By Gbenga Osinaike
Hajira Yerima wore an anxious look that Wednesday morning. She was one of the participants at a discussion on Monitoring Media Reportage and Portrayal of Internally Displaced People in Africa (IDP) in Africa’ The discussion was organized by Journalist for Christ and sponsored by the World Association for Christian Communication and Bread for the World, and Waldensian Church’s Otto per Mille (OPM) Office in Italy.
But Yerima caught the attention of other participants at the forum when she began to narrate her experience and how she stayed in the bush for close to two weeks; running from one end to the other to take cover from insurgents in the north east of Nigeria.
The Borno State born holder of an NCE in mathematics and computer science gave a graphic description of how she ran from hideout to hideout in the bush while the terrorists were raining horror. For two weeks she did not eat while she made do water scooped from ponds as she navigated her way through thick bushes in the midst of horrendous gun shots. Yerima who had no access to phone throughout the nightmarish encounter said gun shots became her ring tune
She began, “It was in 2012. I was outside our house in Askira Uba a neighbouring town to Chibok in Borno State when we saw men on about 60 motor bikes and three hilux vehicles. Many of them were carrying guns as they drove in to the town and began to harass everybody in sight. It was a horrible sight. They came and asked people to declare their faith.
“If you are Christian you are detained and hurled to one side and asked to make a choice between Islam and Christianity. If you insist on being a Christian you face instant death. The men who held their Christian faith were shot immediately. But they did not shoot women. They slaughtered the women. I think it is against their faith to shoot women. Some Muslims were also attacked in the process because they believed they were not genuine Muslims especially those whose trousers were not suspended like the trousers of the insurgents.”
Hajira recalled that it was in the process of people being killed and carted away by the insurgents that she found a way of escape. But that escape was short lived as they were soon rounded off at another point. ‘By then my survival instinct was alive. I ran into a thick bush and pretended I was dead. The cloth I wore was a perfect match with the bush. They passed by me but did not see me. They probably thought I was some object.”
She was still escaping. “At a point I ran to a lone house in the bush. I entered the house. This was after I had spent two days in the bush without water without food. I was dying and fainting when I ran to the house. It was a family house. One of the women in the house called the Alhaji in the house to come and attend to me. When the Alhaji came and saw my distressful condition she asked me to enter one of the rooms so he could apply some medication on me. But I was scared. All I needed from them was water which the woman had graciously given me but I began to suspect that they could be ritualist. It was a lone house.”
Rather than enter, she told a lie that she would like to go and call his sister to come and be part of the medication ritual. “That request revealed I was in more trouble. The Alhaji told me since I had entered there was no going out for me. I was dead afraid. Where will I run to now, I thought to myself. It was in the process that one of them went out to open the door. As she opened the door she saw many Boko Haram people and ran to give the information to the Alhaji. There was pandemonium. It was in the midst of this that I slipped out and ran into the bush.”
Hajira who is the third born in a family of eight children said she moved from one village to another for those two weeks. There was nobody in sight to help as many of the villages had been deserted. She encountered people who were also escaping to safety. “it got to a point that we were marching on dead people as we trekked through the bush part. Many people had been killed. It was real horror. At a point I could not trek again. Some of the people escaping had to carry me on their back to escape to some safe place.”
She said many of them only made do with corn on people’s farmland and drank water from dirty ponds they saw on the bush path. After about two weeks in the bush and walking through several villages we got to a point where we could not go further but to stay in a place and just wait on God. I prayed so much that some of the people with me were wondering and said to me that God already knew our plight that “I should not die of prayer.”
They were still sandwiched in the enclave of the insurgents when a helicopter began to hover in the air. “it was a military helicopter. The entire place was lit as if it was day time. From the helicopter they threw a bomb to where the insurgents were concentrated which killed many of them. I was in the bush with many of the others escaping to safety far away from where the insurgents were concentrated but we still had a clear view of what was going on. Many of them died and some ran to safety.”
When the military men left, the insurgents came out and began to beg for help as they walked through the bush part. They had been dispossessed of their weapons which was consumed in the inferno. We began to hear gun shots and the whole place was in pandemonium. I thought the world was coming to an end. After about four hours the whole place was calm and the military men started urging us to come out of hiding. We came out and were led to a nearby village where we took buses to escape to town.
She took a bus to Biu and there met one pastor Alaku Vincent of the Church of the Brethen. “The Lord used the pastor to help me. His family took me in and I was able to change my cloth and had my bath for the first time after about two weeks in the bush. He was the one who gave me money to move from Biu to Yola where I met a neighbor of mine back home in Borno State who took me in.”
But the first few days after her escape from the Boko Haram insurgents, things were not palatable. “I usually had nightmares. There were times I would just scream. I was always afraid and sometimes I would just be shivering. It took a while before I could get over the shock of the experience.”
Giving further insight to the activities of the insurgents, Hajira said, “Boko Haram had sowed the seed of insurgency long ago. There was a time they came to Borno unknown to us, they were giving people forms to fill and giving out loans to those who filled the forms. Just at the bottom of the form was the word Boko Haram. But nobody smelt a rat. They gave a lot of people money in the form of loan. A few months later, they came for those who took the loans. Since they could not pay they were taken to their camps and armed. Some of them were given guns and were trained to fight in the camps. That was the way they recruited people.”
Hajira who is currently unemployed recalled that her student days at the College of Education, Bama was characterized by the excesses of Islamic fundamentalists. “in those days you dare not put on skirt that is too short in their own thinking. Ladies dared not put on trousers. They were subjected to abuses and ridicule. Some were lynched in the process and there were cases of people allegedly killed for their faith. The north east had been a hot bed of religious crisis unfortunately it did not get enough media attention.”
At the programme, the President of Journalists for Christ, Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin reasoned that people in IDP camps deserves a good life urging the media to deliberately report the undercurrents in those camps.
The project will examine the media portrayal and reportage of and about internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the three case study countries of Nigeria, Kenya and DRC with a view to identifying gaps in reportage within the context of advancing in-depth reportage on IDPs in Africa.
The project also aims at galvanizing stakeholders to respect and uphold basic rights and principles in line with the ‘Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’ intended to enhance an effective and timely response to the needs of IDPs.
At the one-day event which held at the Media Career centre, Ogba Lagos several participants shared their experience of IDP camps in Nigeria giving grueling account of the plight of the people in these camps and how the officials take advantage of the people. Mrs. Aramide Oikelome who runs an orphanage also shared her experience after she brought two of the displaced children in Benue to her ophanage as a result of the Fulani herdsmen onslaught on the people a few months ago. She said the experience of the two children who lost their parents during the crisis is symptomatic of what the vast majority are going through in the camps. “The only good thing about the children is that they are in good hands in our orphanage. Many of the children in the IDPs don’t have that luxury. Our advocacy is that the IDP should just be a transit point while there must be moves to integrate the displaced persons into proper family life.”