists for two years. On September 5th she arrived in Maiduguri to reunite with her husband - with a new baby of a Boko Haram militant.
The family of Bitrus Zachariah and his wife Rebecca have a sorrowful story to share after they came under a ferocious attack by Boko Haram on 21st August 2014, an attack that came before the massive offensive and complete occupation of Baga by Boko Haram terrorists in 2015.
With a sober look and a deep feeling of depression, Rebecca narrates her ordeal to Fr. Gideon Obasogie, Communications Director of the Diocese of Maiduguri, and how Boko Haram stormed Baga town. In great confusion they fled their lovely home with her husband and two sons: 3-year-old Zachariah, and Jonathan, who was only one year old. She was an expectant mother, since she was pregnant. She lost the pregnancy six months later due to the subhuman conditions she was subjected to by the militants. As they fled, her husband was a great target and, since he couldn’t run fast while carrying his son and severe pains had already conquered his wife, Rebecca pleaded with her husband to run for his life and leave them behind. Bitrus heeded and ran to hide in the shrubs where Boko Haram came in great pursuit and shooting sporadically. Luckily for Bitrus, no bullet touched him, as he narrates with a wave of nostalgia.
After some time, Bitrus then moved on, wondering what would become of his wife as they had gone back to her. As he tells his story he looks at his wife with a feeling of deep shame for not being a hero for her at that desperate moment of their lives. Bitrus moved with a renewed hope to Mongonu, promising himself to connect with his family if God would keep them alive.
He waited in Mongonu for 15 days, looking with hope towards Baga in anticipation of the advent of his wife. As he waited for days he saw a lot of people coming out of Baga, in his words “I kept on asking them about the whereabouts of my wife....no one could tell me any good news. I became depressed with severe migraine and my blood pressure hit the roofs. It was some soldiers who assisted me with a shelter to lay my head...and some money, which I used to transport myself to Maiduguri.
My uncle in Maiduguri pleaded with my not to be discouraged, he took me to the hospital for medication. He tried to renew my hope but he could never change my nightmares and heart aches. Leaving my family and everything I ever had behind was not an easy experience to come by.”
‘When Boko Haram came to me they challenged me 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 would go and work for Allah...thereafter hitting me with a big gun that pulled some of my teeth.’
Asking her what happened next, Rebecca breaks down in tears....gazing at me with a piercing look, as if asking what this journalist needs to hear again. I smile at her to encourage her.
Rebecca quietly comes up again, saying that was when her nightmares started. Boko Haram, after killing all the men they had caught, they moved her and her two sons into Lake Chad. Crossing the lake was an evil journey, with water coming up to her neck. They moved for six days crossing the Lake, they gave them (chin- chin) snacks to eat. On the seventh day they arrived at a place called Kwalleram at the heart of a thorny bush. They stayed there for about 53 days. They were forced to wash for their wives, prepare sweet pepper, clear the path ways of their motor cycles and cook for their soldiers.After some time they took me and my sons to Gurva in Chad, for fear that I would escape. We were in Gurva for seventy days. We farmed and cut fuel wood. In Gurva there were about 2,000 conscripts.
It was in Tilma that they gave me 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, I was with him for 55 days, they gave me palm fruits, but thanks to God I didn't eat any of the palm. That would have been a spell that might get me hypnotized and may result in the loss of my senses. I did not give in to him, most nights when he wants to touch me I got the faeces of my children to rub on my body... this had always kept him away from me. Although his boys would always beat me up ruthlessly. They made me dig a hole for three weeks still I hit the water level. They flogged me 98 strokes every day. I took ill for two weeks. They took my youngest son Jonathan and threw him into Lake Chad alive, and he got drawn. She tells this with a deep sense of sorrow as warm tears roll down her cheek. All these terrible events came Rebecca’s way because she refused to give her body.
MALLA-- THE FATHER OF MY WOULD BE SON
Malla became the second man they brought to me. They forced me to sleep with Malla, when I resisted they threw me into their prison – a deep pit, I was in the pit for two days without food or water. When I came out, Malla forced himself on me severally. When I didn't get my period I knew I had become pregnant. I looked for Paracetamol and took ten tablets at a go, just to do away with the pregnancy. But that didn't happen. Then a woman, a wife of a Pastor, who was abducted from Gwoza, pleaded with me not to kill myself for the pregnancy. She had already two children from Boko Haram. That calmed me to stay with the pregnancy until the delivery. I almost passed away due to hunger. I delivered at home; no one came to my aid. I cut the placenta myself in great pains. I received no medical attention. They named my son Ibrahim. They loved him because he is a boy; they want women who gave birth to male children. The Boko Haram father Malla, who had travelled, came back six weeks after the child birth. I had nothing to do with him, because they had promised to sell me to another man.
They saw terrible and fearful things in the past two years and some months. They had a lot of experiences of people who tried to escape but met their death.There was Benjamin, an Igbo man who wanted to escape but he was intercepted and both his legs were broken. They left him behind in severe pains.
They were forced to go for their prayers and recitation from 7am-10am and from 12pm-2pm and 4pm-6pm. They killed some Christians who refused to pray with them.
They raped young girls of eight and nine forcing forms in their mouth and raping them to death.
(Bitrus, Rebecca, Zachariah (their son) and Ibrahim from a Boko Haram militant fighter. For privacy reasons their faces have not been shown © Aid to the Church in Need)
On a faithful day, when most of the Boko Haram fighters had travelled out, Rebecca obtained permission from a female Boko Haram, probably a commander’s wife, to go see a friend at another area under Boko Haram control. When it was granted, she moved to Maitele a small community perhaps around Chad. They walked for six days towards the Nigerian border. Her son took ill for lack of water and food. Praise be to God, there came a heavy down pour that renewed and revived their strength for the journey, which for many would be towards an unknown destination. However, not for Rebecca, though she didn’t know exactly where she was, she kept on moving with much hope and faith that there will be a safe landing. They arrived in Diffa, where they met with some US Army and Army from Niger; they treated her son and gave them some bread to eat. After some while they brought them to some Nigerian soldiers in Damaturu. “The soldiers were so wonderful; they brought me directly to my husband in Maiduguri City.”
MY NEW SON IBRAHIM
Bitrus, Rebecca’s husband, says in calm and yet disturbed tone, "seeing my wife with a son from a Boko Haram father frightens me a lot. I was very happy seeing my wife but the child makes my heart break. May God make me love him... yes, a son of a snake...” Bitrus comments with bitter anger.
Rebecca says with mixed feelings the little Ibrahim is her son, despite his wicked Father Malla. She has tried several times to give the child to the government, but the soldiers asked her to wait, since little Ibrahim is just eight months old.
Rebecca, whose parents are in the Cameroons, has pleaded with her husband to receive her as she is... and if he is hesitant, she says in a hopeless mode, “I will give him his son and go to my parents."
Bitrus and his family are in the custody of the Catholic diocese of Maiduguri, the Bishop Most Rev. Oliver Dashe Doeme is caring for them, since they have moved into an Uncompleted Secretariat camp, where there are over 500 IDPs. With prayer and emergency support they will hopefully forget the wickedness and pains of the past. The diocese has provided Rebecca with emergency food aid and they hope to keep on helping her. This family is currently facing a moral dilemma. Rebecca needs now a thorough medical attention, food to eat, cloths to wear, a good shelter and beddings to lay her troubled head. Time can heal almost everything, but systematic psychological counselling is very needed – and her child Zachariah, now six years old, should be going to school. She is really a strong woman of faith!
In 2015 the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need supported projects in Nigeria with more than $2.1 million. Since 2014 ACN has assisted emergency aid projects for refugees who have been victims of Boko Haram in Cameroon and Nigeria, including the diocese of Maiduguri.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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