How I escaped Boko Haram as corps member – Yohanna

Victoria Yohanna, 28, hails from Dille, in Askira-Uba Local Government Area of Southern Borno state. Her village was among those attacked by the deadly Boko Haram sect at the peak of insurgency in the North-east. Victoria, who was on National Youth Service in 2014 when her village was attacked and her family house razed to the ground, recounts her experience and how she survived the ordeal. ENE OSANG reports.

For 28-year-old Victoria Yohanna her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) started with great expectation, however, things took a bad turn for her when she received a call from the village that the dreaded Boko Haram terrorists had invaded her village; killing people and burning down houses.

Victoria, who hails from Dille, in Askira-Uba Local Government Area (LGA), southern Borno state, holds a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Marketing and Ordinary National Diploma (OND) in Business Administration and Management from the Borno State Polytechnic.

Having completed her higher education and NYSC orientation she was posted to Water Board in Kaduna state for the compulsory NYSC scheme in 2014.

She had lost her father earlier in 2013 when she was about rounding up her HND programme and her family was just beginning to accept life without their father when tragedy struck once more, she told Blueprint Weekend as she recounted her experience.

According to her, before the attack on her home town, Dille was peaceful and its people enjoyed the communal living typical of most Nigerian villages.

“My village was so large, peaceful and had modern buildings, but now due to the attack they have burnt houses, destroyed lives and peaceful co-existence, but some people are still leaving there.

“I always came back home from school to Dille because my mother and younger siblings were there. Christmas was also a period everyone in Dille looked forward to because most family members returned home to celebrate the season with their immediate families and other relatives,” she said.

“Most Nigerians believe that the Boko Haram terrorists attack only Christians but Victoria said that insinuation is not true. They kill both Christian and Muslims, and they have informants from my neighbouring villages, Huyim and Kilekasa.

“In my village there are both Muslims and Christians living peacefully, we enjoyed our communal living when they attacked us, about 150 persons including Muslims and Christians from my village and the neighbouring villages were killed.”

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As Christmas approaches and everyone is counting down to the festive season, Victoria is heartbroken because there won’t be any big family reunion as she had always had.

Recounting how it all started she said that: “I was in Kaduna on July 14, 2014, when my friend called me in the morning around 6am that my village was on fire and I quickly told her that my brother Marvellous was at home and our last born Alheri, who is mentally ill, as well as my mom.

“All my thought was that Marvellous will take care of them during the attack and since our home is close to the hill and they could run there and hide, not knowing that he was a victim of the attack.

“I started praying for God to spare my family and after praying I was a little calm. So, I began making preparations to travel home.”

Speaking further she said: “Two days later, precisely on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, I came back to my village and found that my brother, Marvellous, was nowhere to be found but we didn’t know he was already a victim.

“I tried to find him and discovered that he died during the attack on my village. Boko Haram insurgents had slaughtered my brother and burnt down our house.

“It was a shocking moment and the level of destruction will take quite some time to overcome and the village bounce back. In fact, I don’t want to remember that day,” she said as she sobbed.

Victoria said she had to take her other brother and mother to Kaduna, where they stayed in a one-room apartment during her NYSC.


Life after the attack

For Victoria, who finished her NYSC three years back and hasn’t been able to secure a job but has to take care of her mother and younger sibling, life has not been easy.

On how she has coped she said: “I took my mother and sibling to Kaduna state and they have been there because we are scared of going back to our village. My mother is a farmer, she has lost her means of livelihood and we haven’t got any help from the government but we heard that NGO’s have helped many of the villagers but we haven’t received any help. This may be because we are not in the village.

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“Since the attack in 2014, I have never been to my village because I don’t have where to stay and I don’t want to think of the painful memories, but I am hopping one day I will visit my relatives that are still there.”

Victoria explained that she had left her mother in the care of her aunty, in Kaduna, and was squatting with her married friend Esther Ali; who lives with her husband and two children in Maiduguri the Borno state.

“I know Maiduguri very well and it’s quite peaceful now but life is so difficult that I cry sometimes but I have learnt to always encourage myself morally and spiritually.

“My friend has been very supportive; she feeds and supports me financially sometimes.  Life is full of challenges at any time but I thank God I encourage myself spiritually, mentally and morally to go through hardship and happiness in whatever situation I found myself,” she further stated.

While stating that normalcy has returned to the village to some extent because of military presence and they are always calling them to come back home, she said that the painful memory and trauma won’t let them go.

“My dad is not there, my brother is not there and my mother is in Kaduna, we are all scattered in different places now. Though it is my hometown but I don’t intend going there any time soon,” she said.

She revealed that she hasn’t heard of any intervention for the Dille village from government, except for different NGO’s who has helped the villagers in one way or the other.

“NGO’s are really trying, the people back in the village have received items, some got their houses built for them but my family had never received anything because we are not there.”

She lamented that their representative at the House of Assembly has also not done much for the village since the attack, “Honourable Jibrin is our representative and he is from my hometown, he has not made any intervention though his house was broken and his property stolen too.

“I know his younger sister very well, we always try to reach him through her but all the efforts are in vain, not a single thing has been done,” she stressed.

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She called on government to put an end to the crises and attacks, the Maiduguri town is peaceful and safe unlike three years back when there was pandemonium, but we also need security in the villages because they are still killing people.

“Government should created jobs for the teeming youths as well to keep them busy and keep their minds of immoralities because if they have a means of making money they won’t have time to be involved in crises,” she urged.


Way forward

Victoria, who expressed hope that she would get a job soon, said that she used to help her aunt in her restaurant which was destroyed by the attack and had gained knowledge in trading intends to start a trading business when she gets capital to start.

“I really need to earn some money to take care of my mother because it breaks my heart to see her cry whenever she has issues with the landlord. If not for Boko Haram, my mother won’t be in this situation because she is a hardworking woman who farms and takes care of her needs.

“I am good at buying and selling but no capital to start now but if I can get from N50,000 and above I can start it up again,” she said.

Even though Victoria and other young ladies like her have been affected by Boko Haram, she expressed hope for a brighter future, and also hopes to help those in need especially her cousins.

“My dream in five years time is to get married to a good man, get a good job so that I can help my cousins who have no place to run to and are still suffering in the village. My dream is to enrol all of them in school.

“I will love to see my village back to normal again, it was always fun travelling to Dille. I will like to celebrate my Christmas with my mom and my siblings in Kaduna, if I have the opportunity.

“There is usually a lot of activities during the Christmas period and everyone looks forward to it, I love reading novels and dancing, everyone knows I dance well and Christmas is one period we have the chance to this fun activity. I miss my village,” she said.

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