Nightmares in boko haram enclave: tales of a young woman

BY FR. GIDEON OBASOGIE for Aid to the Church in Need, 9TH SEP.2016



The family of Bitrus Zachariah and his wife Rebecca has got a sorrowful story to share after they came under a ferocious attack by Boko Haram on 21st August 2014, an attack that came before the massive offensive and complete occupation of Baga by Boko Haram terrorists in 2015.

With a sober look and a deep feeling of depression, Rebecca narrates her ordeal to Fr. Gideon Obasogie, Communications Director of the Diocese of Maiduguri, and how Boko Haram stormed Baga town. In great confusion they fled their lovely home with her husband and two sons: 3-year-old Zachariah, and Jonathan, who was only one year old. She was an expectant mother, since she was pregnant. She lost the pregnancy six months later due to the subhuman conditions she was subjected to by the militants. As they fled, her husband was a great target and, since he couldn’t run fast while carrying his son and severe pains had already conquered his wife, Rebecca pleaded with her husband to run for his life and leave them behind. Bitrus heeded and ran to hide in the shrubs where Boko Haram came in great pursuit and shooting sporadically. Luckily for Bitrus, no bullet touched him, as he narrates with a wave of nostalgia.  After some time, Bitrus then moved on, wondering what would become of his wife as they had gone back to her. As he tells his story he looks at his wife with a feeling of deep shame for not being a hero for her at that desperate moment of their lives. Bitrus moved with a renewed hope to Mongonu, promising himself to connect with his family if God would keep them alive. He waited in Mongonu for 15 days, looking with hope towards Baga in anticipation of the advent of his wife. As he waited for days he saw a lot of people coming out of Baga, in his words “I kept on asking them about the whereabouts of my wife….no one could tell me any good news. I became depressed with severe migraine and my blood pressure hit the roofs. It was some soldiers who assisted me with a shelter to lay my head…and some money, which I used to transport myself to Maiduguri. My uncle in Maiduguri pleaded with my not to be discouraged, he took me to the hospital for medication. He tried to renew my hope but he could never change my nightmares and heart aches. Leaving my family and everything I ever had behind was not an easy experience to come by.”


‘When Boko Haram came to me they challenged me saying …da mun kashe Mujin ki..da mun Sami lada….ama ton da Allah bai bari ba…ke da yaran ki sai ku je ku yi aikin Allah.

Meaning if only we had killed your husband we would have received Allah’s reward…but since Allah did not permit that…. you and your children would go and work for Allah…thereafter hitting me with a big gun that pulled some of my teeth.’

Asking her what happened next, Rebecca breaks down in tears….gazing at me with a piercing look, as if asking what this journalist needs to hear again. I smile at her to encourage her.

Rebecca quietly comes up again, saying that was when her nightmares started. Boko Haram, after killing all the men they had caught, they moved her and her two sons into Lake Chad. Crossing the lake was an evil journey, with water coming up to her neck. They moved for six days crossing the Lake, they gave them (chin- chin) snacks to eat. On the seventh day they arrived at a place called Kwalleram at the heart of a thorny bush. They stayed there for about 53 days. They were forced to wash for their wives, prepare sweet pepper, clear the path ways of their motor cycles and cook for their soldiers.After some time they took me and my sons to Gurva in Chad, for fear that I would escape. We were in Gurva for seventy days. We farmed and cut fuel wood. In Gurva there were about 2,000 conscripts.


It was in Tilma that they gave me number 69 on my back. I don’t really know its meaning and I never cared to ask. They sold me to a man called Bage Guduma, I was with him for 55 days, they gave me palm fruits, but thanks to God I didn’t eat any of the palm. That would have been a spell that might get me hypnotized and may result in the loss of my senses. I did not give in to him, most nights when he wants to touch me I got the faeces of my children to rub on my body… this had always kept him away from me. Although his boys would always beat me up ruthlessly. They made me dig a hole for three weeks still I hit the water level. They flogged me 98 strokes every day. I took ill for two weeks. They took my youngest son Jonathan and threw him into Lake Chad alive, and he got drawn. She tells this with a deep sense of sorrow as warm tears roll down her cheek. All these terrible events came Rebecca’s way because she refused to give her body.


Malla became the second man they brought to me. They forced me to sleep with Malla, when I resisted they threw me into their prison – a deep pit, I was in the pit for two days without food or water. When I came out, Malla forced himself on me severally. When I didn’t get my period I knew I had become pregnant. I looked for Paracetamol and took ten tablets at a go, just to do away with the pregnancy. But that didn’t happen. Then a woman, a wife of a Pastor, who was abducted from Gwoza, pleaded with me not to kill myself for the pregnancy. She had already two children from Boko Haram. That calmed me to stay with the pregnancy until the delivery. I almost passed away due to hunger. I delivered at home; no one came to my aid. I cut the placenta myself in great pains. I received no medical attention.  They named my son Ibrahim. They loved him because he is a boy; they want women who gave birth to male children. The Boko Haram father Malla, who had travelled, came back six weeks after the child birth.  I had nothing to do with him, because they had promised to sell me to another man.


They saw terrible and fearful things in the past two years and some months. They had a lot of experiences of people who tried to escape but met their death.There was Benjamin, an Igbo man who wanted to escape but he was intercepted and both his legs were broken. They left him behind in severe pains.

They were forced to go for their prayers and recitation from 7am-10am and from 12pm-2pm and 4pm-6pm. They killed some Christians who refused to pray with them.

They raped young girls of eight and nine forcing forms in their month and raping them to death.


On a faithful day, when most of the Boko Haram fighters had travelled out, Rebecca obtained permission from a female Boko Haram, probably a commander’s wife, to go see a friend at another area under Boko Haram control. When it was granted, she moved to Maitele a small community perhaps around Chad. They walked for six days towards the Nigerian border. Her son took ill for lack of water and food. Praise be to God, there came a heavy down pour that renewed and revived their strength for the journey, which for many would be towards an unknown destination. However, not for Rebecca, though she didn’t know exactly where she was, she kept on moving with much hope and faith that there will be a safe landing. They arrived in Diffa, where they met with some US Army and Army from Niger; they treated her son and gave them some bread to eat. After some while they brought them to some Nigerian soldiers in Damaturu. “The soldiers were so wonderful; they brought me directly to my husband in Maiduguri City.”


Bitrus, Rebecca’s husband, says in calm and yet disturbed tone, “seeing my wife with a son from a Boko Haram father frightens me a lot. I was very happy seeing my wife but the child makes my heart break. May God make me love him… yes, a son of a snake…” Bitrus comments with bitter anger.

Rebecca says with mixed feelings the little Ibrahim is her son, despite his wicked Father Malla. She has tried several times to give the child to the government, but the soldiers asked her to wait, since little Ibrahim is just eight months old.

Rebecca, whose parents are in the Cameroons, has pleaded with her husband to receive her as she is… and if he is hesitant, she says in a hopeless mode, “I will give him his son and go to my parents.”


Bitrus and his family are in the custody of the Catholic diocese of Maiduguri, the Bishop Most Rev. Oliver Dashe Doeme is caring for them, since they have moved into an Uncompleted Secretariat camp, where there are over 500 IDPs. With prayer and emergency support they will hopefully forget the wickedness and pains of the past. The diocese has provided Rebecca with emergency food aid and they hope to keep on helping her. This family is currently facing a moral dilemma. Rebecca needs now a thorough medical attention, food to eat, cloths to wear, a good shelter and beddings to lay her troubled head. Time can heal almost everything, but systematic psychological counselling is very needed – and her child Zachariah, now six years old, should be going to school. She is really a strong woman of faith!

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Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

La visite du Pape nous remontera le moral, plus que toute autre chose. Tous les yeux de la planète seront dirigés vers Baghdeda. Le monde saura ainsi ce qui est arrivé à cette ville : les terribles destructions et la migration forcée. Ce serait également bien si nous recevions ensuite un peu plus d’aide et de soutien. Cette visite est très importante pour nous qui sommes ici, surtout après l’énorme migration forcée de tant des nôtres. Cette visite signifie que nous ne sommes pas seuls et qu’il y a des gens qui prient pour nous. Cela nous donnera de l’espoir, nous encouragera à rester dans notre pays et à ne pas le quitter.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Si j’ai l’occasion de le rencontrer, je voudrais le remercier pour sa visite qui nous rend très heureux, et pour ses prières. Je tiens également à le remercier pour toute l’aide qu’il nous a procurée ces derniers temps. Je n’oublie pas sa grande solidarité et le geste qu’il a fait en vendant aux enchères la Lamborghini qu’on lui avait donnée pour soutenir avec l’argent récolté la reconstruction de la plaine de Ninive. Je voudrais aussi qu’il continue à prier pour nous afin que la paix arrive en Irak.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

Je voudrais lui montrer l’église historique Al-Tahira et des photos de Baghdeda, je voudrais qu’il voie comment l’État Islamique l’a détruite et comment les gens d’ici ont eu le courage de la reconstruire.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa levantará el ánimo y la moral, más que cualquier otra cosa. Todos los ojos del mundo se dirigirán a Baghdeda. Así, el mundo sabrá lo que le sucedió a esta ciudad. La terrible destrucción y la migración forzada. También sería bueno si luego recibimos más ayuda y apoyo. Esta visita es realmente importante para nosotros, los que estamos aquí, especialmente después de la enorme migración forzada de tantos de los nuestros. La visita significa que no estamos solos y hay quienes rezan por nosotros. Esto nos dará esperanza, nos animará a permanecer en nuestra tierra y no dejarla.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Si tengo la oportunidad de encontrarme con él: quiero agradecerle su visita, que nos hace muy felices, y su oración. También quiero darle las gracias por todo lo que nos ha ayudado durante el último periodo. No me olvido de su gran solidaridad y del gesto de subastar el Lamborghini para apoyar con ese dinero la reconstrucción de la llanura de Nínive. También quiero que siga orando por nosotros para que la paz llegue a Irak.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Quiero mostrarle la histórica iglesia Al-Tahira y fotos de Baghdeda, quiero que vea cómo fue destruida por ISIS y cómo la gente de aquí ha sido tan fuerte para reconstruirla nuevamente.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes wird die Stimmung und die Moral heben, mehr als alles andere. Alle Augen der Welt werden auf Baghdida gerichtet sein. Dann wird die Welt erfahren, was mit dieser Stadt passiert ist, die schreckliche Zerstörung und die erzwungene Migration. Es wäre auch gut, wenn wir anschließend mehr Hilfe und Unterstützung bekommen würden. Dieser Besuch ist wirklich wichtig für uns hier, besonders nach der großen Zwangsmigration so vieler unserer Leute. Der Besuch bedeutet, dass wir nicht allein sind, und dass es Menschen gibt, die für uns beten. Das wird uns Hoffnung geben, es wird uns ermutigen, in unserem Land zu bleiben und es nicht zu verlassen.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Wenn ich die Gelegenheit habe, ihn zu treffen: Ich möchte ihm für seinen Besuch, der uns sehr glücklich macht, und für sein Gebet danken. Ich möchte mich auch bei ihm für alles bedanken, was uns in der letzten Zeit geholfen hat. Ich werde nie seine große Solidarität vergessen sowie die Geste, den Lamborghini zu versteigern (siehe Link zur Meldung), um mit diesem Geld den Wiederaufbau der Ninive-Ebene zu unterstützen. Ich möchte auch, dass er weiterhin für uns betet, damit im Irak Frieden einkehrt.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die historische Al-Tahira-Kirche zeigen und Bilder von Baghdida, ich möchte, dass er sieht, wie alles von ISIS zerstört wurde und welcher Kraft die Menschen hier es wiederaufgebaut haben.

What does the Pope’s visit mean to you?
The papal visit will lift up our spirits and morale more than anything else. All the eyes of the world will be on Baghdeda. And in this way the world will know what happened to this city. The terrible destruction and the forcible ethnic cleansing. It will also be a good thing if afterwards we get more support and help. This visit is really important to us, to those of us who are living here, especially after the massive ethnic cleansing and expulsion of so many of us. His visit means that we are not alone and that there are people who are praying for us. This will give us fresh hope and encourage us to persevere, here on our own soil, and not leave it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
If I get the opportunity to meet him, I would like to be able to thank him for his visit, which has made us very happy, and for his prayers. I would also like to thank him for all he has done to help us in recent times. I have not forgotten his great gesture of solidarity in auctioning the Lamborghini in order to use the money to help pay for the reconstruction of our homes on the Niniveh plains. I would also like to ask him to continue praying for us and for peace to return to Iraq.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? Which places should he visit?
I would like to show him our historic Al-Tahira church, and some photos of Baghdeda. I’d like him to be able to see how it was destroyed by IS and how the people here have worked so hard recently to rebuild it once more.

Qu’est-ce que cette visite signifie pour vous ?

La visite du Pape est ce que nous désirions le plus ici. C’est une grande bénédiction. Nous avons un grand désir de le voir. Ce qui rajoute de l’importance à cette visite, c’est la situation de vulnérabilité que nous, chrétiens, subissons en Irak. Il y a plusieurs raisons à cette fragilité, toutes sont les séquelles de l’État Islamique. Toutes ces destructions ont grandement contribué à l’émigration des chrétiens. De nombreux problèmes pèsent sur nous. Mais par sa visite, le Pape nous donnera de l’espérance et de la confiance, il nous encouragera et réduira notre fardeau. Bien que la situation soit instable en Irak en ce qui concerne la sécurité, tout spécialement dans le domaine politique, on s’attend à ce qu’à l’arrivée du Pape, sa sécurité soit correctement assurée.

Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Je voudrais lui demander de me donner sa bénédiction, de bénir mon travail et le dévouement des prêtres d’ici, et de bénir le peuple par ses prières. Je voudrais lui demander d’aider tous ceux qui sont en danger dans ce pays, qu’ils soient chrétiens ou musulmans. Qu’il tente de mobiliser les pays du monde entier pour soutenir ce pays qui a besoin d’aide.

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais qu’il visite l’église Al-Tahira, parce que c’est un symbole et un élément du patrimoine de Baghdeda. Cette église est la mère, le foyer et le patrimoine de chacun des habitants de Baghdeda. Nos ancêtres ont construit cette église, nous avons tous le sentiment d’en faire partie. Bien sûr, nous serions heureux qu’il visite de nombreux endroits, des églises, monastères et maisons traditionnelles, et qu’il rencontre également beaucoup de gens qui ont le désir de le voir.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita del Papa es lo que más hemos deseado aquí. Es una gran bendición. Sentimos un gran anhelo de verlo. Lo que agrega importancia a esta visita son las condiciones tan vulnerables que sufrimos los cristianos en Irak. Hay varios motivos para esa fragilidad, todas las secuelas que ha dejado el ISIS, esa enorme destrucción ha llevado en gran medida a la emigración de cristianos. Muchos problemas pesan sobre nosotros. Pero cuando nos visite, nos dará esperanza, confianza y aliento y reducirá esta carga. Además del hecho de que la situación de seguridad en Irak, especialmente la política, es inestable, se espera que a la llegada del Papa se garantice su seguridad de manera correcta.

¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Querría pedirle que me dé su bendición, que bendiga mi servicio y la entrega de los sacerdotes aquí y que bendiga al pueblo a través de sus plegarias. Le pido que ayude a todos los que están en peligro en este país, ya sean cristianos o musulmanes. Que intente movilizar a los países del mundo para que apoyen a este país que necesita ayuda.

 ¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda / Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me encantaría que visite la iglesia Al-Tahira, porque es símbolo y patrimonio de Baghdeda. Esta iglesia es madre, hogar y herencia de cada uno de los habitantes de Baghdeda. Nuestros antepasados ​​construyeron esta iglesia, todos nos sentimos parte de ella. Ciertamente, nos alegraría que visitara muchos lugares, iglesias, monasterios y casas tradicionales,  también que vea a muchas personas que anhelan verlo.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch des Papstes ist das, was wir uns hier am meisten gewünscht haben. Es ist ein großer Segen. Wir spüren eine starke Sehnsucht, ihn zu sehen. Was diesen Besuch noch wichtiger macht, sind die äußerst prekären Bedingungen, unter denen wir Christen im Irak leiden. Es gibt mehrere Gründe für diese Zerbrechlichkeit. All die Folgen, die ISIS hinterlassen hat, diese enorme Zerstörung hat in großem Maße zur Auswanderung von Christen geführt. Viele Probleme lasten auf uns. Aber wenn er uns besucht, wird er uns Hoffnung, Zuversicht und Ermutigung geben und diese Last verringern. Auch wenn die Sicherheitslage im Irak, insbesondere die politische Situation, instabil ist, hoffen wir, dass bei der Ankunft des Papstes seine Sicherheit ausreichend gewährleistet ist.


Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Ich möchte ihn bitten, mir seinen Segen zu geben, meinen Dienst und die Hingabe der Priester hier zu segnen und die Menschen durch seine Gebete zu segnen. Ich bitte ihn, all jenen zu helfen, die in diesem Land in Gefahr sind, ob sie nun Christen oder Muslime sind; und die Länder der Welt zu mobilisieren, um dieses Land, das Hilfe braucht, zu unterstützen.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida / Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte, dass er die Al-Tahira-Kirche besucht, denn sie ist ein Symbol und Erbe von Baghdida. Diese Kirche ist die Mutter, die Heimat und das Vermächtnis eines jeden einzelnen Menschen in Baghdida. Unsere Vorfahren haben diese Kirche erbaut, wir alle fühlen uns als Teil von ihr. Sicherlich würden wir uns freuen, wenn er viele Orte, Kirchen, Klöster und traditionelle Häuser besuchen würde, und auch, wenn er viele Menschen treffen würde, die sich danach sehnen, ihn zu sehen.

What does the visit mean to you?
The papal visit is the thing we have longed for most of all here. It will be a great blessing. We have a great yearning to see him. What gives added importance to this visit is the so very vulnerable situation that we are suffering as Christians in Iraq. There are many reasons for this vulnerability, including the aftermath of what IS left behind, the enormous destruction which has led in such large measure to the emigration of the Christians. There are many problems weighing on us. But when he comes to visit us, he will give us new hope and confidence and some relief from this burden. In addition there is the fact that the security situation in Iraq, and especially the political situation, is so unstable, so we are hoping that when the Pope does arrive they will guarantee his security in the way that they should.


What would you like to say to the Holy Father?
I would like to ask him to give me his blessing, to bless my ministry and the hard work of all the priests here, and also to bless all the people through his prayers. I would ask him to help all those in danger in this country, whether they are Christians or Muslims. And that he might strive to encourage the countries of the world to support this nation, which is truly in need.

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places ought he to visit?
I would love him to visit the Al-Tahira church, because it is a symbol and a rich cultural legacy of Baghdeda. This church is the mother, the home and the inheritance of every one of the inhabitants of Baghdeda. Our forefathers built this church, and we all feel we are a part of it. Of course, we would be happy for him to visit many different places – churches, monasteries and traditional homes – and also for him to be able to meet all the many people who are longing to see him.

Que signifie pour vous cette visite ?

Elle a une valeur morale, et non pas économique. Cette question occupera l’opinion publique mondiale, et tout spécialement irakienne. J’ai l’impression d’y tenir une place importante.


Qu’aimeriez-vous dire au Saint-Père ?

Ce sera formidable de faire sa connaissance, et je voudrais lui dire : « Nous avons besoin d’une protection internationale parce que notre communauté chrétienne a subi une migration forcée ».

Qu’aimeriez-vous lui montrer à Qaraqosh/Baghdeda ? Que devrait-il visiter ?

J’aimerais lui montrer les églises et les maisons brûlées, afin qu’il voie les dégâts que l’État Islamique a laissés derrière lui dans cette ville. Et aussi notre Musée du patrimoine de Baghdeda pour lui présenter notre histoire et notre culture.

¿Qué significa la visita para usted?
La visita tiene un valor moral, no económico. Este tema ocupará la opinión pública en el mundo y especialmente en Irak. Siento que tengo un lugar importante en él.


¿Qué le gustaría decirle al santo padre?
Será genial conocerlo y querría decirle “necesitamos protección internacional, porque nuestra comunidad cristiana ha sufrido una migración forzada”.

¿Qué le gustaría mostrarle en Baghdeda /Qaraqosh? ¿Qué debería visitar?
Me gustaría mostrarle las iglesias y las casas quemadas, para que vea el daño que dejó ISIS en esta ciudad. Y también nuestro Museo del patrimonio de Baghdeda para presentarle nuestro historia y cultura.

Was bedeutet der Besuch für Sie?
Der Besuch hat einen moralischen Wert, keinen wirtschaftlichen. Er wird die öffentliche Meinung in der Welt und insbesondere im Irak beherrschen. Ich habe das Gefühl, dass ich einen wichtigen Anteil daran habe.

Was würden Sie dem Heiligen Vater gerne sagen?
Es wird großartig sein, ihn zu treffen, und ich möchte ihm sagen: „Wir brauchen internationalen Schutz, weil unsere christliche Gemeinschaft unter der erzwungenen Auswanderung gelitten hat“.

Was möchten Sie ihm in Baghdida /Karakosch zeigen? Was sollte er besuchen?
Ich möchte ihm die Kirchen und ausgebrannten Häuser zeigen, damit er den Schaden sieht, den ISIS in dieser Stadt angerichtet hat. Und auch unser Heimatmuseum in Baghdida, um ihm unsere Geschichte und Kultur näher zu bringen.

What does this visit mean to you?
This visit has a moral value rather than an economic one. This is a topic that will engage public opinion around the world and especially in Iraq. I feel as though I have an important part to play in it.

What would you like to say to the Holy Father?

It would be wonderful to be able to meet him, and I would like to be able to say to him, “We need international protection, because our Christian community was forcibly displaced.”

What would you like to show him in Qaraqosh/ Baghdeda? What places should he visit?
I would like to be able to show him the churches and houses that were burnt out, so that he could see the destruction left behind by IS in this city. And also our Baghdeda Heritage Museum, so that we can show him our history and culture.