As a Nigerian and having lived in my country since birth, I have come to appreciate more of disbelieving the promises of our politicians, especially during partisan campaigns. Though, President Muhammedu Buhari (PMB) is a leader with a reputation for strong integrity and honesty, but I still doubted his campaign promise to end Boko Haram insurgency if elected President of Nigeria in 2015.
And when he re-organized the top hierarchy in the Nigerian military and Gen. TY Buratai was appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS), he didn’t excite me too. When Buratai promised Nigerians to end Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria by December 2015, I was infuriated the more. I suspected he is toeing their usual path of public deceit. But I have been pleasantly proved wrong in 2016.
After a trip to the Northeastern state of Yobe recently, the first in nearly two years, after I hurriedly left the place December 2014, because of the fear of terrorists, I sat down in my derelict one-room apartment in Kaduna in meditative mood. I didn’t know whether to shed tears of joy or mourn for the images of departed friends and associates which flooded my mind.
I was trapped in this two worlds because the relics of the dead were victims of terrorism. That was when the sect raged and raged like mad dogs. They went berserk, bombed and killed recklessly. I lost many beloved ones. (May their souls rest in peace). But I was consoled because peace is here at last. I nearly shed tears of joy at the return of life and normalcy to Damaturu, a place once held in captivity by the terrorists. It was the second hotbed of terrorists’ attacks in the Northeast, after Borno state.
In my short stint in Damaturu, we had experienced the invasion of scores of schools in Yobe state by these agents of the devil. In the fury of the wild beasts, they would violently invade schools in different parts of the state, burn schools, buildings and either kill or maim innocent students and teachers in droves.
I can still remember vividly the incident in September 2013 and the anguish of parents keeps playing back to me graphically. The incident widely referred to as the Gujba college massacre saw gunmen of the once dreaded Boko Haram sect invaded a secondary school where they reportedly killed over 50 students and teachers.
But I was particularly touched with the February 2014 incident at Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, where the terrorists invaded a boarding school in the dead of the night and freely murdered over 59 students and staff in cold blood. The rampaging beats burnt down students’ hostels and classrooms.
The terrorists also audaciously extended their anger to the host community and razed countless houses including the local government council’s secretariat complex, a high court premises, government/private establishments and telecommunications masts. What cruelty!
I cannot forget the incident because one of the affected students was the son of one of my neighbours, whom we simply called “Baba,” elderly, but very receptive and friendly man. He heard the news of terrorists' attack on the school of his son, but since he was too old, coupled with the tension that gripped him, Baba sent emissaries immediately, when phone calls to the place failed to click.
When he eventually confirmed the death of his son in the incident, he was crestfallen for days and kept murmuring to himself “ I loved him, but Allah knows best.”
The intensity of Boko Haram's attacks forced most private hospitals to shut down. The heavily guarded General Sani Abacha Specialists Hospital in Damaturu became the home of the injured and the dead. The hospital mortuary overflowed with corpses and the injured had no bed space. Doctors attended to patients in the open premises of the hospital. It was a soul-moving pathetic sight.
Fear enveloped me, as the terrorist pushed closer to Damaturu, the state capital. I hail from Niger state and came to Damaturu on the invitation of my friend, Ahmed Jabuski. I was there in search of greener pastures after my Diploma course. I was doing temporary jobs, but earned enough to meet my basic needs and even saved a little.
But after the Buni Yadi college massacre, I told my friend I was no longer confortable in Damaturu. My fears were exacerbated by the terrorists’ several, but repelled attempts to capture Government House Damaturu. The incidents convinced me very clearly that if terrorists could come this far in their exploits, nobody was safe.
The state capital itself bore the insignia of a city under armed siege. There were security agents everywhere, roads closed or had several road blocks, markets provided skeletal services, banks were sealed; schools shortened their hours of operation. And sounds of guns took over the serenity of communality and social or night life ceased instantly. Grazing fields were empty and farmlands deserted much as most homes and communities.
Back to my base in Niger state, I gave up hope about Damaturu and Yobe state. In my mind, I thought no miracle could rescue it from the hands of the monsters , except God’s special intervention. Even my friend Jabuski relocated to Jigawa shortly after I left. But he is now back. And I could not believe myself when I again visited Damaturu recently. I came back a few days ago.
The city that lost its soul, humanity and serenity has bounced back with sounds of life and bubbling. Markets, schools, relaxation spots, roads, banks, hospitals and offices are back to life. There is free movement to anywhere, except beyond 10pm because of the partial curfew in the state capital.
The presence of security agents is also minimal at least in the township. I asked and was told, no terrorist attack has taken place for nearly a year and the public phobia of violence has also vanished. Hospitality business is again flourishing.
So, when I read in the news that Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima visited schools and other public offices and inspected some projects, I nodded my head that he has taken up the challenge of erasing the relics of the ruins. I could not but doff my heart to President Muhammadu Buhari , the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. TY Buratai, our indefatigable soldiers and all officers and men of the Nigerian military for this wonderful accomplishment of restoring peace to the once troubled Damaturu and Yobe state generally.
Anyone who visits Damaturu now would hardly know this was a state capital in Nigeria, once assailed and almost overrun by evil men. May the Nigerian military keep it up and never mind persecution or blackmail, as the masses and the humanity they are serving is in deep appreciation of their sacrifices and efforts. May the lively sounds of lively days and nights in Yobe never cease again.
Engr Idris writes from Damaturu, Yobe State.