Survivors of Borno massacre recount tales of horror
…as FG delivers relief materials to families of slain farmers
For several days, the killers lived peaceably among their future victims, sharing their dormitories and eating their food.
Then, on Saturday afternoon, they took out their guns, rounded up the people like cattle and slaughtered them one by one.
This was the nightmare recounted by survivors of a massacre that unfolded in the rice fields of northeastern Nigeria on Saturday.
The bloodbath set a new standard of brutality in Boko Haram’s 11-year-old jihadist insurgency.
Seventy-six people died, according to the authorities. Many were impoverished farm workers who were tied up before their throats were slit.
A traumatised survivor aged 24, who can be called Abdul, said the murderers posed as labourers who had come to the fields in Koshobe, Borno state, to do seasonal work.
“I ran errands for them, getting them food and washing their plates,” said Abdul, who came with hundreds of others from Kebbi, a poor region 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) away.
Around 40 jihadists were involved in the massacre, according to survivors.
In the early afternoon of Saturday, they took out their guns and herded about 60 workers in front of an abandoned building, said Abdul.
“They separated the aged (from) the rest of us and said we should take turns to pay homage to their leader who was in the house,” he said.
“But it was only a ploy because whoever went in never came out.”
“At a point one of the insurgents guarding us told us that we were being slaughtered and asked us to flee,” he said. “I was one of the few lucky ones.”
As he fled, he witnessed the unbearable: “The assailants then went on a killing spree, seizing workers on rice fields, tying them up and slitting their throats.”
It appears that the jihadists also targeted workers who were from the nearby village of Zabarmari, even though the village had a protection deal with Boko Haram.
Bello Muhammad’s younger brother Ali, aged 20, was among those killed.
“They asked who among them was from Zabarmari and my brother immediately stepped forward and was asked to enter the house where he was slaughtered,” he said, recounting what was said to him by a witness.
“There was an agreement that the jihadists would never attack Zabarmari residents, which was why Ali was quick to step forward, thinking he would be spared.”
Forty-three corpses were found in the building, and 33 have been found in the rice fields. More, it is feared, have yet to be discovered.
Teams continued the search for bodies on Tuesday, plodding through the expansive marshland on foot, trudging behind tractors.
“It is a tiring job because regular vehicles can’t move in the difficult terrain because they will definitely get stuck,” said Abdullahi Umar, a member of the search team.
He described the search as “dangerous” because Boko Haram operates in the area, which has footpaths that link to its haven in the Sambisa forest.
At least 36,000 people have been killed and two million displaced since the jihadists launched their bloody campaign in northeast Nigeria in 2009.
The UN, in an early account of the latest massacre, said that the assailants arrived by motorbike, and gave a preliminary death toll, since retracted of 110.
It has not been ruled out that several groups may have taken part.
On Tuesday, Boko Haram said it was “responsible for what happened around Maiduguri in recent days… especially in Zabarmari.”
The killing, it said, was in retaliation for the death of one of its members who had been arrested by villagers and handed over to the authorities.
Meanwhile, the federal government has delivered food relief to the bereaved families of over 43 farmers massacred in Zabarmari, Jere Local Government Area of Borno State as well as the community.
The relief was delivered yesterday by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq Umar, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Umar, who led a seven-man delegation to deliver the palliatives, expressed sadness over the incident.
In her remarks, Umar described the killing as gruesome and unacceptable to any religion.
“Your Excellency, I am here to convey the sympathy of the federal government to the government and people of Borno State over the sad incident, which occurred on Saturday 28th November 2020 in Zabarmari community in Jere Local Government Area of the state where innocent citizens were gruesomely murdered by Boko Haram insurgents.
“It is shocking to imagine this act of gruesome murder by the insurgents. This cannot be justified under any guise. We are all aware that our religion is against what has happened to the innocent and hardworking farmers that were not only working to feed themselves but contributing to the food security of the nation.
“His Excellency, the President and Commander-in-Chief, Muhammadu Buhari, is saddened by the attack and has directed me to come here to deliver relief support from the federal government to families of the victims and other affected persons,” she added.
Responding, the state Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, thanked Buhari for the gesture and appealed to him to implement the recommendations made by the state to stamp out insurgency in the North-east.
“I also appeal to the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs to develop a roadmap to help tackle the menace of insurgency in the country.
“We don’t have good roads networks and this has impeded the state’s efforts in fighting the insurgents, so we appeal to you assist the North-east by developing a roadmap that will see to the end of these senseless killings,” he stated.
The minister visited the Zambarmari community mosque to sympathise with the community leaders and later handed over 13,000 bags of 12.5kg rice, 13,000 bags of 12.5kg maize, 13,000 bags of 25kg beans, 1,300 kegs of vegetable oil, 2,116 cartons of seasoning, 1,083 cartons of tin tomato and 650 bags of salt to the state government for onward distribution to the families of affected persons and people of Zabarmari community.