Though still in shock, late Fatima Babagana’s mother, Hajiya Hafsah Babagana, bottled up her emotions to speak to Daily Trust Saturday over the phone. She described her late daughter as being different in character from the rest of her children. “She hardly gets angry and would never join issues with somebody. She just was different.”
“According to their driver’s account, my daughter was chatting on her phone and all of a sudden, they heard some rumbles and insurgents coming towards them. As soon as she sighted them, she uttered ‘Innalillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un’, and upon hearing her say that, they shot her on the head.
“The driver said as soon as she was shot, he alighted from the vehicle and ran. He didn’t return to the scene until the next morning, where he found her remains severely burnt.”
On the news making the rounds that she was about to get married, Hajiya Hafsah said, “She had hinted me that a suitor would call me and he did, asking for her hand in marriage. I told him that I would need to speak to her first and then get back to him. I called her to inform her that the man is seeking her hand in marriage and they are planning it for March. She said that I should hold on first. I asked her why and she said she had to sort out some things first.”
Her father, also as shocked as every other family member, Daily Trust Saturday learnt, is a soldier. “Yes, he’s a staff sergeant fighting in Maiduguri under Operation Lafiya Dole. But he was injured recently and had undergone surgery and is on six months leave. He left Kano for Maiduguri that fateful Monday morning after we got the news.”
Despite all that had happened, Hajiya Hafsah Babagana said, “We give praise to Allah. Being that every soul shall definitely taste death. So, we give our submission to Him.” But she left a word of advice for the government, “To be honest, we don’t have any working security at all. As soldiers, why would you barricade the road and prevent people from passing? Leaving them to their fate when the insurgents struck; no soldier came to their aid.
“There’s recklessness and carelessness on the part of the military. Since they knew that they were not going to pass the night there, they should have allowed them and this unfortunate incidence would have been averted. They blocked the road and vanished into thin air. If they had remained there to man the road; many lives would not have been lost. My daughter wouldn’t have died. Only three of them survived the attack. As far as I am concerned, though it’s predestined, there’s carelessness on the part of the soldiers.”
She appealed to the government to do everything possible to improve the security situation in the country. “I am pained by the state they left my daughter’s remains. It wasn’t enough that they shot her dead, they went ahead and burnt her beyond recognition. They should’ve left her body for us to see and give her a befitting burial.”
At this point, she broke down in tears and couldn’t continue with the interview.
Muhammad T. Shehu while describing his late cousin said, “She was friendly, honest; you can’t see her doing something bad. She was a straight forward person.”
Just like every family member and friend, Muhammad said he was still in shock. “When we got the news of her death, it was like a dream as we couldn’t believe that she was really gone and in such a horrific way. It hurts.”
Commenting on what her views were regarding the insurgency in Borno State, Muhammad said he recalled how her mum always tried to tell her to reduce the number of times she travelled on that route, but Fatima, whose passion was to become a journalist, always said; “Mum, nothing will happen, just keep praying for me.”
The gruesome and unprecedented Boko Haram attack at Auno, about 20 kilometres to Maiduguri along the Damaturu-Maiduguri highway last Sunday, which claimed over 30 lives of stranded passengers, including a number of students of the University of Maiduguri, has inflicted deep emotional wounds on parents, relations, lecturers, and course mates of the affected students as well as the entire university community.
Over the last ten years, Boko Haram insurgency has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the Northeast, but last Sunday’s attack stands out as truly devastating, not just because, according to residents, it is unprecedented in the history of the community but also because it involves a number of students who had their lives and future suddenly cut short and in a gruesome way.
As at the time of filing this report, the university management had not released the exact number of students lost in the attack, in which over 20 passengers of the over 20 burnt vehicles were reportedly abducted by the terrorists, apart from the over 30 reportedly killed.
Although the university would not mention the number of students lost, the death of Fatima Babagana, a Diploma student of the Mass Communication Department, who has just gained admission into the Department of Political Science, stands out as the most mourned as her picture went viral hours after the incident.
Her lecturers and course mates, saddened by her sudden demise while speaking to Daily Trust Saturday, could not hide their pain.
Dr. Sharafa Dauda, who was coordinating the late student’s programme, described Fatima, 20, as an understanding person, saying, “She was always committed to her academic activities.”
Another lecturer, Halima Hassan Ashemi, who played the role of a mentor to the deceased, described her as a smart thinking girl, saying the late Fatima would frequently travel to Kano State, see her family members, and return to school.
“I was not happy that Fatima was regularly on this road. There was a time I wanted to ask Fatima to give me her mother’s phone number so as to talk to her about her daughter’s frequent journeys to Kano,” Mrs. Ashemi said.
Fatima’s course mates in the Mass Communication Department were deeply shocked and grieved by her death.
“It is not nice hearing that you have lost someone in such circumstances. In our department, anything that touches one touches all; so losing Fatima has touched all of us,” Musa Luka Musa said.
Musa underscored the need for students in conflict-ridden terrains to be highly security conscious, observing that “You have to use your sense of reasoning while traversing the environment; you must mind the way you interact with people, where you go and how you go there; be curious about who is around you, mind who is behind you, who is by your left, who is by your right and who is in front of you not just when you are traveling out of Maiduguri but even when you are going from campus to Post Office or Customs (two prominent locations in Maiduguri metropolis).
“We students should restrict our movements these days in Borno,” Musa, who has just graduated, but is scared of traveling out of Maiduguri until he receives his NYSC posting, advised.
“It is not easy to lose a course mate. Fatima’s death has touched so many people, especially students. It is pathetic,” Simon Andrew Malgwi said.
Extolling Fatima’s virtues, he said “She was kind and gentle. It would take time for us to recover from the shock and grief of losing a personality like this.”
For Simon, “based on the reports that 30 were killed in the Auno attack, the death rate in the current terror upsurge is too high, and youths are the ones felled most.”
He advised: “The current state of the Damaturu-Maiduguri road necessitates the need for the government to urgently increase the number of security personnel on patrol there before the population of youths is further depleted.
“May God Almighty comfort Fatima’s family over the death of their daughter,” he concluded in a rather emotive tone.
The family of the late Fatima was both aggrieved by her loss and angry with the security agencies.
They (three members of the family, including Fatima) left Maiduguri for Damaturu by 3:30pm on that Sunday,” Babagana Bashir, Fatima’s elder brother, recalled. “When they got to Benisheik, the military had locked the gate, so they could not proceed; the vehicle they boarded therefore made a U-turn for Maiduguri; but on getting to Auno, they met the gate locked; so they called to notify us that they were at Auno.
“That was the last I heard from her. I understand that two of them slept on the road while Fatima remained in the vehicle. When they heard gunshots, she tried to hurry out of the car, but they shot her at close range.
“On Monday, around 6:30am, I received a call from a friend that Auno was attacked the previous night (Sunday night) and that, unfortunately, Fatima was killed; we have accepted her death as predestined by Allah,” he said.
“It was, indeed, a tragedy,” another member of the family, Mohammed Bashir, said, maintaining, however, “I believe her death could have been averted with adequate security.
“The way the military personnel are managing passengers and motorists on this road is not the best because there should have been a security strategy to safeguard the lives of passengers stranded on this road,” Bashir observed.
He queried: “How could you allow people to sleep in the bush without any effort to protect them? Honestly, it does not make sense; we still believe that the killings could have been averted through adequate security considering the economic importance of the road.
“Drastic measures should be taken to stop the killing of innocent people on this road.”
Daily Trust Saturday findings show that in 2020 alone, 46 persons including five policemen were killed on January 6, three civilians were killed on January 10, eight soldiers were killed on January 21 and on February 9, about 30 persons were burnt to death by Boko Haram insurgents along the Maiduguri Damaturu Highway, with Auno village having been attacked three times. On January 6, reports had it that many were killed, but no figure was announced.
However, commercial motorists, who still ply this route (Damaturu-Maiduguri), told Daily Trust Saturday that they still do because that is their only chance and option of earning a living.
“We ply this road because, until the current upsurge of Boko Haram attacks, it used to be the safest route to Maiduguri from most parts of the country,” Ibrahim Idris, a commercial driver, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues at Kano Garage in Maiduguri, said.
“We are in the most pathetic situation; we have been complaining about inadequate security on this road since Boko Haram attacks returned; the military has only been promising that the road will be made safe, but the more they promise, the worse the situation gets.
“You can observe that the number of commercial vehicles on this road has reduced drastically; but there is nothing we can do about that; we all look up to the government and the military for salvation,” he said.
The management of the University of Maiduguri, however, confirmed in a statement issued by Professor Danjuma Gambo, the University’s Director Radio and Public Relations, that it lost a number of students in the incident. Noting that many lives and property were destroyed in the Auno incident, the university stated with deep grief: “Unfortunately, a number of students of the university were lost in it.”
The statement continued: “This devastating attack is a sad reminder of our recent colossal losses to the unfolding insurgency, despite ongoing efforts to restore peace and stability in Borno State and the entire North-East sub region.”
The university management recalled that it had issued a travel advisory to all staff and students to restrict their movement and exercise vigilance while conducting their legitimate businesses, “owing to the observed escalating threats to lives and property in recent times.”
The management, according to the statement, has since the Auno incident, been receiving messages of sympathy and solidarity from concerned individuals and organisations.
It underscored its resolve to continue doing everything possible to ensure the safety and security of all staff and students on campus.
Head of Department (HoD) Mass Communication, University of Maiduguri (UniMaid), Dr. Nasir Abba-Aji, while expressing grief over the death of Miss Fatima, cautioned students embarking on journeys to and from Maiduguri metropolis, to avoid passing through dangerous areas any time from late afternoon.
He said late-coming travelers should break their journeys, make a stopover in bigger towns, pass nights in a relatively peaceful atmosphere and continue with their journey the following morning.
“They should be mindful of when they depart and when they arrive. I’m sure if you have an idea of where you are going to, you should have an idea of the distance; and you should have an idea of time you would spend along the way.
“Most of us believe that there are periods that are safer than other periods – though whatever happens is within the fall of destiny and no one would change that – but at least to forestall such occurrences,” he said.
He also noted that the 133-kilometer Maiduguri-Damaturu highway is the only road linking Borno State with other parts of the country, urging students plying the road to play safe and heed the advice of security operatives on when and how to travel along the road.
Dr. Abba-Aji, while condoling with Fatima’s parents and other families of victims of the Auno attack, he said the late Fatima Babagana would be missed.