In April, two women set out from their homes to deliver a ransom and secure the release of their spouses, kidnapped by Boko Haram.
The mission was risky, so risky the men in the community had hesitated to undertake it.
The women stepped up.
Earlier that week, five men from the Muna IDP camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, northeast Nigeria had gone into the bush to gather some wood.
When they did not return, their families became concerned.
The next day, Sani Bulakunku, the driver of the vehicle the men used, returned to the camp with another man in the back of his vehicle. He was seriously injured.
They had been ambushed, Bulakunku said. Boko Haram had shot Haman Gamargu while he was trying to escape the abduction.
The terrorists had captured them all. They allowed Bulakunku and Gamargu to leave the next day, Bulakunku explained. He was allowed to leave so he could take Gamargu to a hospital in Maiduguri and deliver the ransom demand: N1.5 million for the release of the remaining three hostages.
Until the kidnapping of five people working for an aid agency in April, the frequency of high-profile kidnappings had reduced in Borno state. The abduction of the FHI360 team in Ngala is the first such kidnapping in almost a year.
But kidnapping for ransom did not go away entirely in that period.
It is the poorest people who bear the most risk, they are the ones who go out into areas that are not protected to do things like collect firewood. But their abductions rarely make the headlines.
This group of men were doing dangerous work because their families are living below the poverty line. The men felt they had little choice.
Gamargu died shortly after arriving at the hospital due to the significant blood loss he suffered.
The family and other relatives in the camp had to pool resources to meet the ransom demand.
In addition, Bulakunku was instructed to send N10,000 worth of call credit upon arriving in Maiduguri, or one of the three hostages would be killed.
“This is not an uncommon practice among the poor IDPs in Muna camp,” Abba Modu, a member of the local security outfit, Civilian-JTF, explained.
“The terrorists usually warn them not to report kidnap cases to the police or military, lest they risk deadly consequences. Many abducted farmers and woodcutters have been killed for either reporting to the security operatives or not paying the ransom demanded.”
Between Tuesday April 18, and Thursday April 20, the IDP community managed to raise some funds, but it fell short of the ransom demanded by the terrorists.
According to a source, “the driver who was supposed to deliver the ransom suddenly got cold feet. He was scared after seeing the terrorists shoot one of the woodcutters, and they warned him not to return without the full amount.”
The community was gripped by fear and uncertainty as they searched for a way to secure the men’s release.
Eventually, the IDPs decided that two of the abductees’ wives would deliver the raised money, around N500,000, to the terrorists. They hoped that, as women, they might not harm them.
Yafati and Hajjagana found themselves torn between fear for their lives and love for their husbands as they clutched the small ransom bag.
Accompanied by a group of men, they were driven to a certain point before being left to continue the rest of the journey on foot.
“The men had earlier contacted the terrorists and received a geolocation of where the ransom should be taken,” explained Modu.
However, everyone in the camp was concerned about the safety of the women and the abductees because the ransom money was incomplete. It might not be enough.
“They demanded N1,500,000 for the release of the three men – N500,000 for each man. The driver was only asked to send N10,000 worth of call recharge cards to them,” revealed Abubakar Lawan, a CJTF operative in Muna Camp.
Despite days of struggle, they could only raise about half of the demanded amount.
“That was one of the reasons some of the male relatives developed cold feet about going to deliver the ransom,” he said.
According to the CJTF operative, it is customary for every member of the Muna camp, who are from the same ancestral community, to crowdfund the ransom for the release of any IDP.
“Crowdfunding is the only option for survival here, and people are willing to part with their scarce and meager earnings because they know that no one is exempt from being a victim of such calamity,” explained Abubakar Lawan, who went on to reveal that sometimes even displaced relatives in faraway Lagos contribute to the fund through Point of Sale (POS) agents to help raise the ransom.
Abubakar Lawan and Modu both confirmed that it is considered a taboo to report cases of abduction for ransom by Boko Haram. “The Boko Haram terrorists usually threaten the relatives of their abductees, warning that they will kill them if they find out that the police or military have been involved. They have carried out such threats in the past,” explained Lawan.
“Even the IDPs or relatives of the abductees will fight you if you suggest involving the security operatives,” added Modu.
It took two days for the women, who had gone to deliver the ransom, to return home with their husbands, sources said.
Community members discourage any attempts to get them to share their experiences, and getting anyone in the community to talk was not easy.
“This is not the first time that Boko Haram has abducted our people, and it certainly won’t be the last. Please don’t put us in danger by asking them to speak to you,” cautioned a middle-aged woodcarver who wished to remain anonymous.
When asked why the women and their husbands would not talk about their experience, Modu explained. “Boko Haram uses fear and intimidation tactics to keep their victims silent, even after they have been released. The women and their husbands are likely afraid of potential repercussions and may believe that speaking out could put themselves and their loved ones in danger.”
Despite three lives being saved, there was no excitement around the camp, highlighting the grim reality that kidnapping for ransom has become a way of life in this fragile community.
In the distance, the engine of a pickup truck sputtered to life as three teenagers hopped aboard to join two adults seated up front. They were heading to the bush to collect firewood, as they had likely done countless times before, despite the looming danger. The scene was a stark reminder of the harsh reality that the people of this community face daily.
Support Our Journalism
There are millions of ordinary people affected by conflict in Africa whose stories are missing in the mainstream media. HumAngle is determined to tell those challenging and under-reported stories, hoping that the people impacted by these conflicts will find the safety and security they deserve.
To ensure that we continue to provide public service coverage, we have a small favour to ask you. We want you to be part of our journalistic endeavour by contributing a token to us.
Your donation will further promote a robust, free, and independent media.Donate Here