By Victor Gai. The World and indeed residents of the city of Maiduguri will not forget in a hurry March 14 in the year 2014. Of the entire state of Borno, the major target of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, was the city of Maiduguri. The quest for this city was for strategic reasons; The city is the base of several military formations including an air force base.
If the group could capture this city, like it did for other towns and villages at that time, then it would have gotten a stronghold, a logistics base and a great shield, suitable enough to prosecute the war well. That was why it made several attempts on Maiduguri, albeit without success. But on this fateful Friday, the terrorist group made a bold attempt on Maiduguri.
Even though they were subdued by the gallant Nigerian military forces, the group brought the city to its knees and left an indelible mark on the minds and consciousness of Maiduguri residents.
The well planned and premeditated attack was targeted at the 21 Armoured Brigade, Giwa barracks. But neighborhoods like Fori, the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, UMTH, the University of Maiduguri and others bore the burden of the attacks and residents of these places were left with a lot of tales.
The attacks were even recorded real time by the dare devil terrorists and uploaded on YouTube. Many lost their lives on this day. One of the survivors is Pastor Elisha Joel Amwe.
He now lives peacefully in Jalingo with his family but was at one time a resident of Damaturu. By a twist of fate, he found himself and his small family in Maiduguri on this ‘Dark Friday’. He narrated to us his experience and how he managed to survive this ordeal with his wife and their one year old child. His escape was nothing short of a relive of one of those epic James Bond movies. Read on:
It was my brother who called to inform us that one of my sisters was sick and was admitted at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital ( UMTH). I took my family along with me because Damaturu, where we lived, wasn’t safe. We left Damaturu on Thursday to Maiduguri. Luckily for me, I was able to fill up my tank as if I knew what was about to befall us.
When we arrived Maiduguri, I dropped them at the main house and proceeded to the hospital. I passed the night at the hospital because my sister’ s condition was critical.
So the next day, I went home to have more rest having spent the night at the hospital. While I rested, they were preparing breakfast for the patient in the hospital.
A little while later, my wife woke me up from sleep with a shout, ‘Go and get the car in! Go and get the car in!!’; because I parked the car outside the compound. I noticed there were gunshots and artillery fire everywhere.
I managed to get to the car but laid flat on the floor for fear of being hit by stray bullets. When the shooting subsided, and the fighting shifted to another direction, I got up and saw people running helter skelter in panic. I then asked my family to get ready so that we could move along with the people because I felt the house was no longer safe then as it could be hit by a rocket launcher.
I just felt that hiding in the building wasn’t safe for us. Then, my brother was taking his bath and had to come out of the bathroom so wet midway. My wife and our infant were already in the car. In a haste, we had to leave my brother behind to find his way out.
A Close Shave With Death.
As I was trying to maneuver my way, I forgot to lock the car. Suddenly, a strange man opened the door and entered, pleading with us, saying, ‘Ku yi hakuri, duka guduwan rai’, which means ‘Please bear with me, we are all running for our lives’. Meanwhile, there was a car in front of me and I was following it for direction.
There was yet another particular car that maneuvered its way into the convoy, in front of me- the owner too was fleeing the scene. So we became three of us on the convoy. While we were moving, I noticed a checkpoint ahead of us. I thought it was the vigilante group,popularly known as ‘Civilian JTF’.
I was wrong because it was indeed Boko Haram militants. The first car stopped, while I was the third on the line. I was so curious to find out what was going on and I discovered they were interrogating the car owner.
The next thing I saw was a splash of blood on the first car. I immediately took a reverse and the car I was trailing also followed in the same fashion. I took a long reverse and maneuvered into another lane. While I took that route, the car that reversed along with me was following me.
Funny enough, I was the one leading now! I navigated my way out not knowing where I was going. As we were moving, we saw military men, well armed and moving tactically. Some were in their Hilux vans, while some were on foot taking cover behind the vehicle. When they saw us coming with high speed, they understood the situation. Tragically, we were being pursued behind by heavily armed militants whom we had escaped from. So we found ourselves in the middle of a crossfire between the military and Boko Haram.
I then asked everybody in the car to lay low. I was the only person with head high trying to maneuver the car out of danger. The army then, combat ready and knowing our situation, paved way for us to pass, so that they could engage the militants.
My Moment of Dilemma.
Meanwhile, I called my brother who we left behind a while ago, to get information and find out his condition, because as at then, I didn’t know the direction i was going under that tense atmosphere. But then I decided that UMTH was the safest place to go.
He then warned me not to go toward the UMTH area and that I should find another escape route because there was so much traffic hold up along that route. I fell into a dilemma! On a second thought, I decided to go to an area called ‘Jerusalem’, around Wulari,knowing well that the place would be well manned by security men because of the presence of Churches there. ( Churches were some of the major targets of the terrorists). After several hours, we managed our way through hold ups and sounds of explosions.
We tried to enter the Safe Haven, ‘Jerusalem’, but the Civilian JTF warned us never to go there because security was very tight and soldiers may not allow us in because the rule then for the place was ‘no entry, no exit’. They said we risked being shot at by the soldires or denied entry. So the best bet was to go to the popular Borno Express park, which was relatively safe. However, my wife suggested we should escape to Damaturu. But I reasoned that such a move could be risky because we might, on our way, meet fleeing terrorists being chased out of Maiduguri. While we we’re contemplating, we found ourselves in the Bus terminus.
….Driving At 140km\Per Hour In Maiduguri city!
I told my wife that once it was time for prayers ( at 2pm), the Boko Haram fighters might withdraw in order to observe the traditional Zurh prayers. Using that opportunity, we could escape to a safe place. While we were still in the park, a Boko Haram militant, who disguised as a civilian JTF was discovered. We watched how he was butchered,part by part by the overzealous civilian JTF.
The sight was so horrible and unbearable that I told my wife, this place was no longer safe again. I spotted some school children in the crowd who were trapped in the motor park because of the crises. Some military men were there looking for ways to escort the students to their homes. Incidentally, the military men were thinking along the same line with me; which was that the Boko Haram fighters might stop the fight to go and pray. They wanted to use that window of opportunity too to escort the students home and I overheard their conversation. I then met one of them and explained my plight.
He agreed but on the condition that we will part ways at the ‘Gidan Madara Round About’, down town, since they were to return to base. Not satisfied with the plan, my wife insisted we stayed back in the park, but at last, I decided we should better take the risk because there was air of uncertainty hanging around. The park was so crowded with people either on transit or trying to escape from the crises. While we were trying to reach a decision, the soldiers started their vehicle. I didn’t know when I started my car too. The situation was so tensed and unpredictable. It seemed everyone in the car was saying his or her last prayers.
I must confess that between the bus terminus and the Gidan Madara Round About, I drove at a break-neck speed of 140 km\ hr. When we got there, my heart began to thump hard. The streets were deserted, even animals were absent. We were the only ones on the street. The military man in the convoy gestured to me, and I knew we have reached the point of separation. They went eastwards, while we proceeded alone on the lonely street.
An Encounter With ‘Boko Haram’ again!
While on the notorious Lagos street, we saw a mob approaching us. It dawned on us that that was the end of the journey! They carried ordinary weapons though. I maintained the speed and was prepared for the worst. Everyone seemed to be praying. As we approached, they started to wave us down. We discovered they weren’t holding guns and so we concluded that they were Civilian JTF after all. We were right! They treated us well and bidded us farewell and even encouraged me to maintain my speed.
One of the boys hung a severed limb on a sword; perhaps that of a Boko Haram militant, and they were chanting slogans all along. Fortunately enough, we got to UMTH safely and were stopped by the heavily armed military guards at the gate. After several calls to residents of the compound and verification by the soldiers, we were allowed in and that was a big relief.
Enter Day 2.
The next day, I decided to go out and find out if it was safe to travel to Damaturu. The situation was calm and people were going about their normal activities. While I was discussing about the previous day’s event with my brother, whom I visited at the University of Maiduguri, I suddenly heard a loud explosion again, accompanied by sporadic shooting. We looked at each other in panic. Having learnt from the previous day’s experience, I left immediately and headed back to UMTH where my family was.
I met another round of confusion at the University gate as people were trying to escape into the compound. At the ‘Tashan Bama’ (Bama Park) area, I encountered fierce looking, well armed military men who threatened to shoot me if I did not park my car. I obeyed but out of desperation and fear of the unknown, I took a risk by beating the checkpoint when I noticed their attention was elsewhere. I then navigated my way through to the UMTH premises. It was almost impossible to gain entry into the compound at that point.
So I pretended to be a doctor on call duty, with the connivance of an ambulance driver who was heading into the compound. Finally, I made it into the compound, met my family and after a while, we departed for Damaturu. Funny enough,it was at that point that I realized I had an empty tank. The full tank I had the previous day was exhausted due to running around.
Lessons Learnt From The Experience
Every where I went, I testify of what happened. If it was not for God, it would have been something else. We were caught in the crossfire at one point. The bullets could have hit any of us or punctured our car tyre and that could have been it! God has been directing our steps, which was why we did not cross the line of these people. God is worthy to be praised. Non of us has suffered any trauma as normally occurs to people who passed through such experience because through prayers, God has taken the memory away from us.