In the absence of the governor we met the Deputy Governor at Damaturu on Wednesday. On Thursday we met leaders of the Dapchi community at Dapchi. Because of the heavy harmattan haze on Thursday and Friday as I said in part 1, my colleagues and I decided to leave Yobe state by road. While they all left for Abuja, I took the risk of going to Yola through the dangerous road from Damaturu – Buni Yadi – Buratai – Biu – Gombi, across the last bridge in to Adamawa.
I was a guest of the governor so they asked me the type of car I preferred. Instead of a Prado jeep I chose a small Toyota Corolla that would not raise eye browse on the road. To hide my identity, I dressed casual with no cap. We left Damaturu at about 7.46am on a heavily hazy Friday with low visibility.
All the way up to the village of Katarko, we only met police checkpoints where they only asked us “from where to where”. From Katarko there is a junction on the left which leads to Goneri the birth place of Sen. Bukar Abba Ibrahim, the first civilian governor of Yobe state. I know Goneri village because I was there once with the minister of Agriculture Mallam Adamu Bello where we had lunch with the governor who was the minister’s school mate at both NECAS, Maiduguri and at ABU, Zaria.
We then came to the checkpoint at the outskirts of Gujba Gari where we met heavy woods and big stones at the approach to the checkpoint but which was not manned at the entry and at the exit from the village. Gujba is the next LGA after Damaturu LGA on the way to Biu. Sambisa Forest starts from this point.
At Gujba Gari there is also a junction on the right that leads to Ngalda. From Ngalda on the right, the road goes to Fika and to Potiskum. But from Ngalda the left hand side goes to Bajoga and to Gombe in Gombe state.
After the Ngalda junction we came to the gate of College of Agriculture, Gujba. On sighting the gate my heart skipped and I started breathing heavily because there are bullet holes on the gate that reminded me quite clearly that it was in this college on 29th September, 2013 that Boko Haram entered the college at 1.00am and opened fire on the students while they were asleep. If you recall, 42 bodies were said to have been recovered by Nigerian soldiers in the college at sun rise while 18 injured were transported to Damaturu Specialist Hospital where 2 of them later died.
If you may also recall, this attack followed a 6 July, 2013 attack at Government Secondary Secondary Mamudo outside Damaturu that killed 29 students and a teacher.
After the College of Agriculture, we drove further and arrived Buni Yadi the headquarters of Gujba LGA. From the College of Agriculture up to this point I did not raise my head to even look at the driver. I only looked up when we come to a checkpoint to see the soldiers as we stopped to open the trunk of our car for checking. At the centre of Buni Yadi I saw the central mosque or what remains of it on my right. I know the mosque when I used to pass on this road way back in the 1980s when I was in the University of Maiduguri. I have also seen it in one of the Abubakar Shekau’s videos when Boko Haram seized Buni Yadi and occupied it. In the video that I watched, the insurgents were praying in the mosque with Shekau delivering Friday sermons. Today I saw the mosque in ruins as it was being roofed. When I asked the driver, he told me that Boko Haram set it ablaze when the army closed on them to retake Buni.
The murderous group had also burnt down some part of the LGA secretariat, which I saw still in ruins. It lies on the right hand side of the road after the mosque.
On seeing the condition of the mosque, I smiled and muttered INNA LILLAHI WA INNA ILAHI RAJI’UN and asked my self what manner of Muslims are these people who prayed to God in a mosque and set it ablaze when they were being driven from it. This is disgraceful, I said to my self.
Few metres after the LGA secretariat, we came to the most fortified Army checkpoint thus far on this very road. When we stopped, the driver was asked, this time, to get down and open the bunet of his car not the trunk. They searched the engine properly and then he opened the boot which was also searched. He was then asked to go and open the checkpoint himself which he did. The young soldier that ordered this told us politely that this is another security measure. While this was going on, other soldiers were keeping eyes on us from a distance with guns pointed at our direction.
When I looked around at the next checkpoint I observed that this one was even more fortified than the last. Here, I saw the signboard of Federal Government College Buni Yadi on my right. Close to it was a signpost reading ‘21 Battalion Nigerian Army’ which the college has now been turned to. I then remembered the night of February 25, 2014 and what happened in the college that night. I am still wondering how many of us could remember that it was here, while the students were sleeping in the night that Boko Haram attacked the college. They threw explosives into dormitories, as they sprayed the rooms with gunfire, and when students were trying to climb out of the windows, they slaughtered many by slitting their throats. Others who ran were gunned down. In all, 59 boys were killed in the attack. Some died from gunshots or knife wounds, while others were burned to death.
When the soldiers asked us to pass through, we continued and reached Buni Gari. After Buni Gari I asked the driver to stop near a village where I seriously regretted why I decided to take this road. The biro with which I was scribbling my experience on the road suddenly stopped writing and I asked the driver to stop for me to take out another one from my brief case. When he stopped I run to the trunk of the car, opened the boot and took out another biro. Suddenly I heard footsteps and I saw 5 people crossing the road towards us. Two were holding Dane guns and 1 was holding a machete. I stood still as I looked anxiously at them with the thought of Boko Haram in my mind. Before I could say a word, they uttered SALAMU ALAIKUM in unison and crossed to the other side of the road. Before I could say ALAIKUM SALAM they were gone. I was relieved but forcefully swallowed the saliva in my mouth that made my throat hurt a little. When I asked the driver, he said that’s how people here go to the bush in search of firewood.
From inside Buni Gari we came to a junction on our right at 8.43am. The right hand road leads to Gulani which is another LGA. It’s headquarters is at Bara. If you know this area well, the left hand side of the road from Bara will take one to Dadin Kowa where, going left will bring one to the main road that came from Biu to Gombe. But if you take right at Bara, you will go to Ashaka in Gombe state. And from Ashaka, if you take the left turn you will get to Bajoga and then to Gombe town. But if you take right from Ashaka, it will take you to Galda- Fika – Potiskum. I may live to tell the story of how I know this road, one day.
We continued from the junction. The road is now becoming too desolate and very lonely but there are Army checkpoints at every kilometre. Then we came to Azare village. This is not the town of Azare in Bauchi state. I mentioned this Azare here because in one of our briefings at Damaturu, we were informed that the Boko Haram were recently routed from this village consequent upon a complaint taken to the Army by a resident of this village that the Boko Haram were forcing some Fulani people in the village and environs to pay zakkat on cattle to them. How they did it was that for every 20 cattle a Fulani family has, they have to take one cow to the market, sale and bring the proceeds to them. What manner of Zakkat is this, I don’t know.
From Azare, the soldiers on the road became friendlier but as one can see, the people around look much skinny and hungry. The devastation and destruction of yet to be rebuilt mud houses here is total. Yet people are returning. Children look malnourished and men and women wore tattered dress. They look hungry and hopeless. It was a sorrow sight.
The next checkpoint had no body around to move the heavy wood aside to enable the car to pass. But from a distance we could see the stern looking soldiers pointing guns at our direction. Here, the driver had to disembark, remove the woods and the stones, then drove through, switch the car engine at the other end and return the woods and stones the way he met them. I like this security measure as well. We complied and drove ahead.
I have now lost count of the number of checkpoints on the road. The forest becomes thicker. All this while we were not exchanging words with the driver as we moved on at snail speed as the road becomes terribly bad. I was uttering silent prayers and I believe the driver was doing the same. From Damaturu the portion of the road where the Yobe state government reconstructed, has ended. The potholes from here, would, in the words of Nura Alkali, swallow a trailer. The way we were driving, we were easy targets for Boko Haram snipers, if there were any on the road.
We have reached Borno state.
To be continued in part 3 .
Ibrahim Sadiq Dasin
Wrote this from Abuja