Name: Falmata Modu Goni (F) – Age: 32
Marital Status: Married
Interview: Nazeeb Ibraheem
Until after we were subdued by the dreaded Boko Haram sect that formed its maniacal kingdom in the northeast Nigeria where I came from, I knew nothing about violence. I only heard of war times from my grandparents. Then, war stories were only fairytales to me.
This is my story…
“My name is Falmata Modu Goni. Mala and I were married for four years before we encountered the Boko Haram terror group that separated us on a fateful Wednesday of February 24, 2013.
We started early on a passenger bus at 05:15 in the morning on our way to Maiduguri Borno State from Damboa, a small town in Yobe State Nigeria. We were ambushed in a serene area in the middle of nowhere. My husband Mala was sitting right beside me, holding our two-year old baby, Yagana. The proud father was tickling his baby’s little foot joyfully, smiling at the toddler. I was all gay, watching proudly at my lovely family. Everything seemed normal – or so it seemed.
Unknown to us, a great danger was lurking close by.
A few kilometers away, a faint shadow from nowhere suddenly appeared onto the middle of the road. The bus driver was quick to stamp on his breaks just before he knocks the man on the road whose left hand was raised up halting the bus; while his right hand was holding a gun. Later, I learnt the gun was AK 47 rifle. His fixed menacing smile was a sign of danger. The screech of the tires awakened sleepers in the bus who jerked from their slumber trying to squint at what was going on in the bus.
From the middle of the road, the gunman beckoned from left to right, and in split seconds, other 10 gunmen appeared from the bushes around, circling the bus. In awe, we started uttering prayers and begging God to spare our lives from the hunt men. To us the passengers, the red-eyed gunmen were robbers who will collect our money and jewels and disappear as they came; and life would be normal again.
We were wrong!
“Come out all of you and lie face down with your hands over your head, men on one side”, roared the Henchman of the group, walking around the big bus; scratching the gun barrel around it as he barked his command to us.
In seconds, we scrambled over each other trampling over our gears. We finally came down and laid face down panting in fear, with some of us peeing in our pants.
‘All of you are ‘Kafirs’ (unbelievers) barked the gang leader. We will finish you because this is what God would have wanted. No one dares us and lives…”
One of the male passengers started to beg for mercy. Before he could finish, the gang leader pierced his skull with bullets, leaving him smeared in his own blood. There was total silence. We shivered.
“Your government is deceiving you. The government told you not to listen to us, and stupidly you believed her. Today is the end of treachery. You all die…” shouted the leader.
The over 20 men with us were instantly killed by the gunmen. As if it was not enough, the Boko Haramist ripped each dead body with rain of bullets, opening each dead body from head to torso like someone opening the two lapels of his jacket. Smiling at his gun-trotting expertise, the leader turned and glared at us. The sight was horrendous!
We shivered in fright, almost choking to death. Mala, my husband was no more – killed brutally in my eyes. My entire world became shattered. I clung to my baby, hoping he wouldn’t be next because he was a boy. They were killing men and young boys.
From my position, I shook like a leaf in fright, looking at my dead husband’s tattered remains. My face smeared in tears and sweat. I shuddered, uttering my last minute-prayer.
He turned to his men. “Now package the women into the bus. You, Tela, drive the bus. The rest of you get in the bus. Watch any suspicious move and kill any woman who tries anything funny.”
That was how I was drafted into the Boko Haram camp in the vast dense forest of Sambisa. From day one, all the women and girls brought to the camp were beaten to stupor; our backside rippled into red slashes – a kind of welcome treatment to new entrants.
The following day, we were brought out from our dug-up trenches where we were jam-packed like sardines, and given only dates to eat as lunch. We slept with empty stomach. Nothing again was given to us. Sambisa Forest story was a ‘tall’ story. It was said that its width and breadth covers half of Nigeria. The chance of anybody rescuing us was a fat chance. The entire forest was inhabitable. Snakes, scorpions and crocodiles were kings of the forest. Most part of Sambisa Forest was covered in swamps, mud, quick sand, tall savannah trees with hundreds of wild animals. To try to escape was more dangerous than the menace of the gunmen.
Later in the evening, we were asked to fetch water from the ponds and wash up. We went to the pond under heavy guards of gun-happy men who can kill at the slightest provocation. One of them saw me. He said, “Heyyou! Come here…” I obeyed, my knees hitting at each other as I walk towards him. I stood by him shivering. “Come, follow me,” he barked. I followed him into the shrubs not too far from the pond. He asked me to remove my cloths. I refused. He hit me with his gun butt until I drooped on my knees, my baby falling to the ground. I made a frantic effort to pick up my baby, but he put a heavy military boot on the baby’s frail body, threatening to kill him should I refuse his command again.”
“I…I…He forced me onto the shrubs, giving me a swift slap until I became dazed. I meant to struggle again, but he hit me with all his strength until my tooth came off, my mouth full of blood. I submitted myself to him for the sake of my baby who was crying and trying to crawl towards me. The irate gunman swoop at his gun and ripped my little baby’s head with one shot. I scrambled in horror with all my might. I made last effort to go to him, but the gunman held on to my hand crushing it in his grip, laughing into my face…” He had his way.
“This was a nightmare I cannot forget for as long as I live. What kind of man would put a gun to a baby’s head and squeeze the trigger? That was the beginning of our dilemma at the camp. I was raped several times by almost all the gang members in two weeks; and so are the rest of the women and girls.
A week later, a snake killed a young girl at her sleep. A month later, three women were killed by snakes. The gunmen would leave the camp and rush into town to steal food, water and medication. The next thing you hear are chants of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ (Allah is The Greatest) in a deadening cheer, signifying they were about to go to the cities and towns to kill innocent people with bombs. One or two women would be wound bomb-belt around their waists and taken to the city to kill people. Before sun down, you hear on radio that suicide bombers have killed a score of people in mosques, markets, churches or schools. This was a daily occurrence.
One day, the camp leaders summoned us to a big field. Each woman was married to the man who first raped her. I was forcefully married to the man who first raped me. He would force himself over me every night and day. I couldn’t tell him I am tired or he will beat the hell out of me and no one comes to any woman’s rescue. I gave him two sons in three years. Inside of me, I resented the children; partly because they were born under duress and out of proper wedlock which is against my religion; and partly because they will grow up to kill people just like their father. But they were my babies. I tried to love them because they were innocent.
Women’s duty at the Boko Haram camp was to service men of their sexual needs, to give them babies who will grow up to continue in their fathers’ bad ways; and we, their mothers as suicide bombers, would be sent on our final journey on earth to kill innocent people in villages, towns and cities.
The camp leaders would pick only the young virgin girls for themselves, defile them and keep them as their beck-and-call. No gang member sleeps with any leader’s girl. If any Boko Haram member tries to sleep with a leader’s girl, he is instantly put to death. His two hands will first of all be chopped off with an axe, and later beheaded publicly.
Leaders don’t usually marry the girls among us. They use them any time they feel the urge to quench their sexual needs. When new ones are brought to the camp, they choose young, beautiful ones from them and handover the older ones to their foot soldiers.
One day, my Boko Haram husband stole a few grapes and apples. The whole camp was ordered to assemble before a High Leader, Al-Barnawi. This man was fierce, ruthless and totally inhuman. He was Abubakar Shekau’s deputy in the entire Boko Haram enclave anywhere in Nigeria. I never met Shekau.
Unknown to my husband, someone had seen him at the time of the theft. When his name was announced at the gathering as the thief, he bust out, crying like a baby. He knew what was to come to him. First of all, his two hands were tied to a log of wood and chopped off from the wrists. As much as I hated him, I felt sorry for him. I know before long, he will be rendered useless to the camp and would be put to death. The time of his death came when we were all having our breakfast on a Saturday morning. Al-Barnawi came to where we were eating. He beamed with smiles. He put his hand on my husband’s shoulder. Like a flash, we all saw my husband’s head rolling on the ground. That was his end. We only saw Al-barnawi cleaning the blade of a bayonet knife.
Despite my husband’s death, I felt some kind of relief. No husband, no forced sex. I didn’t know that another monster was to marry me on Al-Barnawi’s orders.
Ten days after my marriage with Kalla (fake name. They all use fake names). I came home from the pond to find my older boy dead. I knew my husband killed him because of jealousy, but I couldn’t challenge him. The excuse he gave me was that the boy became feverish when I was away at the pond and the camp did not have supply of drugs yet. I mourned the death of my son and prayed hard for the younger one to survive so as to keep me from total mental breakdown.
I did not know that my husband was a bomb expert. He trained men how to prepare and create locally made lethal weapon of destruction from IEDs and gun powder. He kept his supplies in my room. One day, he asked me to sit with him and see how he does it. It was very technical. From simple pipes, gun powder and IEDs, he can create the most sophisticated weapon that can kill over 200 people converged together.
Over 50 women I knew in the camp met their deaths at different times through suicide bomb attacks they were made to undertake. My turn came for me to go and kill people in the big city of Damaturu in Yobe State. The night before my job, I cried my eyes out. It was a task that must be done. No one says no to Boko Haram. My husband prayed for me. He promised to take care of my son after my death. It was only with Boko Haram one knows when he or she dies.
Kalla my husband wound the bomb-belt around my waist. He held my two hands in his; and said, “Dear Falmata, today is the day you go to Heaven to meet with the Lord. Paradise will be your final destination. Go in Allah’s Name and in peace; and be happy about it. Our various sacrifices will be recorded in ‘Lau’ul Mahfuz’ (Allah’s Sacred Book ofAccount).
He embraced me and escorted me to the car. Everybody was there including Al-Barnawi whose demonic eyes showed no remorse. I asked to hug my son for the last time. He was brought to me. When I held my boy to my bosom, there was a chorus chant of ‘Allahu Akbar!’ (Allah is the Greatest).
I sat beside the driver who knew where to take me to detonate the next bomb. The detonator button was hidden under my skirts. The driver would watch me enter a Mall from a secured distance. I only need to press the button once inside the Mall and everybody would be killed, including me. My price is to go to Heavenly Paradise according to Boko Haram. That was not a tenet of Islam. Islam abhors violence, rejects killing of the innocents without just cause.
My conscience pricked me. This was not Allah’s ordinance. This was sheer act of callousness. This was a complete disregard to God’s Orders. I did not want to do this. I knew it was wrong. I cried and prayed silently for God’s intervention.
The driver showed me the Mall in Maiduguri. He parked in a secluded area. He ordered me to walk into the Mall. I obeyed sheepishly. My prayer was that, he did not have the second alternate detonator in his hand; just in case I would not detonate the bomb and he would do it himself. My heart pounded in my chest. I begged God to see me through because He knew I had no right and had no muscle to kill anyone.
Once in the Mall, my chest raced so fast I felt I was fainting. No one noticed me in the Mall. I was well dressed like all the others on shopping spree because I was bought a new dress just perfect for the occasion.
I looked around. A little girl of about four years ran towards me, hiding her face in my lapels playfully, trying to avoid her older sister who was on pursuit. The little girl looked up and smiled at me. Her smile brought tears to my eyes. Why would I kill such lovely, innocent girl? Why would I end anybody’s life? What justification to that would I tell God?
Minutes passed, I couldn’t bring myself to detonate the bomb around my waist. Everybody looked so beautiful and lovely and happy.
The time of decision came. I wiped the tears off my cheeks and asked to be shown the lady’s convenience. I entered and bolted the door from inside. I saw an old bucket near the sink, climbed on it and squeezed myself through a small window; careful not to trigger the button on my waist. With great effort, I finally lowered myself to the other side, falling with a big thud to the ground, sustaining a sprain on my knee. I laid down for a while before I limped to a tree nearby. I looked back. No one noticed me. God has done it for me. The driver would be wondering why I took my time. I didn’t know when the tears came back rushing down my cheeks. I limped to safety, far away from the Mall. Once clear of the Mall, I saw a narrow street and bolted into a run. I kept running until I came to an area full of people. I mingled around; sure the driver wouldn’t have the slightest idea of what took me so long to blow the whole place.
I stopped running not to attract any attention. I walked fast without knowing where I was going. Once I was sure I was safe to ask for direction, God gave me the wisdom to ask of a Police Station.
At the Police station, I slumped down. When I came about, an officer asked me to tell him why I was there. I asked to see their boss. The boss did not come until after one hour. When the DPO came, I asked to be left alone with him as I have important report to tell him. I begged him not to panic or shoot me because I was carrying a bomb. The DPO was so terrified that he froze like a statue. I narrated quickly how Boko Haram forced me to kill people today but I refused because it was wrong to do that.
Finally, the DPO gathered himself together and called his subordinates who also listened to my story in fright.
About half an hour later, Special Bomb Squad came and dismantled the bomb belt from my waist. I was taken to a safe camp somewhere in town. Two days later, somebody who looked like a Police Commissioner came with about 10 uniformed men and asked me series of questions.
A week later, I was brought to this camp and given a bed, clothes and food like the rest of us here. So, here I am. I thank God I didn’t kill anyone. If I had, I would not have lived with myself forever.
I contacted home afterwards but understood that Boko Haram has killed over fifty people and burnt my entire village. I have no idea where my parents are. I pray they are alive. I hope to look for them someday soon. In the meantime, the government is helping us search for our relations anywhere in the country.”
Manages a smile through tears…
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa –