Bala Benson Zachariah and Michael Arotiba play significant security roles in Gimbiya, a community under Chikun Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State, Northwest Nigeria, where over 50 residents were kidnapped.
When security lights are placed in strategic locations in the settlement, Arotiba is always the frontman. He ensures the lights are high up there on a concrete pole. He does this not only for his people but for his family’s safety; after all, his house faces a vast forest suspected to harbour an unknown number of terrorists that have kept their neighbours in Juji, Kakau Daji, Unguwar Ayaba, and several more villages awake at night.
Zachariah, on the other hand, is the chairman in charge of Gimbiya’s security. Born 1976, his stature may give the impression he has a military background. Interestingly, not everyone, not even his younger sister, Jamila, knows her brother’s important role in the community.
These were the two men terrorists targeted and shot dead in their homes. The operation, residents say, lasted up to two hours, just before midnight on Thursday, Dec. 2, to the early hours of the next day.
Abigael, Arotiba’s wife, remembers vividly the sounds from their neighbour’s house that night. “They first entered Pastor’s house, and we could hear them giving orders to the wife – bring your handsets, bring your jewellery and money,” she narrates. “And the wife kept saying she had no money. Then they fired their guns and spoke loudly in the Fulani language.”
Terrified, husband and wife froze when the night visitors banged on their door and called out that they knew the family could hear them.
“They threatened to kill us if they had to break in. That was when my husband decided to open our door.”
They did not keep their promise.
The moment Arotiba unlocked the door, the terrorists pulled him out. Standing right behind her husband, Abigael’s body began to shake uncontrollably, and she managed to push the door shut. She dashed to their bedroom just in time to watch her husband gunned down in a small ditch right there outside their window.
“He was shot in the chest twice, from two different guns. I wanted to scream, but my first son, only 16, clamped his hand over my mouth. ‘If you do, they will finish us off too,’ he told me.”
Unlike others, including her neighbours who were whisked away, Abigael and her five children were left alone and unhurt.
Some residents, such as Matthew (surname withheld), believe Arotiba was killed mainly for his role in securing the neighbourhood.
A stone’s throw away, Zachariah’s family friends and relatives converge in what was once his home. Like Arotiba, he too was shot dead, but in a more brutal fashion that insinuates seething anger on the part of the killers.
An aged resident who lives close to Zachariah’s home recalls how the night was filled with the movement of the terrorists. “They passed our house, and It was as if they could just reach out and pull our doors open and we were done for,” he says. “I’ve been kidnapped before along with a couple of other pastors in 2016. I spent 10 nights on the mountain. But it’s different now and much scarier like nothing we have ever experienced. Every gunshot shot up my blood pressure.” To make matters worse, he found it weird that all the dogs in Gimbiya were silent.
Meanwhile, Zachariah was killed in a back room in his home, his body riddled with bullets until it was unrecognisable.
“They came for his life,” his sister, Jamila, tells HumAngle as she points at where he was shot. The place had been washed but the smell clung to the air and blood still flowed and smeared corners of the room.
In Zachariah’s case, they took away his wife and children aged eight and four. As of Friday, Dec. 3, they had called and demanded for a ₦50 million ransom.
He had gone out to get some drugs from a medicine store because he was not feeling too well. Then he decided to enjoy a football match at a viewing centre. But Benjamin Yakubu, 32, returned home to the sound of gunshots that night.
“Someone told me that people were kidnapped on Gbagi Villa Road,” he narrates. “I came home and tried to open the gate, but it refused to budge.” That was when he noticed that the house’s burglar proof had been removed.
“I shone my torchlight and saw that our belongings were missing. They took ₦25,000 I’d hid under our mattress. It was given to me for a job.”
But that was not his source of worry. Yakubu’s wife and three children were gone too.
Barely scraping a living, Yakubu’s job is to take care of the uncompleted flat for the owner before construction is complete. “I have called the owner and informed him,” he tells HumAngle, his shoulders slumped.
Like Zachariah’s relatives, he too had been contacted by the kidnappers on Friday. They had informed him that his family was with them and that they (the abductors) would call again.
So far, several residents have noticed the visits paid by the police and military to the Gimbiya community. “Police are aware,” Yakubu says. “They came, took photographs and the names of my family members.”
Yakubu is not the only husband and father pining away. Linus’s voice shakes as he talks about coming to an empty home after the news that armed men had captured his wife and four children. He had been out of town and was still in shock. Sympathisers pour in and out of his house and he sits there, nodding and mumbling in response.
Like other houses, with high fences and gates, Ben’s (surname withheld) brother’s house shows forced entry. Bullet holes in the gate smashed room windows and a shattered car windscreen. Ben’s brother, his three children, the oldest aged only eight, were also kidnapped. Only the wife and mother were left behind.
“They called on Friday and asked for a hundred million. We’re expecting their call,” Ben says, his expression sober as he cleans bits of glasses off the family’s car.
Residents say there is already a movement of people out of Gimbiya, which is near Sabon Tasha, a suburb within Kaduna city.
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