- by Hamza Idris, Maiduguri
How woman trekked over 150km to safety
Zara Usman, 26, is a mother of three. She trekked a distance of 199 kilometers from Baga town in northern part of Borno State to Maiduguri in a search of safety. Weekly Trust met her at Teachers’ Village, which is now home to thousands of Internally Displaced People, also called IDPs. She said her arrival in Maiduguri was “miraculous” and a clear indication that she will live to raise her children.
Evidently fatigued and nursing swollen legs, the woman who barely speaks Hausa, said it took her four days to arrive Maiduguri. Her travails and that of thousands of others began on Saturday, 3rd December following a raid on Baga town by hundreds of Boko Haram insurgents.
According to her, she never thought she would survive, as many were killed even as some died in fires that gutted their houses. “We had to look for escape routes. I took to the bushes with my 14-month-old son, while my husband took our two daughters. Alhamdulillah, we are safe in Maiduguri,” she said.
Fanna Bukar, another middle-aged woman, said she has mixed feelings. “I am happy that I escaped but my fear is that I don’t know the fate of my husband, my mum and my two children.” She said she was assisted by a fleeing soldier who found her wandering in the bush. “More than 30 of us left Baga around 10pm on Sunday when we realized that everywhere was calm. Sadly, I lost my bearing midway because I could not cope with the speed at which others were moving. In fact, I collapsed but as God would have it, a man in uniform, who was also fleeing from Baga saw me and assisted me. We parted ways in a village near Kukawa,” she said.
Among the multitude of people seen at Teachers Village include the old and the young, women and men, clerics and community leaders, all displaced. Many of them described the attack as devastating.
“Baga is gone, everything is in shreds,” said Shettima Umaru, a cleric from the town, who trekked halfway before he got a lift from owners of a rickety van which broke down on the way after leaving a day before the attack. “The good Samaritans (truck drivers) saved my life and that of four others by bringing us to Maiduguri through Geidam and Damaturu in Yobe State,” he told Weekly Trust. He said all neighbouring communities, including Doron Baga, Mile 3, Mile 4 and others were attacked.
“I don’t think the insurgents would have the courage to remain there themselves because there is no life in Baga.
Houses, roadside shops, vehicles, sources of water and anything you can think of have been destroyed,” Umaru said.
A fleeing resident from Baga, Makinta Ahmadu, said it was by the grace of God that he made it to Maiduguri. “After a strenuous trek through Damasak, Gumsa and Mobbar, I saw myself near Gaidam and met with other people before proceeding to Maiduguri. Most of us thought it was the end of the world because of what we saw. Let me tell you, Baga is now history, because over ninety percent of the houses in the town have been destroyed.”
Ahmadu said the insurgents were merciless. “I don’t think even they would be able to remain there because everything is gone.”
Oblivious to the uncertain future they face as IDPs, children began to play upon arrival at Teachers’ Village.
Baga is home to over 10,000 and is one of the better-known towns in Borno State because of its strategic position.
The vast Lake Chad in the town provides limitless opportunities for fish-mongers, as people from all nooks and crannies of Nigeria throng there to get assorted fish. The lush and fertile land provides opportunities for year round farming and animal rearing. Most importantly, the closeness of the town to Chad, Niger and Cameroon guarantees mutual understanding among communities and by extension, linkages for commerce and other socio economic endavours.
“We now have to start afresh, if at all Nigerian authorities strive and recover the town,” said Adaam Ali, a fisherman from Doron Baga. He and the rest are lucky to have arrived Maiduguri, with the luxury to tell their harrowing stories.
While some sources said over 2,000 people were massacred by Boko Haram between Saturday and Thursday, some officials of Kukawa local government area said the figure may be exaggerated, but acknowledged that “hundreds” have perished.
District Head of Baga, Alhaji Baba Abba Hassan, said his people are in distress. “Nobody was spared, unless [the insurgents] did not spot you. Even people who found their way to the bushes were pursued and killed,” he said.
Hassan however thanked Governor Kashim Shettima for rising to the challenge. “The governor rose to the occasion by dispatching buses to convey our people from villages in the outskirts of Maiduguri. Most importantly, he has allocated houses for our people at the Teachers Village. This is beside food and other basic needs, we’re really grateful,” he said.
An official of the Kukawa Local Government Musa Usman said it was a coordinated attack by the terrorists. “They went to Baga in a convoy of many Toyota Hilux vehicles, with many Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and an Armoured Personnel Carrier that gave them covering fire. I strongly believe there are mercenaries among them, because some could not speak any of the local dialects,” he said.
Usman said the assailants first attacked the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) barracks before they proceeded to the town.
Baga was attacked in May, 2013 but like the proverbial cat with nine lives, the town recovered. Currently, the fishing community, like many towns and villages such as Bama, Gwoza, Gamboru Ngala, Mafa, Dikwa, Abadam are under the grip of Boko Haram. The insurgents have hoisted their flags in strategic places in Baga and so far, they do not show any signs of leaving.