By Blessing Tunoh
Its now been two weeks since student nurse, Justina and other travelers were marched into boko haram captivity. A lot has happened in between, like the Christmas and New year celebrations and a change of weather with the harsh harmattan cold biting hard even under sheets. Captives in open camps have undergone these phases, in addition to other unimaginable inhumane treatments synonymous to kidnappers, more so terrorists.
The uncertain security situation in Borno state has forced many locals to restrict themselves to Maiduguri, the capital city, avoiding long road travels unless when necessary.
For many years Mary and Jonathan Yisbo, Justina’s parents had chosen to refrain from road travels altogether with scary news of killings and abductions on the highway.
Not even the recent deaths of two different relatives could change the stance of this couple.
But tragedy struck, and the bad news reached them-In faraway Abuja, Janet, their 27-year-old first daughter had died during childbirth. She had left two daughters, Vicky 6, and Dooshima 3. A huge blow that would change their lives, the first change being to rescind their resolve on road travels.
A group of family mourners consisting six persons in all set out to Abuja to pay their last respect to their late daughter.
The mantle of leadership had fallen on Justina, the second born daughter of the family, also part of the burial party.
The custody of the late woman’s kids is given to Justina and Mary-their grandmother.
Watching Dooshima and Vicky play takes their grandparents down memory lane to when Justina and the late Janet were little girls. That gave them some sort of comfort as they journeyed back northeast.
The bus door would not open, unless opened from outside; but everyone was too exhausted to protest and the journey continued. There were no snack or lunch breaks, the target was to arrive Maiduguri in good time to avoid unforeseen circumstances on the road.
The 842 kilometer journey is smooth until barely 20 kilometers to Maiduguri.
The first sign that there was trouble, was the cloud of smoke visible from a distance. Worried passengers had advised the driver to make a u-turn, generating debate in the vehicle, according to Mary.
“We left Abuja there was no problem, we hit the road. Then we were told the road was bad, so our driver did a u-turn towards Damaturu. Then a soldier who was also a passenger in the car said it was nothing, he sat in the front seat. He said he had spoken with his colleague on phone who confirmed to him that they were only burning the bush since morning. So he told the driver to turn and proceed to Maiduguri.
The other passengers said the smoke was too much, insisting we should go back. But the soldier insisted, explaining that he had to report in his unit in Baga, we didn’t even stop to eat throughout the journey. So we proceeded, before we realized we saw people on the road. Then somebody in the car said “its them”. Because they looked dirty and filled a car. Before the driver could turn they had started shooting, the soldier opened his door and ran out, my husband who sat behind me also ran out through the booth. We the women in the car couldn’t go out because the door was faulty and had to be opened from outside. Then they came and met us and told her (Justina) to follow them, but I laid on the floor of the bus covering my granddaughter because there was alot of shooting and she was shaken.” The bereaved woman stated.
“If You Cry, they will shoot us”
So Mary recounts how the faulty door is opened from outside, and Justina is marched into captivity.
Other women in the bus jumped out just on time before the bus is set ablaze. The sky is filled with black smoke from the burning cars as the gunshots continued for a while. Those who managed to escape in different directions hid in the bushes.
Quiet gradually returned as the insurgents started retreating, the three-year-old let out a cry, according to Mary. “I told her not to cry, if you cry they will come and kill us, I told her. So she kept quiet and laid down.”
“When we stopped hearing them one of the women got up and approached the road and stopped a truck carrying firewood, and luckily for her they gave her a lift.
But I was scared, I didn’t want to fall into wicked hands again. Then I later said I won’t sleep in the bush with this child so I summoned courage, got up and went to the road side and started begging passersby until a vehicle came and helped me with my granddaughter. My elder sister had escaped with the older grandchild, but they slept in the bush and came out the next day.” She recounts.
Asked what her last words would be, she says “I just want my daughter to come back home that is my prayer, I want them to help bring her back home, that is my cry.”
“I watched them take my daughter away, from hiding”
Jonathan Yisbo, has also been talking about his experience during the attack.
Escape, for everyone was personal. “Everyone was struggling to come out there was no way, the door did not open so we pushed the back of the car, tumbled outside and ran into the bush and stayed there for some time hiding.” Jonathan narrated.
He said the insurgents went from vehicle to vehicle removing people after which they set the car ablaze. From hiding he saw them at the bus he had escaped from his wife, daughter and grandchildren were still in it. “I saw them removing my daughter, the second daughter of mine, put her in a hillux and they went away into the bush with her.” He stated.
Asked why she didn’t escape like the others did, especially since her seat was next to the door, he explains that “Justina could not run away because the door of the car couldn’t open. She was trying to open the door but it couldn’t open so they ran to the car and met her there.”
According to him, Justina 25, had just finished Nursing school in Mubi an Adamawa town and was visiting home for the first time in many years to spend the Christmas when her sister died and they all had to travel.
“We didn’t want her to follow us but she insisted because she is now the eldest since her sister died so she wanted to come and spend some time with us. She is heartbroken about her sister’s death.
Her greatest wish is to look after her little nieces.” Jonathan explains.
As sympathizers continue to troop into the family compound of the Jonathans, a special mass has been conducted where prayers were offered for Justina and others in captivity.
The Borno state governor, Babagana Zulum is extremely upset with the military and the Police Rapid Response Squad whom he says his government has invested alot on. “Honestly speaking we are not happy; the Nigerian army has failed in discharging its responsibility of protecting the commuters.” Zulum had fumed at the scene of the attack.
It is still not clear how many persons were killed or abducted in the attack.
Meanwhile the unfortunate event has not deterred intending travelers from heading out of the state.
Every traveler is aware of the danger involved, and like Justina’s family, each journey is embarked upon prayerfully.
While the ability of insurgents to seize territories or infiltrate the capital city to launch attacks may have weakened as recently attested to by Governor Babagana Zulum, their resort to deadlier alternatives to assert audacity is undeniable.
They have remained consistent in attacking and kidnapping travelers, the criteria for selecting victims each time only known to them.
Whatever style they adopt, they are sure to always leave a bitter taste in the mouth of a family somewhere. This time it is the Jonathans, nobody knows who is next.