Bunu Ali, a Borno-based farmer and his family, relocated from Pate, a Boko Haram-ravaged community in Borno State. They thought it was the best option, but things turned upside down afterwards.
Forty-year-old Alimer and his family were forcibly separated as they toured one prison to the other; even though they committed no crime and were entirely innocent.
Ali explained that after military operatives ousted Boko Haram insurgents from Bama and Banki, “they occupied our town, and they stayed there for three months.”
He decided alongside his family to leave Pate for Banki town. But that was not a joyous decision for the couples. Their ordeal started when soldiers in a military post on their way, stopped a truck carrying them and instructed them to raise their hands. Their belongings, including money, were seized from them. Thereafter, they were separated and held in different barracks.
He recalled when about 23 people were picked out from the barracks after a young boy among the fleeing villagers was asked to point out individuals that were members of Boko Haram.
“They begged and pleaded that they were not Boko Haram, while some said they had only been doing small things for them. They were nonetheless taken away and all gunned down,” Ali said, adding those spared were directed to dig the graves of the murdered ones.
SOLDIERS KILLED 20 FOR ‘BEING THIRSTY’
Ali said when the truck stopped, one of them attempted to get water from a nearby block factory. The guards spotted him, and sot him. A soldier would climb on top of the truck and open fire, killing about 20 people.
They were at Giwa Barracks for nearly three months before they were transferred to a custodial centre in the state. “It had a tight space, and there was no food or water. Almost every day, people died,” Ali recalled. Out of the 460 people Ali knew from his village and nearby communities, 60 had died.
His wife Zara recalled when the military initially moved them, their families were told the men would be taken to Maiduguri. She said they were separated from their husbands, to be moved to a displaced persons’ camp — it’s a place that she doesn’t want to experience again, she said there were deaths resulting from hunger.
In the morning they discovered the camp gate was occupied by dead bodies. Slowly and painfully, over the next few days, her child starved to death after he fell sick.
After two years of being kept in the camp, they were told they would be relocated to Bama. Their response was a revolt; they would not return without their husbands. However, some of the women went back to Bama and Banki. Those resisting were then transferred to the Dalori II camp.
The military later moved Ali to Borno maximum-security custodial facility, where he would spend over six years. Although he had chances to communicate with his family.
His time in the facility ended when he was moved to the Operation Safe Corridor camp, a demobilization, deradicalization, and reintegration facility located in the Mallam Sidi area of Gombe.
During his 11-month stay there, Ali went through religious and vocational education. The scholars there taught them “tolerance and peaceful co-existence” even though he had never had a problem with this until Boko Haram and the military arrived at his home. Trainees were also required to select a livelihood option, and he chose to learn tailoring alongside 160 others. However, they only had six machines, which was not enough.
When it was time to leave Gombe, authorities said they would be getting assistance to cover them for ten years, but they ended up receiving only N10,000 and some sewing machines; some people didn’t even get complete kits. He says that the program is useful or Boko Haram members, but for people like him. it’s “unjust and wasteful,” he said.
FREED BUT NOT FROM SCARS
Finally, Ali was set free, but he remains a prisoner of the scars he bears from imprisonment and the impact of the protracted conflict, particularly the humanitarian suffering and inability to return to his hometown where he tilled the land for a living and had what, for him, would have been stability.
His other wives remarried after hearing that he was dead, but Zara requested a divorce from her second husband when she learned Ali was alive. “Today, we are seated together,” she said.