Over a decade after, relics from the battlefields where Boko Haram fighters fired their first shots to mark the beginning of insurgency still linger. In this report, Daily Trust on Sunday spoke with residents of the late Muhammed Yusuf’s enclaves in Maiduguri, Damaturu, Kano and Bauchi, who recalled shocking encounters at the theatres.
Deafening sound of gunshots spitting pellets of death rattled the neighbourhood of the popular Red Bricks Quarters, located in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital. It was the day when Boko Haram’s first attack was launched in the state. They were said to have bombed the structure and killed some people, leaving several others injured. The attack, which lasted for hours, later escalated to the heart of the town, where the insurgents disguised in military uniforms, carried out selective killings of security operatives and burnt down the then police headquarters.
Residents of the area recalled that the following morning, injured victims and corpses, which littered the streets, were conveyed to the Sani Abacha Specialist Hospital, Damaturu.
Malam Lawan Zakari, who said they were in a football field when a loud sound rented the air 10 years ago, recalled, “We all stopped the game, pondering about the deafening sound when a twin blast occurred and we started running for safety. Unfortunately, one of the policemen who was about to join us paid the supreme price. He died inside the building.’’
Another resident of the area, Aminu Officer, said he was at the popular August 27 Stadium in Damaturu when they heard explosive sounds from the direction of Maiduguri road.
“I later saw a thick smoke going up. At that time, none of us had any experience of Boko Haram attack. So many of us were rushing there to see what happened. It is an experience I will never forget; I saw dead bodies that scared me till this time,’’ he said.
Muhammad Baka of Maisandari ward, a stone-throw from where the incident happened, said the sound of the explosion made people in the area very scared, being the first attack, and considering the kind of havoc the insurgents frequently wreaked in Maiduguri.
“Within few minutes, shootings began very close to our area. It was the first attack and one of the most deadly. I know of many people who died, some were civilians and some were security operatives,’’ he said.
At the popular Railway Quarters in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, residents recalled with bitterness, the events of Thursday, July 31, 2009. It was the day Muhammad Yusuf, the then leader of the Jama’atu Ahlussunnati Lidda’wati Wajjihad, called Boko Haram, was killed.
His death gave birth to what security experts have described as one of the most dreadful security and pathetic humanitarian crisis that has engulfed Nigeria.
Trouble had brewed between Muhammad Yusuf and his followers on one hand, and the state authorities and security agencies on the other, leading to tension and an uprising that tampered with the peace hitherto enjoyed in the ancient city of Maiduguri.
After a fierce gun duel on that fateful Thursday between the teeming followers of Muhammad Yusuf and troops who had gone to arrest him, he reportedly sustained some wounds on his arm and was said to have fled into hiding at a nearby house. He was arrested later and taken to 21 Armoured Brigade, Giwa Barracks.
Subsequently, troops handed him over to the police in Borno State, where he was allegedly killed. The Markaz, where Yusuf was arrested, was destroyed.
A recent visit to the Markaz, also called Muhammad Yusuf Mosque, situated at Railway Quarters in Maiduguri metropolis, showed that grasses have overgrown its rubbles. However, the community, which was deserted in the wake of the crisis, is fast coming back to live. It was observed that a huge number of people had returned home. However a substantial number of residents are still too scared to return, not necessarily for lack of adequate security, but to avoid ugly memories of the dastardly attack.
A resident of Bayan Quarters, Mallam Isah, 82, recalled that initially, they had no problem with members of the Boko Haram faithful.
“Although many of our neighbours, most of who are now late, foresaw that the growing activities of the Yusufiyya faithful were sliding into violent conflict and bloodshed, and therefore, relocated, I hesitated, even when the fight broke out between Boko Haram and the Operation Flush that Sunday night,” Isah recalled.
Describing Markaz as the first Boko Haram battlefield in the metropolis, Isah said it was not a good experience as many of his friends were killed.
Mallam Isah further recalled that during the four-day gun battle with troops of Operation Flush, who went to arrest Yusuf, many of his followers and residents of the surrounding wards were killed.
“In fact, wards like Galadima, Abaganaram, Bayan Quarter, Low-cost Housing Estate and Old Maiduguri were littered with human corpses as thousands, comprising security personnel and civilians, were killed.
“After the crisis was brought under control on Thursday, July 31, with the arrest of Muhammad Yusuf, I fled to Bulumkutu ward and lived there for 11 months. Then I came back to Bayan Quarters, but did not meet anyone, so I went back to Bulumkutu and stayed there until 2014.
“Since the emergence of the Civilian Joint Task Force who sanitised the Bayan Quarters and the nearby Abbaganaram ward, we have been living peacefully here,’’ Isah narrated.
Another resident of the area, Kaka Ibrahim, said: “I always hesitate recalling those times, not because I was too frightened, but because they were not fond memories to recall.
“Shortly before the conflict between Muhammad Yusuf and security agents, I had taken a second wife from Damaturu, so I can say that she arrived into a scary buildup in Maiduguri.
“Evidently too frightened by the tense atmosphere around Railway Quarters between Sunday and Thursday, July 27 and 31, 2009 when soldiers battled supporters of Muhammad Yusuf, my new wife persuaded me to relocate with my entire family to Pompomari.
“After initial hesitation, I eventually relocated to Pompomari with my family. Virtually all residents had fled to safer places in the metropolis; some even went out of town.
“When Yusufiyya followers were becoming too numerous, even after the death of Muhammad Yusuf, taking control of more places, such as Shehuri, Old Maiduguri, Abbaganaram, Umarari and Galadima, those of us at Pompomari felt threatened. However, Pompomari has remained secure to this day.
In Kano, the first attack by Boko Haram insurgents was said to have taken place in 2009 at Sabon-Gari Kudu Quarters in Wudil Local Government Area of the state.
Thousands of members of the Boko Haram group, led by Sheikh Salisu, popularly known as Al-Jasawi, had launched the attack on the Divisional Police Office (DPO) in Wudil.
Findings indicate that members of the dreaded group from Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina and Bauchi states converged on Wudil with the intention to wage war against the Federal Government.
Sheikh Al-Jasawi, the leader of the group in the area and national deputy to the late Yusuf in charge of Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states, was said to have coordinated the attack.
Al-Jasawi, who hailed from Bebeji Local Government Area of Kano but was born and brought up in Jos, Plateau State, relocated to Wudil from Kaduna State in 2001. Upon arrival, he was received at Sabon-Gari Kudu Quarters by two prominent elites of the area, Alhaji Idi Aujara and Alhaji Ibrahim Yusuf Lajawa.
He started Islamic preaching as purely a Sunni scholar and was widely accepted by both elites and the youth, largely because of his contributions in the area of Islamic propagation.
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that within few months, Al-Jasawi became popular in the community and was appointed the chief imam of the mosque, where he led other worshipers in daily prayers, while at the same time teaching youths and children in various fields of Islamic knowledge.
As part of his support to the scholar, one of the prominent elites that hosted Al-Jasawi, Alhaji Lajawa, who was the vice chairman of the local government, was said to have gotten him a government job and posted him to Sabon-Gari Primary School as a teacher.
Lajawa, it was gathered, also donated a car to the scholar and offered him a house close to the school. Residents of the area also placed Al-Jasawi on a monthly allowance, in appreciation of his contributions to the education of their children.
It was learnt that Alhaji Aujara, who became the chief host of the scholar, stood as a guardian (wali) to Al-Jasawi for the marriages of his four wives.
Alhaji Aujara told Daily Trust on Sunday that when Al-Jasawi came to the area, he was a very good man and had a very good human relation, and because of that, they appointed him as imam and opened a school for their children and appointed him their teacher.
“He used to go to neighbouring towns for the propagation of the religion. There was also a particular religious programme on radio, known as Andaza, in Jigawa State, which he used to be the presenter. All these activities earned him tremendous respect from the people as they gained a lot from him in terms of Islamic knowledge.
“Unfortunately, about a year to the escalation of Boko Haram activities, he met the Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri and became his follower. Subsequently, he became his national deputy in charge of Jigawa Kano and Katsina states
“In fact, I met Mohammed Yusuf one-on-one; Malam Salisu introduced me to him and we conversed. After joining the sect that year as Ramadan fast was about to commence, an association from Kantin-Kwari market in Kano sent N40, 000. They said he was assigned to go to Mubi in Adamawa State and spend the month of Ramadan, during which he would deliver Qur’an tafsir. I can recall that he came back on a Friday, but we didn’t know that they had already decided to revolt against the government that year, over religious activities, especially the commencement of the Ramadan fast.
“That Friday, after his normal weekly tafsir, he instructed his followers to wait for instruction from Maiduguri concerning the sighting of the moon. At that time I was having leg pain, so I was not attending prayers at the mosque as such. So I was not aware of that instruction. The following day, the moon was sighted in many places, including in the North and southern parts of the country. So we commenced the fast on Saturday. I had a young daughter who used to enter the house of Malam Salisu.
Aujara recalled that on that day, while they were fasting, his daughter, who went into Malam’s house, saw members of his family eating in the morning, so she was surprised; and when she returned home, she informed her mother about what she saw.
He added that when he heard about it, he called him and asked whether he was not aware that the moon was sighted the previous day. He said he was aware and even mentioned the places where the moon was sighted. Aujara asked why he and his followers were not fasting and he replied that they were not fasting but would abstain from eating.
“Obviously, I was surprised, but I didn’t say anything to him. Although I was suffering from leg pain when he travelled to Mubi for tafsir, Al-Jasawi did not care to call and ask how I was feeling. His younger brother used to visit me, and whenever he came I would ask about Malam, just to use that as evidence, and he would always reply that Malam was fine.
“Throughout that month he did not call me, up to the time he came back, two days to Sallah. Eid-el-fitr of that year was on Monday and we went for eid prayer. The following day, we saw a congregation – all his followers gathered, saying they wanted to perform the eid prayer. I was surprised when I heard that, so I asked for him. Before he came, I called all the men in the area to gather at my residence. He came out with his turban, ready to lead the eid prayer and he was told that I wanted to see him. So he met us and I told him that I was surprised.
“Does that mean you lied to me when you said you were abstaining from eating on that day? Does that mean you don’t fear Allah and you fear me; that’s why you lied to me? I told him that I heard he was about to perform eid. I said I could not prevent him from performing eid, but as soon as he returned from prayer he should pack all his belongings and leave this area so that he would not cause any problem for us. He was so shocked that he couldn’t lead that eid prayer. It was one of his deputies that led the prayer, and from then we parted ways with him.
“That was how they continued with their lectures here, saying they must overthrow this infidel government. When they held their meetings they never invited us because they knew we were not with them. From the time they had their meeting and came out with their ideology, I parted ways with him and we’ve never had anything good again,” Aujara said.
Aujara recalled that on one Sunday when they planned to strike by 3am, many of their followers from different states converged on Wudil and Al-Jasawi stationed them at different locations, including the police station they intended to attack.
“Many people moved their families from the area. I also moved my family to another location because we didn’t know what they were up to. The following day, our chairman, who accommodated Malam in his house, met me early in the morning, saying that since the parents of this man had put him under our care, we should inform them of what was happening before it got out of hand. So, on Monday he brought his car and three of us went to Bebeji, where we met his parents and told them what was going on and that they should come and take their son as we could no longer control him. We did not know that that early morning they had launched their attack already,’’ he recounted.
Another resident of the area, Muhammad Nura, told Daily Trust on Sunday that the scholar stayed briefly at Sabon-Gari Arewa in Wudil before he relocated to Sabon-Gari Kudu, where he spent eight years preaching and impacting knowledge on people, especially youths and children.
He said, “From my little understanding, Al-Jasawi wanted to become a leader. That was why he relocated to Sabon-Gari Kudu when he realised that he could not get what he wanted in Sabon-Gari Arewa. When he first arrived at Sabon-Gari Arewa, he tried to become the imam of one of the mosques in the area, but the people managing the mosque and some other worshippers resisted.
“After he spent sometime there without achieving his objectives, he relocated to Sabon-Gari Kudu, where he was appointed an imam of a community mosque. He was a nice and kind scholar. When it came to the issue of knowledge, Al-Jasawi was vast in almost all fields of Islamic jurisprudence; there is no doubt about this,” he said.
Another resident, Auwal Ibrahim Wudil, recounted his experience regarding the first attack by Boko Haram members in the area. He said it was a terrible experience that one would not wish to witness again. “When I first heard about an attack on the Divisional Police Office in wudil, I could not believe it because I never expected such thing to happen in this area,’’ he said.
Also recounting their ordeal, Alhaji Ibrahim Sanusi said that residents of the area were so terrified by the attack that it took them sometime to regain their senses. He recalled that many residents relocated their families, especially women and children, to other areas for a very long time before they brought them back to their respective homes after normalcy returned to the area.
Our correspondent, who visited the area, observed that all the houses that were demolished during the crisis have been reconstructed and occupied by their owners. Also, the Divisional Police Office that was attacked by the insurgents is currently wearing a new look following a total rehabilitation work by the state government.
However, the community mosque, where Al-Jasawi was leading other Muslim worshipers in prayer, and the house where he stayed, have not been re-constructed. While the land where the mosque was built is left open, the house was only fenced by the owner, Alhaji Lajawa.
While Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states are synonymous with the activities of Boko Haram, very few people are aware that the first place that witnessed violence in 2009 was Bauchi.
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the first place Boko Haram launched an attack on July 26, 2009 was at the Dutsen Tanshi police station, about 6am. The station was attacked twice.
Residents of the area said that on that day, after they came out from the mosque they saw a group of youths. One of the youths around the Dutsen Tanshi police station said they were out for a comprehensive jihad against the authorities and their collaborators, who connived to deliberately destroy Islamic values in the society by unconsciously turning Muslims to infidels.
He said the police and Army responded to the shootings and over 40 people were killed on that day. The station was destroyed while many residents left their houses for safety.
It was gathered that the Dutsen Tanshi episode alerted the police, along with the military to cordon all the suspected abodes of the carefully knit sect in Bauchi, which led to a shootout that left dozens dead, as well as many injured, including a soldier. A large number of them were also arrested. Some of the items brought along with the arrested persons included military uniforms, live ammunition, locally made explosives, daggers and other locally made weapons.
Another major attack was at the Federal Prison in Bauchi, where they freed all their members in detention. Apart from Bauchi city, Boko Haram attack was reported in Alkaleri, Azare, Ganjuwa, Darazo and other parts of the state.