Escaping Boko Haram: Harrowing Tale of a Survivor (Exclusive)

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Ramatu Noya Tolba, a student of the University of Maiduguri, now living in Lagos, narrates in grisly details, how she escaped an attack from the deadly group in 2015, losing several loved ones including her twin sister in the process.

SWITZERLAND, DECEMBER 14 – It has been 11 years now since terrorist group, Boko Haram started its deadly insurgency in the North-East against the Nigerian people and government. It has been 11 years of terror, destruction, tears and blood with over 51, 000 people killed and close to 2.5 million displaced from their homes and means of livelihood.

The grim spectre of Boko Haram was revisited recently during the Good Citizen show on Inspiration FM, when Ramatu Noya Tolba, a student of the University of Maiduguru, now living in Lagos, narrated in grisly details, how she escaped an attack from the deadly group in 2015, losing several loved ones including her twin sister in the process.

Sponsored by Sustainability Consulting firm, CSR – in- Action and Aspire Coronation Trust (ACT) Foundation, a grant making non-profit organization, and hosted by renowned sustainability advocate and consultant, Bekeme Masade Olowola, the Good Citizen show features discussions on pertinent public issues related to corporate citizenship in Nigeria.

Contrary to prevailing misconceptions, Ramatu, a thoroughbred Fulani lady, comes from a highly educated Christian family in Adamawa. In 2015, while studying for a Law degree with her twin sister in the University of Maiduguri, a city besieged by terror, Ramatu got the alarm that would change her life forever and leave her traumatized.

“In my year two second semester, we had this encounter of Boko Haram and that was how it started,” Ramatu said.

“So, people were scared and even the security guys were scared too.  —- instead of them to loose everybody, they thought it was a good idea to open the gate for everybody to run away so that at least even if you are going to die not all of us will die. So, that was the idea they had. So, we now ran away and in the process we entered the bush, we did not know our way back and that was how we got separated…..

“Some people were wearing pyjamas; I was wearing one red gown like that actually. She (Her twin sister) was wearing one shorts and a singlet. So, we were just running up and down. Our phone got off. We could not communicate because even inside the bush there was no network so, maybe at the process of running you meet some people also running, then you join them because you do not know where they are going to, you too you do not know where you are going to.”

What followed was a harrowing ordeal in which Ramatu and her colleagues kept running in the bush for over one month. At some point, they ran into Boko Haram fighters.

She described it thus:

“ In the process of running, we now entered their hand because we did not know, we thought they were soldiers, They were wearing all these Army cloth so we thought they were Army, we were thinking they will help us. When we got into their place, we now found out……they now captured us, gathered us. They have camp. Not one place, not two places, they have camps like just the way armies used to camp.”

During a shootout with the Nigerian Army, Ramatu and others eventually escaped from the Boko Haram camp and kept running for what seemed like a lifetime until they arrived at the Cameroonian border, hungry, unkept and exhausted. They were as scared of getting shot mistakenly by the Nigerian soldiers as they were of being abducted by the terrorists.

“Yes, we were running up and down we did not know the bullet may even shoot you because at the process of running they would not know, they will just shoot you. Even the soldiers can shoot you, so we were just running. Especially when we saw those soldiers at the back because we did not know that they were soldiers, we were just running away from them.”

According to Ramatu, she noticed the Nigerian soldiers did not wear uniforms in order to distinguish themselves from the terrorists.

“When we started hearing the sound of their gun we then noticed they were soldiers, because soldiers do not wear uniform in the bush because they will not be caught because even the Boko Haram are wearing the camouflage. so, they do not wear uniforms, but they wear some things like bangles to identify themselves. But we did not know, so we keep running. That was the last time I saw her (twin sister)”

“So, from there when they were confused, we started running, so I do not know where my sister ran into. Me, I just found my way, we were just running, we thank God we got to the Cameroonian border. Those soldiers from Cameroonian side now took us to a port where they camped themselves.”

With nostalgia, Ramatu recalled her experience in the bush and the refugee camp with some of her friends, many of them could not make it.

“I remember one Yoruba guy, I used to call him Ade but it is Adegbemi or something like that. We used to call him Boko Haram. Because after the thing you now see that he wants to become Boko Haram, because they actually they killed his friend. And the girl, the other Igbo girl Ruth, she is a little bit chubby so, I think, before we even came out of that border, she was late.”

Ramatu said she watched as the Cameroonian soldiers carried her friend’s corpse from inside the bush.

“She was not shot. I do not know what actually happened because she just fell and died. It is not that somebody told you, it is in my presence like this because we were together. Sometimes you feel like she cannot run again, we would be dragging her because she is a little bit chubby.”

In disturbing details, she also spoke about her ordeal in the forest and how she learnt that her twin sister did not make it:

“At night and daytime you just keep running, Yes. You can’t stay now because they may come to you and kill you for nothing so, just be running. I was in the bush for like a month and a week during this ordeal, yes, I mean, and for good one week, no food, no water. For good one week.

“Because we do not know our way out, it is just a forest, you do not know where to go, you will be thinking maybe at the process of going like this you meet them, so, we were just confused. And I was thinking about how I am going to see my sister because there is no phone to communicate nothing. I was not even in my senses when they told me that my sister died.”

For many Boko Haram victims, the memories often become a trauma that leaves them damaged mentally. After leaving the Cameroonian refugee camp, Ramatu said they were taken to a hospital where they spent several weeks.

“When we are rescued, the government asked that we be taken to the hospital, because some of us are having gunshot wounds and also because of the sound of the bomb, some of us were being mental. I do not know how to put it right. They are mentally affected. So, even if you do not have any injuries, they have to take you for a check-up. You spend like two months, three months in the hospital. At some point I could not remember anything. I would just be looking like a doll, if you ask me anything, I will just be looking at you.”

Ramatu, who was brought to Lagos by her aunt in 2016, also spoke on the effects of psychological damage inflicted on Boko Haram survivors and how the one-sided, stereotypical narratives of the conflict and Northern Nigeria in general, is worsening the situation.

“It is not easy for me but, I started to and I am getting through it, it is not that easy but I knew that I am not the only one, my own is not even that very bad like from other people you wake up one day you will not have family, you will Just be roaming about only you, no family You do not even know anything about your family, like the kids, I am talking about the kids.”

She also speaks on the discrimination faced by former Boko Haram hostages and people from the conflict areas.

You know, everybody has the way they define people. When you tell them the part of the country or city you are from, they begin to call you Boko Haram, but I do not take it as anything. The reason why they are seing like that is because of the Boko Haram issues. Like me, sometime, you feel like when you are angry you feel like killing somebody.

 “If they say you are Boko Haram because you are from North sometimes, I do not blame them but not everybody that is Boko Haram because even both the Christians and Muslims, nobody is safe in the north. They can kill anyone; they do not care

“And the doctors after a treatment, they will discharge everybody. without knowing that those people are going to become a problem to the society. The reason I am saying is because my other friends that we have been treated together, some of them are now let me say they have ran mad now, and some of them use to have up issues in their workplace because I have their contact.”

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