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.
The smile on 27-year old Yakubu Abana’s face gates his cumulative anguish.
As Nigerians were celebrating the triumph of democracy in the 2015 general elections and electoral observers were wondering how an incumbent had lost the presidential elections to a serial challenger, his family was mourning. His father, Pastor Abana Pogu had been killed just a month before in his hometown Chibok by members of the dreaded Islamist sect, Boko Haram.
The night it happened, Yakubu was faraway in Warri on a business trip. Once every fortnight, he would shepherd 35 cows in a trailer from the neighbouring Banki market and take to the oil-rich city, making as much as N65,000 per trip. His customer was a rich businesswoman who could not speak Hausa but was interested in buying cows from the North – a random meeting in the market convinced her he was the right partner for her. It was the life he knew, the livelihood that was supporting him, his young wife and the extended family. A few years earlier, he had to drop out of secondary school in Bama to go take care of his elder brother who was involved in a fire accident in Ibadan. His mother who should have gone, was nursing a baby.
When Boko Haram visited Chibok that morning in March 2016, his father was the only one at home. “Boko Haram had sent a letter that they would be coming to take what was theirs so my father sent my mother and two sisters away from Chibok. He was waiting to sell off the family properties when they came.”
He pauses to bite his lips before continuing, the potency of suspense in his next words so unmistakable. “They burnt him and the house together almost to the point of no recognition. Everything came to the ground.” Yakubu blames the government and the few soldiers in the town for not taking action when the letter came; but he was not surprised, it was all de ja vu.
In April 2014, just before the world-famous kidnap of over 200 schoolgirls including his cousin, another letter had also come the week before, says Yakubu. But it was ignored too and the exams the girls were to write, as allowed to go on. “Boko Haram knew everything before they came. They had informants, they knew about the girls, everything. Whenever they were coming to a place, like 200 of them could come.” The night of the abduction, he was also in Warri for business.
After losing both father and niece to the clutches of the insurgents, Yakubu moved to Lagos to find greener pastures. While working as a security man, word came that his wife was seriously ill. He resigned, went home and took her and their two kids to Kano. In the coming months, his two sisters and his mother joined them.
Certain that they were in control, Boko Haram visited Chibok yet again that year and Yakubu who had gone to assess the situation of things at home, escaped narrowly with knife scars only. “Of the three of them, no one carried gun so I was dragging the knife with them and it scraped me here and here in my waist.”
He escaped from Chibok to his uncle’s house in Askira Uba, a border town with the neighbouring Adamawa State. It was from here that he got to Yola and took a bus to Lagos – for good this time.
These days, he squats in a one-room apartment with an old friend from his earlier sojourn in the city. In the mornings, he goes out to look for all kinds of menial jobs to pay the rent for and support his family in Kano. Hauwa, one of his sisters now runs her own call centre, selling recharge cards and making small money to keep body and soul together.
Back in the now-peaceful Chibok, the rest of his extended family is still hoping against hope that his niece, whose mom died waiting for her return, will eventually return.
*The next installment will be published at 10am WAT tomorrow.