Tuesday, 14 May, 2024

In conversation with a Boko Haram kidnapping victim

Yusuf Adamu, who was kidnapped by the armed group in Nigeria, talks about his experience with TRT World.

Yusuf Adamu, a 22-year old student, was on the road with his uncle on 26 February. The plan was to go home from Nigeria’s Borno State to Potiskum, Yobe State's largest city. The weather was dry and warm – typically Nigerian weather.

''I usually like long journeys. Especially if I'm travelling in a private car like that day,'' Adamu told TRT World over a video call.

Soon after, a wry smile appeared on his face as he continued, ''But considering what we encountered afterwards, no, it was not my most beautiful journey.''

Adamu was referring to when Boko Haram militants turned his life upside down. That day several men in uniform blocked their way, and it didn't take long for Adamu and his uncle to realise that the men were from Boko Haram.

A picture of Yusuf Adamu before abducted by Boko Haram
A picture of Yusuf Adamu before abducted by Boko Haram (Yusuf Adamu / TRTWorld)

Boko Haram is a terrorist group founded in 2002 by its leader Mohammed Yusuf in the country's Borno state. The organisation has killed thousands, is involved in attacking cities and churches, kidnapping people and selling young girls.

The group claims to want to implement their interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic-law, across Nigeria. With that aim, the group is fighting to topple the government and create an Islamic state.

According to an Amnesty report, in 2019, Boko Haram carried out its deadliest attack by killing at least 60 civilians and causing mass burnings on Rann, a border town in Borno State, Nigeria

''We live in Nigeria. Our place is full of stories about them. At that moment, of course, we realised who they were.''

They were getting closer and closer to the militants while debating whether to stop the car or not.

''Uncle, I said, let's not stop, let's not stop! Let's pass them! Because I was afraid,'' said Adamu.

But then he saw the barrels of the guns that forced them to stop. The militants opened the car doors and took them out, putting them next to 14 people who had probably been stopped by the militants in the same manner.

''I was never scared that much before. I always see them on video, the internet, or the news. But that instant moment, I saw them physically all with their guns and I thought, that’s it. That's the end of the world for me.''

While militants guarded them, the tense wait continued until the group stopped two more people. Now, there were 18 civilians. They put them in the back of two pickup trucks and hit the road.

''I had no idea where we were going. I wasn't able to focus on that anyway. There was so much noise. Women were crying, I was in shock.''

''I just asked my uncle what we were supposed to do. He said, ‘God is with us, don't be afraid’, but I was aware that he was saying this to calm me down.''

Into the wild

The Boko Haram militants took them into the deep forest, far from the city and highway. When Adamu got out of the truck, they immediately tied him up.

''It was pointless to resist. They would probably beat you or kill you. In fact, they did beat one when he resisted. What would we do? How could we try to get home in the deep forest? It was impossible.''

Then, the militants untied their ropes one by one and the interrogations began.

''One of them started to ask me questions about where do I work, where do I live and so on.''

Adamu answered all questions, explaining he is a student at Yobe State University with a major in Biology. He told them he lives with his parents and 12 sisters. When they asked about his uncle, he said that he is a close relative.

''After that, they ordered us on which side we should stand. The 14 people were on the other side, while 4 of us were on the other. I don't know why exactly they made such a distinction.''

''Maybe it's based on the personal information we provided to them.''

The Boko Haram militants kidnapped 18 civilians and took them into  the deep forest. (Reuters)
The Boko Haram militants kidnapped 18 civilians and took them into the deep forest. (Reuters) (Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters)

They divided Adamu and his uncle into separate groups. Adamu was with other prisoners close to his age, while his uncle was with the others. When Adamu realised that his group was taken in another direction, he grew increasingly anxious.

“They were pushing us to walk. I was separating from my uncle. How would I find him again? How would we get home? I did not want to leave.''

But the gun poking into his back was a stark reminder that first, he had to survive. That’s when the three-hour journey on foot started, and Boko Haram militants did not offer any water or any food on the trip.

''They took us to a very isolated place. I thought they were going to kill us.''

But instead, they began to question them again. This time with more detailed questions.

''They started to ask me questions about my religion. I told them I am a Muslim. They asked me if I'm a soldier, if I work for the government. But I was just a student. A biology student.''

''Then they asked if I can vaccinate them this time. I said yes. I had some knowledge about it.''

However, another prisoner was not as lucky as Adamu, as the militants gave him a severe beating while questioning him.

''They beat him very badly. I do not know whether it was because of his answers or something that he refused to do. But there was blood. Too much blood.''

In service

Adamu's three-month struggle for survival started at that point, deep in the forest, tied up in the bushes. He and other prisoners were given very little food.

''We would share one meal most of the time. It is a miracle that I survived.''

For three months, Adamu did everything Boko Haram asked of him, it was his responsibility to provide medical treatments and vaccinations.

''I did some injections like anti-tetanus, and arthemether for malaria treatment to patients brought by militants or to themselves.''

Every few days, the militants would come and take Adamu and other prisoners to different places. Most probably to carry out the tasks they required from them or train them to recruit.

mmmm (Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters)

'‘They said they would torture me if I don’t do my job.I could not take any further challenge. I was getting weaker day by day,‘’ he said.

Adamu had a condition that set him apart from other prisoners: he was chronically ill, making his struggle for survival increasingly difficult. But now, as he thinks back, he says that his illness was also a stroke of luck since it eventually granted him a ticket out of there.

‘’I have chronic asthma. I was sick and becoming sicker as I did not have my own medicine. Each day, I was on the tip of losing my consciousness due to harsh conditions like sleeping in the bush, poor food and water.‘’

Inevitably, he passed out on one of the many days he couldn’t sleep, leading his captors to reconsider his situation.

‘’At first, they brought me medicine to cure me because I could be useful for them in their medical treatments and issues. But the medicine they brought me was useless. I was getting worse.‘’

On June 17, a command for his release came from a superior officer in Boko Haram.

‘’He came and saw me. Then he talked with others. I wasn’t able to hear what they were talking about.‘’

But a prisoner who stood closer to the conversation between Boko Haram militants heard the news that would save Adamu’s life.

‘’He told me that they will set me free. Cause I was not valuable to them due to my condition.‘’

Two days later, Adamu was taken from the forest to near Maiduguri, Borno State’s capital city. The militants left him with a bottle of water in his hand. From there, he managed to find his way home on a bus headed towards Yobe State.

‘’When people see me and my plight on the bus, they tried to help me get home.‘’

Yusuf Adamu after released by Boko Haram, reuniting with his loved ones
Yusuf Adamu after released by Boko Haram, reuniting with his loved ones (Yusuf Adamu / TRTWorld)

Adamu reunited with his family after three months of hovering between life and death. Later, his uncle was also released.

''God helped us, there is no other explanation.''

As Adamu indicates, they were very lucky – and they never really found out why they had been kidnapped. But what about other prisoners that were left behind? What awaits them?

It remains uncertain as they are not the first nor the last abduction cases of Boko Haram in Nigeria. According to UNICEF’s annoncement in 2018, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 1,000 children since 2013 and this number is rising.

''I do think of them. Perhaps many have been trained and forced to join the militants by now. Or killed…Unfortunately, It is a heavy price that we pay as Nigerians.''

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