by Eromo Egbejule
You hear a lot of stories about North-East Nigeria, a slice of the country that has been at war since 2009, at the hands of Boko Haram. But we have largely only heard a single story. Sending a reporter across 7 cities, we tell a more complete story – personal tales of survival and recovery – that speak to hope, to strength and to faith. Stories that speak to life. Across 20 narratives over the next 3 weeks, you will hear the most inspired and touching stories about Nigerians – at their best, even when they have only just recovered from their worst.
It was 6am in Bama one Saturday morning in July 2014 as 18-year old Dauda Abubakar was getting ready for soccer practice that Boko Haram struck.
As soon as he heard repeated gunshots, the teenager fled the town with nothing but his jerseys and soccer boots.
Four hours later, after he had trekked all the way to Konduga, he remembered that he had a family.
“Shekau’s people came into town targeting the barracks and were shooting at anything they could find,” he says.
The rest of the family, save for his father and a couple of his siblings, hid in Bama and escaped only twenty-one days later.
In Konduga, a group of people going to the capital Maiduguri took him along in a van and together. They all journeyed to Dalori camp for Internally Displaced people in the heart of the city.
Four months ago, his father died in the camp.
The teenager was left with the responsibility of catering for the needs of his mother, his pregnant stepmother and 14 of his 16 siblings. The 15th and most senior of them all grabbed another and ran off to Jamare in Bauchi state.
“My brother’s wife is from that village so he ran there to continue welding that we both learnt from our father before he died,” he shares.
Dauda was also well-versed in welding but in the camp, there were no tools for him to earn a living from the trade that had kept his family going for years while they living peacefully back in Bama. His dreams of becoming the next big footballing superstar, he has had to put aside too.
With diminishing food rations and unhealthy living conditions in the Dalori camp, the teenager knew he had to do something to keep his family from starving – so he began to regularly bribe the local vigilante members stationed at his entrance to allow him go into town to beg for alms.
Eventually, he started learning how to make the ‘Bama cap’, buoyed by little donations from good Samaritans bringing food to the camps: “I noticed that everybody was just making the hat.”
One day while selling the caps on the street, he ran into Bala Geidam, one of Maiduguri’s most popular realtors who listened to his story and instantly took an interest in the boy. The older man bought three caps at N12,000 each and gave the teenager a place to stay – with some other young boys.
Every Friday, he goes back into the camp to give his family money and food items, but still has to pay a bribe to get into the camp with his package – a necessary rite given that the others still get just one meal a day in the camp.
In the meantime, he plans to continue in school. Geidam was instrumental in convincing him to do so, paying for a diploma entrance form into College of Education Bama, with its base currently in Maiduguri because of the crisis.
Having secured admission to study Political Science this September, it seems the blues have been banished for young Dauda.
Dauda has had to become a man, without his permission. And somewhere in Bama, the soccer ball – like his footballing dreams – remain, at least, suspended.
*The next installment will be published at 10am WAT tomorrow.