In this report, ENE OSANG engages a Gwoza resident to find out the living conditions in the aftermath of Boko Haram attacks.
The name Gwoza sends a chilling terror signal when mentioned due to the wanton killing of people and destruction of property that are being carried out by Boko Haram terrorists in the region.
Looking at the environment from one’s mind eye will only suggest that its residents may all have flown out of town leaving the place deserted, or that no one dares to visit the place again, but it’s a different situation entirely as a lot of indigenes still reside there while others merely visit.
One of such residents is Aisha Sale, a 34-year-old mother of three; 13 years old, four years and a one-year seven month baby, narrates the situation of living in the town.
She said Gwoza “is relatively peaceful because of military presence, but no one can go out to do their normal businesses like going to the farm, especially as women.”
“Honestly, we are living in Gwoza peacefully; there is no problem, soldiers are taking care of us, but we cannot go to our farms. If a woman goes out you will hear that she has been taken to the bush or she has been killed, they kill the men too.
“We see soldiers here and Boko Haram insurgents will be just there (a little distance away), they will come and take women from the farm, and if you ask the soldiers to follow them, they will tell you that they have not been given permission to engage them, but if a soldier is taken, they can follow them to any distance and rescue their colleagues.
“One evening there was a very strong wind and they came and took two women and a girl of 12 years away, but fortunately they escaped one night while everyone was asleep; they followed through the bushes, their legs were all covered in thorns, you need to see how they became in just two days, they did not have food, they were telling them that you people are staying with those unbelievers right?
Sale, who was in Abuja to visit a family member but was to travel back to Gwoza the next day, spoke to this reporter on the threats they receive daily from the terrorist for mingling with soldiers whom they refer to as unbelievers.
“You people did not find anywhere to stay but amongst unbelievers right? We are going to kill those unbelievers and the soldiers that are staying with them,” she quoted Boko Haram members saying.
Continuing she said, “Even recently they killed three soldiers during a battle, and you cannot go to the outskirts of the town because if you enter a vehicle to take you to the town you will have to go with soldiers, they will check the road to make sure there is no bomb, if there is no bomb then you will pass.”
Saleh added that if at all they want to go out, the soldiers usually escort them to a town called Pulka, where another group of soldiers will escort them to the town.
“The soldiers will never allow people move on their own because if they do the Boko Haram people will come out, and when they come out its either they burn the car, or they go with the driver or they burn the car and the driver together.
“Boko Haram terrorists have killed at least eight boys from our town. What they use nowadays is that if they stop a car they will pack all the food in the car. When they did this before they don’t kill people especially women but today, they kill even women and children, or they will give you letter to give your unbelievers (soldiers).”
On March 27, 2015, the day before the presidential election, the Nigerian Army announced that it had recaptured the town of Gwoza from Boko Haram insurgents, yet the town is still being attacked.
According to Sale, the most recent attack on the town claimed many lives, and the terrorists are still threatening to kill more people because they are using a different strategy this time.
She said, “Recently, they came and climbed on top of a mountain and were just shooting, nobody slept till morning. You know there are lots of soldiers in my place, they are working hard, but they are also being killed, they are killing us and they are killing them (soldiers), nobody is safe.
“One of my relatives escaped from Boko Haram. The day she was kidnapped, she had left her baby at home to go work on the farm when she was captured and that made her breasts to be swollen because she was a breast-feeding mother. We had to wean the child of breast milk.
“Some women spent two days, there are some that spent a week and there are some that if you are familiar with them and you speak their language they will look for a way to help you escape, then they will ask about the whereabouts of some people and she would say she does not know and they will abuse her that she knows and she is trying to shield them, they will call her an unbeliever.
“It is mostly in the night that people can escape when they are sleeping. When Boko Haram came to our town they kidnapped our children and they trained our children to become like them. So, you see that it is not possible for them to catch you and leave you just like that, even if it is a child they don’t spare.”
She said further, “That is why when going out even to a short distance you will be thinking of how you will come back in; though the soldiers are helping, they are also scared of Boko Haram because the training that Boko Haram has, soldiers don’t have it. No matter how good the strategy of the soldiers is the strategy of the Boko Haram overshadows it.
“But in the main town (Maiduguri) proper there is peace. Even our emir if not that they are compelling him to, doesn’t like to stay in the town. He prefers to stay in Maiduguri, since they killed his father and his elder brothers, it is just because he has no choice but he doesn’t want to be emir.”
Saleh recalls her own experience running away and how she spent six horrible days in their camp, adding that she is still traumatised by the situation.
“It’s been three years I have lived in Gwoza after escaping Boko Haram. Though I was with them for only six days I can’t forget the trauma that came with that. I didn’t witness most of the killings and destruction that they did because after the dust had settled a bit. I escaped back home, but up till now the Boko Haram people are still coming, but we thank God because these days it is better, there is no much problem.
“The situation even made my mother to become deaf, my mother initially had hearing problems, but the sounds of the shootings made her totally become deaf, it was later that we now bought a hearing aid for her and if not with that hearing aid she can’t hear a thing.
“I have five children, but due to this Boko Haram crisis I have lost two of them in Mubi. We were taking refuge in Mubi and a wall collapsed on us, I could not walk for three months, I could only walk with the aid of a walking stick, I was just lucky to survive that.
“When they first came I will be sitting on a chair, we and a lot of men in a single room and I usually peed on myself because of fear. So, I told my mother that we should go, and we thank God we left and now I have been back for three years; I came back when my daughter was just a year old and now I have given birth to my son here.
Effects of insurgency
Sale wished the town could return to how it was before where normal businesses thrived and movements were not restricted. She also lamented being idle and not having money to take care of other needs.
“In my own opinion, because if not that my husband insisted, I wanted him to settle us down in Adamawa, because in this Gwoza you don’t have business you can do, we just stay doing nothing apart from sewing caps. But we thank God since they give us food, there is free medication, if you require operation during child birth they will do it free of charge, everything is free, if your child is sick you won’t spend even N10.
“Even food, they give us food every month, nobody lacks food, they give everybody food but we can’t move around.”
The dire need for shelter, food, clothing and medicare for the displaced has been reduced to the barest minimum, but residents are calling for total peace to be restored to the town
“My husband was working with the Gwoza hospital, he was the one in charge of electrical repairs, but after the crisis, they have not told him whether he is still employed or he has been retired. He has not been paid salary for three years now, so he is just staying idle.
“I am also idle and I don’t like it even though we have free, food and medical care. As a woman I have other needs to take care of and it’s not been easy living without earning your own money.
“I am praying to God to give us peace and make our town normal again so that everybody can go back and continue their businesses, because we are not lazy people we engage in business a lot.”
Since the terrorists began their attacks on citizens, Gwoza LGA has been called “a notorious hide out for the Boko Haram insurgents.”
UN reports shows that an estimated 3,000 Gwoza residents displaced by fighting are currently taking refuge in various Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Abuja and other parts of the country.