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.
In 2014 when Boko Haram attacked the town of Hong, two hours away from Yola, capital of Adamawa state in North-East Nigeria, no one knew what was happening.
“We just heard gunshots and heavy boots marching in the streets and we thought the end had come”, says 68-year old Muhammadu Dadi Hong who has lived in the town since he was born.
His neighbour and best friend Musa Saidu Hong, 75 also heard the sounds of the invasion and rounded up his two wives and seventeen children. Together they all ran into the rocks surrounding Hong, sleeping in the open air at night.
“They came through Mubi shooting their guns and the moment we heard, we all ran up behind the hills and rocks for hours,” says Muhammadu Hong. “I ran up to 10km or even more with my wives and children,” Saidu interjects. “We left no one behind.”
They survived by eating raw food from unmanned plantations in the bush because there was nothing to cook with; no pots or pans and fire. “There was no shelter. The days it rained, it rained on us,” Muhammadu reminisces. Eventually, soldiers came to liberate the town after the villagers had been in the bush for weeks.
According to a 2011 report by the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison (NAERL) of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Adamawa is one of the leading eight states in agricultural production in the country. The instability caused by terrorism has severely dented production output from places like Hong (reportedly named as an acronym for Headquarters of Nigerian Groundnut) as farmers like Muhammadu and Saidu fled the town in the face of uncertainty of life. Many are yet to return.
After the army recaptured the town from the insurgents late in 2014, both men went back to the farms but things have not been the same. The road to Gombi nearby where they sell some of their produce is yet to be fixed and fertilizers no longer get to them as easily as it used to under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, they say.
“Buhari is trying but he should do what Jonathan did so we can have our fertilizers again”, says Muhammadu. His eldest son who is an electrician with the Yola Electricity Distribution Company (YEDC) has been supporting the family from his meagre salary, but there’s only so much his pockets can carry.
“I don’t feel like a man to be depending on my son for everything I need. Before the crisis, it was not like this. We need government to help us for me to stand on my feet again.”
A few months ago, Saidu lost one of his children to acute malaria; the herbal mixture one of his wives made didn’t work and he could not afford to take the boy to the hospital for treatment.
*The next installment will be published at 10am WAT tomorrow.