The content of this revealing piece was contributed by a university lecturer who was once abducted by Boko Haram. The lecturer who prefers anonymity, revealed the possibility of dialoguing with the sect for peace
“This short write up is not a fictional narration. It is rather a true story of my encounter with the Boko Haram (hereinafter referred to as BH) group, during my abduction by its members between the 20thApril and 3rd May 2013. It is not intended to expose or condemn any section. Rather it is a recollection of the sad incident so as to share the experience with my brothers and sisters, Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. Perhaps it will be an eye-opener for those who may wish to know more about the group and its activities.
At exactly 12.30pm of Saturday 20th April 2013, I ended my contact with the Distance Learning Students at the University Demonstration Secondary School and headed towards home. I hardly closed the gate, after my arrival by 1.45pm, when I was suddenly followed by six boys with their guns. “Give us the key of the car” one of them said. “We are sent to go with you, you are to answer some questions” said another. Then some of them went straight to the sitting room of my wife and removed her LCD TV Set, satellite receiver, and DVD Player. Her mobile phone was also collected.
On my side, I was also asked to surrender the amount of money in my possession. The sum of N6,500 which I claimed to be all that I had was collected, as I complained of short of money as the days of the month have run far (as a civil servant). I was then asked to join some of them into the car after tying my hands with a rope, while the rest of them quickly ran outside to assist their rider in pushing the Keke-NAPEP tricycle that earlier conveyed them but failed to kick on again. Upon seeing the pushing as a futile exercise as the tricycle failed to respond, they all decided to join us in the car and we all headed towards Maiduwuri ward across the railway and finally arrived at a deserted area which was dominated by BH members, which I later discovered to be Bulabulin Alhajiri.
All the houses in the area seemed to be deserted by their original owners or occupants and none could be seen in the area other than the BH members, moving freely with their guns. I was taken to a house containing three rooms with a toilet and kitchen; and was asked to stay in one of the rooms on a plastic mat. Few minutes after our arrival; some members of the group came in and started asking me some questions. “Do you know the reason why we brought you here?” one of them asked. I replied “No”. He then said: “We need money from you, to use it for the sake of Allah”. I then asked “how much do you need?” Another member replied quickly “Fifty Million Naira!” I surprisingly replied, “How could I get such a huge amount of money! I am an ordinary civil servant, working as teacher in the University, teaching Arabic language and religious knowledge. I do not have any other source of income beside my monthly salary! After all I am also teaching Islam and Islamic Sciences, how could you demand such an amount from me, for the sake of Islam?” one of them replied instantly “As far as our belief system is concerned you are not a Muslim, regardless of whether you are teaching Islam or not, because you are working for an infidel government, expressing your loyalty to its un-Islamic constitution and more so you are receiving salary from this un-Islamic government. So, to us you are not a Muslim, your blood and wealth are lawful to us”. “Whatever maybe the case, you wait until our leader (one of their ranking officers, perhaps a qaid or mundhir) that instructed us to abduct you, arrives to state his final verdict on you.
I then asked one of them to give me my phone so that I would call one of my brothers to inform my family about the situation. I also called on one of my colleagues to inform him of the matter and asked him to inform the Vice-Chancellor about the problem.
That leader could not come until the next day, and I remained in that house for the next 24 hours. Three of the members stayed with me as guards. They allowed me to perform my Zuhr and ‘Asr prayers alone, but for the Maghrib and ‘Isha they allowed me to join them in congregation. They also provided food and water for me. As the weather was hot at that time, I was asked to take the mat and sleep outside the room. While they watched me, they kept themselves busy by reciting the Qur’an until late in the night.
The said leader came along with some members of the group, sometime in the mid-day of the following day. The moment they saw him they were ordered to take me into the room. “So you are one of the perpetrators of infidelity on earth” said one of them. “How could I be among perpetrators of infidelity, while I am a Muslim?” I responded in resistance. Then the acclaimed leader said “Don’t count yourself among the Muslims, you are not one of them, because you are working for the Taghut” “You must have been told of our demand, you should either meet it or consider yourself dead”. I responded saying: “yes I have been told, but I don’t think I would be able to meet such a demand, because such an amount is not in my possession nor do I have a brother, friend or anybody in this world that could readily provide me with such an amount. I have only informed my employers through some of my colleagues. Perhaps they could do something”. Then one of those who accompanied the leader, who appeared to be so wicked and hard hearted, said angrily “I swear by God, that this man is lying and I don’t trust him, I also don’t trust people in the government. I don’t think that this your employer will meet our demand. We won’t waste our time. Please tie him up and take him to that room”. The boys quickly tied my hands and legs and carried me up to a room where there was a hole, and was made to lie down. As a Muslim, considering that that time might be my last moment on earth, I started reciting the Kalmat al-Shahadah. (The word of testimony), saying Ash-hadu an laa ilaha illallah wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadar-Rasulullah. I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is Messenger of Allah. While I was reciting this word, the leader stretched out his long dagger and put it on my neck. As I gave up all hope of survival and concluded that death is closely approaching me, I lost all sorts of fear and uneasiness; I rather became so calm and confident, experiencing a unique taste of tranquility.
After putting the dagger on my neck for some minutes, without seeing any change of position or begging for sparing my life, from my angle, the leader put up the dagger and said “raise him up!”. He then said, after I was made to sit down, “We are going to spare your life for the next three days within which you must produce 10 Million Naira. We are reducing the amount from 50 to 10 Million. On the termination of this deadline, you either produce 10 Million or otherwise you bid farewell to this world”. I replied saying: “I swear by Allah that I do not have 10 Million Naira in my possession nor do I have anybody on this earth whom I will call to produce such a huge amount of money. How could I give the chance of doing all that you have done to me, if I have such an amount? What is the essence of money if I happened to be slaughtered by you? I will only call on my brothers to ask them to source for that money”. I asked one of them to give me my mobile phone which they have snatched from me, immediately after my abduction. I called on one of my brothers to inform him of the situation, and asked him together with my other brothers to start sourcing for money so as to meet their demands within the stated period, although I know that such an amount could not be realized by them knowing their financial positions. I remained in their custody for the next three days, while they kept on changing the places of my custody, from one to another. If I spend a night in a house, they usually transfer me to another house the next night. They cover my face and ask me to walk to the next house within the same area. They also provided me with meals 3 times a day. The types of food were fairly good, which were mostly rice and stew, or Burabusko or Biski. I was also served with tea and bread in the mornings. Sometimes they even brought suya meat and fruit juice for me. They even asked me whether I had a special food or drink that I usually take. But I responded saying that I had nothing of such.
In the early hours of Tuesday April 23, 2013, which was the day the ultimatum given to me would terminate, some of their boys started coming and saying to me: Sayinna (meaning our teacher in the Kanuri language) this is your last day, your people should either produce the money or have you bidding farewell to this world”. I usually responded saying: “There is nothing insha-Allah, Allah is there to take care of everything” some of them have even stretched their daggers to my face saying: “with this we will slaughter you, if we see no money”. I kept on saying: “Afima ba, Ala mbeji. (Meaning in Kanuri: No problem Allah is there)”. Upon seeing all these things I intensified my prayers to Allah to come to my aid and see me out of that distress.
Thereafter an idea came to me that, why can’t I ask my brothers to sell out my house that I am occupying if they fail to realize the money. So I asked the leader who claimed to be responsible for my abduction and who usually liaise between me and my brothers, to call one of my brothers. On hearing that nothing tangible has been realized so far, I asked him to meet some of my friends and some persons whom I believe would assist and see if something reasonable could be raised from them; on the understanding that the house could be taken as a mortgaged property pending my release. And I told him that, according to their statement, today would be the last day of the deadline, and failure to produce the money would mean my death. I emphasized to him to try all that they could and give us the feed back in the afternoon.
I continued praying to Allah, until the evening. Fortunately the story of my abduction was carried in the afternoon session of the BBC Hausa Service, as I learnt from them. That attracted some of the leading members who were unaware of my case, to me. It was sometime around 8.00pm, when I was taken outside the house that I was kept in, to an open air premises in front of the house. There I met some of their leading members who I have never met before one of them asked: “are you the one abducted by our members?” I said “Yes”, “what is your occupation?”He asked further. I replied “I am a in the University”. He then asked “what is your opinion regarding our Da’awah movement?” I said: “I understand that you are trying to establish Shariah in Nigeria. And as a Muslim, I don’t think I will object to the establishment of Shariah in Nigeria, because no true Muslim will go against that. I only differ with you as regards your approach in the establishment of Shariah, which is taking the government by force then enforcing the Shariah on the entire populace of the country. Your approach is Manhaj Tanazuli, Top-Bottom approach. Whereas, I with my little understanding of Islam, do not think that is feasible and realistic, because this country does not belong to us alone. It is Allah that made us to be Muslims and Christians, then the Europeans later came to unite us and made us one country one nation. So it will be very difficult for us to use force in establishing Shariah in the whole country. I rather think of another approach which is the opposite of yours i.e. Manhaj Tasaa’udiBottom-Top approach. That I, as an individual Muslim whether, I am a teacher, or an engineer, or a lawyer, or physician, or whatever will work for Islam and utilize any opportunity given to me to promote Islam and call for it, until when Allah empowers us with a Muslim leader who will use the powers vested on him to establish Shariah after the grounds have been prepared for that”.
Upon hearing my explanation he said: “really you are learned! I do not think it is proper to leave you here with these boys; they may slay you because they do not know your value. We would rather take you to another place which is safer than this place”. He then asked: “Have you taken something?” I answered: “No”. He asked why, and I said “actually the food was brought to me, but I refused taking it because some of them refused to permit me to pray the Maghrib prayer when I asked. That made me bitter and caused me to lose my appetite for food”.
He became furious on hearing this, and started rebuking them for that. He instantly ordered one of the boys to go and bring water for my ablution. That was quickly brought and I performed the Maghribas well as the Isha prayers. Then he served me with tea, which he brought it out of his motor vehicle.
He then said, “we are now going to set for a little journey with you”, without mentioning the destination. I and four of them set for the journey in a Toyota Model F mini bus, sometime after 9.00 pm and passed through some villages like Zabarmari, Nguwam and others following rough and untarred roads, until when we reached a village in the mid-night. The leader who was also the driver complained that he was felling sleepy, we then had to spend the night there. In the early morning of the next day around 6am we performed our Subhi prayer and set again for the journey. We drove through bushes on the rough and untarred roads for about 2 hours before we reached the destination, which I later discovered to be the Sambisa forest. I remember in the course of the journey, my face was covered by them when we reached a point closer to the destination, then the cover was removed later, before our arrival to the place. I believed that that was done not to allow me to recognize the place by hiding some signs and hallmarks that might enable me to recognize the area.
I discovered the place to be a thick forest with thick, beautiful, shady trees of various kinds. The members of the group were stationed in about three different camps. The distance between one camp to another is about 3 or 4 kilometers. They usually communicate to one another through motor-cycles and cars, which were rode and driven by their members.
Each camp was headed by a Commander (qa’id) who would be responsible for the activities and welfare of the members under his command. I remember the name of the 3 Commanders of camps to be as usually mentioned by their boys, Abu Sa’ad, Uqbah and Judhana. I was taken to the camp of Abu Sa’ad who was perhaps the supreme commander. He was very influential and respected leader of the group. He was educated in both the Islamic and Western systems of Education. He told me that he was a graduate of Biochemistry from the University of Maiduguri, before realizing the truth about Boko (Western Education). It appears that all orders and instructions emanate from him before they were taken to the other commanders for onward circulation to the entire members of the group in the camps.
The members of the group, as I saw in these camps appeared to be self-reliant and self-sufficient; they had almost everything they need for their lives. They had their cooks, mechanics, tailors, medical personnel, barbers and hair cutters, shoe repairers. They also had their trained members who fix handy bombs, and explosives, rockets, and road side bombs for exploding vehicles.
I understood from their members that they had their military trainings daily in the morning and afternoon hours. The training, according to them, was intensive and hard.
As regards their feeding system, they feed their members 3 times daily. Foodstuffs were supplied to them in large quantity, mostly brought in pick-up vehicles. Rams, sheep and goats were also supplied in large numbers, which they usually slaughter for their daily meals. Tea, breads and mayonnaise were also often served for breakfast. Fruit juice of various kinds, especially La casera and pure water were also supplied to them and were being distributed to their members.
We arrived at the camp around 8.am of Wednesday 24 April 2013, I was asked to get out of the vehicle and sit down under the shade of a tree. Abu Sa’ad, the commander of the camp, was informed of our arrival and came out later to see me. He asked me some few questions regarding my name and occupation and that of my family. He then said that he was busy, but will come back to me later for discussion. He could not have time to come to me until later in the afternoon.
He first started by asking me to relate what has happened to me from the time of my abduction up to the moment I was brought before him. I narrated the whole story to him.
When I finished my narration, he said: “Our boys have made mistake by demanding money from you. Our movement is a Da’awah based movement. We are not after material gains. They should have started by calling you to our movement. But all the same whether they have invited you or not, as far as our belief system is concerned you are not within the fold of Islam. So your blood and wealth are lawful to us so long as you disagree with our belief system”.
“Our belief is that one has to have faith in Allah and His Messenger, and to deny any form of servitude to Taghut (i.e. a person, devil, system, or any other thing that one declares his loyalty to, beside Allah). That call was made by our leader Muhammad Yusuf for nearly 10 years before we were provoked to take arms. We entered into warfare with the agents of Taghut and we were displaced and made to scatter, but by the grace of Allah, we are now reuniting and regaining our strength. Our situation is clearly depicted in the Qur’an in a manner that has happened to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), where Allah says:
“And remember when you were few and oppressed in the land, fearing that people might abduct you, but He sheltered you, supported you with His victory and provided you with good-things that you might be grateful” (Q. 8:26).
He continued further: “You the University lecturers are the perpetrators of evil on earth because you are the one training people to enter into the infidel system that fight us, so sparing the life of people like you will be detrimental to us. Because the government itself is being strengthened and empowered by you, and it will be weakened if people like you withdrawn from it”.
He took time to explain their mission and intention to Islamize the country through their struggle. He further stated that their mission is not to acquire wealth or material gains. They were doing it for the sake of Allah. He then instantly brought out some new bundles of Euro notes, saying that all these are enough to sustain their lives, if they were after money. But they are after the pleasure of Allah, according to him.
When he finished his talk and discussion on their mission, he asked me whether I have some questions to ask or clarifications to seek for. I said I have some questions to ask regarding their movement.
Firstly, I pointed out to him that my understanding of their movement is that it adopts a Top-Bottom approach Manhaj Tanazuli instead of Bottom-Top approach Manhaj Tasa’udi in their Da’awah andJihad mission. I then asked why can’t the group adopt the second approach which appears to be more peaceful, gradual, and effective to my understanding. He replied by correcting me that they were not following the Top-Bottom approach as I viewed, they rather adopted the Prophetic approach in which they engaged in preaching and propagation of their mission for nearly 10 years before they were attacked by the agents of the infidel system. They engaged in warfare with the government and were displaced for sometime, but now they are reuniting and regaining their strength. He quoted the earlier cited verse of the Qur’an, to support his assertion making semblance of their situation with that of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when he migrated and settled in Medina, as clearly depicted in that verse.
He further argued that this issue of Bottom-Top approach is never realistic in the Nigerian context. They have tried it, as others did, and came to the conclusion that it is never possible to establish Shariah through peaceful means in Nigeria, that is why they opted for the use of force.
Secondly, I asked him regarding the basis of the concept of Bana Alaye (Assistance for the sake of Allah) which is used by the members of the group in the forcible seizure of people’s money, cars, foods, etc under the pretext of Chida Alaye, or Aikin Allah (God’s Services). He replied that as far as their belief system is concerned anybody that works for the infidel government or declares his loyalty to it, is not a Muslim. His blood and wealth are lawful to be taken away by the true Muslims (referring to their movement). The basis of this rule, according to them, is taken from the verse of the Qur’an, where Allah says:
“And what Allah has bestowed on His Messenger (and taken away) from them, for which you made no expedition with either cavalry or camelry. But Allah gives power to His Messenger over whom He wills, and Allah has power over all things” (Q. 59:6).
I reacted by saying that this verse was revealed on the case of Muslims who engaged in war with infidels who were fighting them, and happened to launch sudden attack against the infidels who, out of fear, fled away leaving behind their wealth and valuable things. So whatever that the Muslims happen to lay their hand on, in such an expedition is lawful to them, as war booty. How could it be applied to a Muslim or non-Muslim who is not fighting the Muslims, like my case. I was abducted together with my car in my own house, without having engaged in any form of fight with the group. In fact, I have never done them anything wrong to my knowledge. He responded by saying that since you are loyal to the system and the government that we are fighting, you are equally not Muslim and you are our enemy. So the provision of this verse is applicable to your case as well.
Thirdly, I asked him about the fundamental issue that brought their movement to the limelight, Western Education which led to the coinage of the name “Boko Haram” for their identification. I said, to my understanding, knowledge is something neutral and all knowledge is from God. It is God that gives knowledge to whom He wills. Every knowledge can be either a pathway to the Paradise or a pathway to the Hell. A teacher, an engineer, a medical doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, whoever of the above can make good use of his knowledge to earn him the reward of Allah with the Paradise. And equally any one of them can badly use his knowledge to qualify him to enter the Hell.
Moreover, even the so called Western Education was originally the property of the Muslims during the era of their glary in history, when the Western world was living in darkness. It was later that the West borrowed these branches of knowledge from Muslims, developed it and became superior over the Muslims. I even mentioned the names of some prominent Muslim thinkers that contributed to knowledge like, Ibn Sina, al-Kindi, Ibn Rushd, Jabir B. Hayyan, al-Khawarizin, whose names are still mentioned in the modern sciences. So why is it haram if that is the case.
He responded that it is true that not all branches of knowledge are bad. We do accept the refined ones that are not against the teachings of Islam. We are rather against the sciences that contradict the teachings of Islam and are inherently teaching the idea of non-existence of God or negating the power and omnipotence of God, as we see in some sciences like Geography, Biology, Sociology, and other sciences. We do use the refined ones for our own development.
As for the names of the thinkers you mentioned, we do not believe that they were true Muslims, because they did more harm to Islam than good. After hearing this lengthy discussion, we arrived at the critical point of my relationship with them and my status after the abduction. He said: Now that you have heard our mission and belief system, you can simply know your position. It is left for you to either repent and promise that you will relinquish your job or remain with your job and lose your life in our hands. Definitely we are not going to spare you, so long as you decide to be loyal to the infidel government”. I was bitterly touched by this statement of his, so I asked “Is n’t there any option beside this?” “There is no any other option”. He replied. I then said “But Allah says in the Qur’an: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (Q. 2:256), how could I be compelled to accept such a position, while the Qur’an is categorically making this statement. He said: “No you complete the verse… where it says: “Truth stands out clear from error”.
But apparently the ending part of the verse is not negating the initial statement. It is rather reaffirming the provision of the initial statement. What is to be understood from his assertion is that since the guidance has become manifest the question of compulsion does not arise. One has to accept that truth by all cost.
Then I remained silent for while thinking about my situation, that of my family and perhaps the problems I may leave behind if I refuse to accept the option of leaving my job, and got killed eventually. I finally concluded that Allah is the best to be trusted for in everything and has the power to provide me with an alternative means of livelihood even if I lose the job. Since I am confronted with two evils, I opted for the lesser one among the two, and put my trust on Allah. I then said to him that I accepted the option of leaving my job, I promised to do all the formalities of resigning from my appointment, the moment I am set free. While on the other hand, I know fully in my heart that I was not making this promise out of conviction but only for the coercion and fear of losing my life.
When I made that promise he said: we are happy that you are making this promise. However, we will not set you free immediately; you will remain with us for some days before you go home. I remained with them for about 10 days thereafter.
During this period I lived with them day and night, eating together, praying together, sleeping together and chatting together. Only that I was kept in one place without moving to anywhere. When some of them realized that I am a bit learned in the field of Islamic knowledge, they decided to study some Islamic books with me, and even asked me to lead them in prayers.
For Abu Sa’ad, perhaps due to his engagements, he often comes to me and enquires about my welfare and asks me whether I need something. He sometime brought some books for me to engage myself in reading them. I remember the title of one of them is: al-‘Almaniyyah which is an Arabic book dealing with ‘Secularism’ and its evils on the Muslim world, written by one Saudi Scholar,the name of whom I can’t recall now. The Other books title is something like: Islam and the Muslim, Why the Conflicts, written by a Nigerian Scholar highlighting the paradox between the ideals of Islam and the living realities of the Muslims in the contemporary time.
I observed that, although he was trying to convince me further over the evils and dangers of Western Education to the Muslims, through the reading of the books, the two books do not condemn Western Education in its totality. Both of them rather highlighted some areas of Western Education that are detrimental to Islam and the Muslims. I had wanted him to come and discuss further on the contents of the books, but this could not be possible before my release, as he happed to be busy whenever I enquired of him.
In the early morning of Friday, 3rd May 2013, I was suddenly woke up by a glad tiding from one of the members who were always with me, saying “Muhammad! Congratulations you will go home today”. I quickly got up and said “what?”. He said: Abu Sa’ad said you should start getting ready to go home” “Alhamdu Lillah (thanks to God)” I said. Then few minutes later, Abu Sa’ad came and said to me: “Malam Muhammad, if you wish you can go home today, but it will be better if you could wait up til tomorrow; because we have sent for new clothes to be sawn and brought to you tomorrow. We would like you to go home with new clothes. I said instantly without hesitation: “No, I prefer to go home today even with my dirty clothes”. He then asked me to take my breakfast and join an Indian man, who was an Engineer to MTN, and was abducted together with his car and driver, but eventually released.
We drove out of the camp sometime after 7.00am and the road led us out to Kawuri village. It was there that I realized that I was kept for all those days in Sambisa forest. I was dropped at Konduga village, because the Indian man happened to be suspicious and scared of me, despite the fact that I told him that I was a University lecturer kidnapped by the boys like him.
I took a taxi cab from Konduga to Maiduguri and reached home around 11.00am. My family members, neighbours, relatives, friends and well wishers trooped into my house to rejoice with me. My family was overwhelmed by happiness over my arrival, as if I was brought back to life again after my presumed death.
These are the most salient things that I recalled out of the happenings during my abduction by members of the BH group. It was really a terrible experience that will remain in my memory for a long time. For me, it was the most serious trauma and distress that I have ever found myself in, in my life.
I therefore thank my Creator, Sustainer, Protector, Lord, Allah (SWT) for His infinite mercy and protection that led me out of this distress.
I also wish to extend my endless gratitude and appreciation to members of my family, my friends, colleagues, well-wishers, Muslim and non-Muslim brothers and sisters who shared the sorrow and grief of my abduction with me, helped me with prayers, and assisted my family materially and morally. May Allah (SWT) reward all abundantly”.
This piece was sponsored by Brig. Gen. Abdulqadir Abubakar Gumi (Rtd), former Director Army Legal Services. He resides in Kaduna