Separated By Military, A Borno Couple’s Uphill Journey Back To Each Other

  • Both were sent off to two death zones, the husband to the Giwa military barracks and the wife to the Bama Hospital IDP camp. Luckily, after several years, they made it out alive to tell their stories of adversity and resilience.

‘The women cannot farm, or go to fetch water and firewood. And when the men harvest, they must pay levies. From 50 kg of produce, they will give us 15 kg during the seasonal farming season. During the dry season, we shall receive 10 kg out of every 40 kg of produce. Not to forget, everyone must also attend our Qur’anic classes.’

Locals say those were some of the rules imposed by Boko Haram militants six years ago after they invaded Ziye, a town in the outskirts of Borno State’s Bama Local Government Area. They had seized Bama the previous year. By Nov. 2014, the towns of Gwoza and Chibok in Borno, Mubi in Adamawa, and several others had also fallen under the terror group’s control. 

The following March, over six months after the daring attacks, the Nigerian military finally recaptured Bama—but not fully. Many of the terrorists simply escaped to the suburbs which comprised communities like Ziye. This was when the young couple, Bulama and Jugudum Modu, had their first encounter with Boko Haram. 

Because it is a small, obscure village, residents of Ziye usually prefer to associate with the nearby ward of Darajamal. It is in the southern part of Borno, almost sharing boundaries with Adamawa, and had a population of a few hundred people. 

Townsmen cultivated onions, garden eggs and other choice vegetables, and the women busied themselves with fetching firewood from nearby forests and water to prepare meals. But, when the insurgents declared the village part of their “caliphate,” life as they used to know it turned on its head. Women could not move freely. Not only did the villagers feel trapped, but they were prevented from leaving. A few militants were assigned to the community while many more settled in the surrounding villages.

Seeing how they had to let go of a huge portion of their harvests to stay alive, Bulama soon ran out of patience and found a way to travel to Lagos, a state in southwest Nigeria nearly 800 miles away. He spent five months in Lekki Phase One as a security guard and maintained contact with his family. 

“One Saturday evening, they called to tell me my father was ill. Then I said, ‘But I spoke with him today. Just tell me he is dead.’ I called another person who said they [soldiers] shot him dead at 5:40 pm while returning from Kirawa market at the border with Cameroon,” he recounts in Hausa.

He immediately informed his employer, gathered his belongings and returned home through the Abuja-Jos-Yola route. From Yola, he travelled to Mokolo and then Kolofata, both Cameroonian towns. He then re-entered Nigeria through the border to avoid getting accosted by either military personnel or insurgents.

Three days after his arrival, the insurgents visited him and threatened to seize his properties for sneaking away to visit the “place of infidels”. That was not the last he heard from them. Weeks later, six gun-toting Boko Haram members returned. They would kill him if he did not renounce the title of Bulama, they growled. 

Bulama is a name traditionally given to the ward head who reports to the village head, known as Lawan. The Lawan in turn answers to the district head ‘Aja’. Bulama’s father was ward head until his death and the saddle had fallen on him. But to save his own life from the terrorists, who only recognised leaders they themselves appointed and accused everyone else of treason, he had to let go of the post.

Months went by and reports started trickling in of military advances. First, in Sept. 2015, soldiers recaptured the town of Banki, famously causing about 200 members of the terror group to surrender. About three months later, they stormed Darajamal. In the second week of December that year, the military offensive reached Ziye.

The villagers were gathered and taken to Darajamalㅡtheir community set on fire and reduced to ashes behind them. It was the first sign they would be displaced, detached from the only home they had known, for a very long time. And all they had with them were their clothes and utensils. 

From Darajamal, still packed in four military trucks, they went further to Bama, which had started to take shape as a fortified garrison town. The area was protected against terrorist attacks both by officers of the Nigerian Army and members of a vigilante group formed back in 2013, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF).

All of the villagers were taken to a prison in Bama. The next day, the soldiers separated them into two groups and the women were taken to the Bama General Hospital Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp. 

“We waited and waited for our men, but they didn’t come,” 20-year-old Jugudum says. It was later she found out they had been taken to the notorious Giwa Barracks.


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