Feb 13, 2015 –Touching Story Of Adamawa University Christian Students President Who Escaped Boko Haram Attack
Adamawa varsity student spends days inside forest fleeing from insurgents, rescues helpless boy
A staccato of gunfire and bomb blasts woke the people of Mubi, Adamawa State, from their sleep on Wednesday, October 29, 2014. The security situation in the area, the second largest city in the state, took a turn for the worse when dreaded Boko Haram insurgents invaded the town with their armoury and unleashed mayhem on civilians. Anguished screams of fleeing residents, mostly women and children, echoed like the tormented voices of damned souls suffering in the grip of hell.
Amid the terror and confusion in the town, 27-year-old Cosmas Ugwu, a final year student of Economics at the Adamawa State University, Mubi, along with his course mates, were attending the 7.00am lecture by a visiting lecturer to their school, identified as Dr Emmanuel Ani. The lecturer was rounding off his course for the semester because the examination was scheduled to start in few days’ time.
As the smoke of gunfire thickened in Mubi town, many students and lecturers, ignorant of the situation in town, went about their business on the university campus. However, few others had got hint of the bloody attack and escaped quietly from the campus. Quite shocking was the fact that even the heavily armed security officers at the university and their armoured personnel carrier simply vanished, as insurgents advanced with inexorable force towards the university.
Ugwu told this reporter that he lost concentration during the lecture when he observed curiously that some of his course mates had quietly packed their books and sneaked out of the classroom. Instinctively, he quietly excused himself to find out what was amiss, only for his fears to be confirmed by the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the university, Dr Zira, who told him in clear terms to run for his dear life because the insurgents had taken over the town.
Ugwu confessed that his dilemma at that moment was indescribable. Aside the fact that he faced instant condemnation in the court of Boko Haram, a dreaded sect that sees western education as evil, he would be punished by death for being a leader of a Christian group, the National Federation of Catholic Students (NFCS) where he was popular as the President. So, with the speed of lightening, he dashed into the lecture hall and alerted other students and the lecturer that the terrorists had invaded the town and possibly infiltrated the university.
“The lecturer was confused and he didn’t know where to go. I pleaded with my friend to drive him to our HOD’s house. There was no lecturer in the area at that time. My friend drove the lecturer there. I escaped from the school and rushed to my room, which was quite close to the school. At that time, we were hearing gunshots everywhere, bomb-blasts at different sections. The noise of the bombardment and people fleeing for their lives created confusion everywhere”, he recalled.
Ugwu’s harrowing experience in the bush for four days, where he walked hundreds of miles on foot before he got to Yola, provided an insight to the unspoken agony suffered by other students and families in Mubi during the bloody attack.
“Whoever closes the school door opens the gates of prison,” says Victor Hugo. That was exactly what the Boko Haram sect did at Mubi. They opened the gates at Mubi Prisons and set the convicted inmates free before sacking the students of Adamawa State University.
The busy streets of Mubi became thick with the smell of death, as sounds of bomb explosions drew nearer. Amidst confusion and loud wailing by helpless women looking for their children and husbands, the terrorists surged like Hitler’s army. Schools and shops that had opened for business hurriedly closed, as people too numerous to count, poured out on the streets with their luggage like refugees. Among these helpless people were children, pregnant mothers, elderly men and students of Adamawa State University, who had only few days to commence their end of semester examination.
Ugwu was shocked beyond words when he ran to the school gate, only to discover that all the security officers had deserted their duty post. He recalled his disappointment.
“This is not a case of disarming the security,” he said. “The security men ran away before the insurgents even approached the school. We were not aware that there was no security at the gate again. It was later that they told us that those in military uniform were not federal troops but Boko Haram members in military camouflage. Only God’s intervention saved us from death. They would be shooting at different directions and we would be running for our lives. They would be pursuing us, shooting at the same time. Old men, women and little children were not spared. We were just running with the hope that wherever death came, we would die. It was the worst experience of my life.”
That the young man was on the wanted list of the terrorist became obvious as soon as he ran out of the school premises. Although he met a chaotic scene in the town, some hoodlums quickly identified him as an enemy and pursued him with cutlasses and other dangerous weapons. His attempt to pick up his credentials and laptop computer in his room nearly cost him his life.
“I saw smoke everywhere. I ran into my room and drew one iron rod I kept on the floor. I suspected that those following me heard the sound of the rod that scratched the floor. They thought I had a weapon in the house and they withdrew. Within that brief moment, I picked up my credentials, which I had earlier kept aside in a file, and my small laptop. I jumped through the window and in less than one minute after I had escaped to the street, the building exploded. I never knew that when I ran into the room, the terrorists planted a dynamite to blow up the building and kill me as well. But I was lucky because they had to allow it some minutes for them to escape before it was detonated. People thought that I had died in that explosion but I escaped unhurt,” he explained.
Earlier before the attack in his apartment, the insurgents had bombed his shop where he engaged in petty business on holidays. With only his credentials, laptop and a pair of shirt and trousers he wore to school, he dashed into the bush like a fugitive and wandered for four days, walking as far as the Cameroonian border.
Rescuing an 8-year-old missing boy
Although Ugwu was running for his life, he could not turn his eyes away from an eight-year-old boy, Thomas Danguari, who was abandoned by his parents.
Said he: “When the boy saw me, he was crying and wanted to embrace me. I asked him if he knew me but he said no. He spoke in Hausa, while I replied him in English. I couldn’t speak Hausa. When I spoke English to him, he replied me in Hausa. So I couldn’t abandon him there because the bullets flying everywhere could kill him. I carried him and started running. After carrying him for one day, I became so tired I could hardly move. Some of my friends we met in the bush helped me at some point. The boy said he is from Hong, a village close to Mubi.”
Dead bodies littered surrounding bushes
Ugwu’s ears were deafened by gunfire but the horror of the attack dawned on him much later. He said he was shocked beyond words when a pregnant mother, who had lost the strength to move further, was stabbed on the back by one of the dagger-wielding insurgents and was left to bleed to death on the street. Her distraught husband watched the episode with tears in his eyes, but was forced to abandon his dying wife for fear of being cut down by the terrorists. He had to console the grieving husband and dragged him along.
With constant air strikes, Ugwu said the fleeing civilians lost their lives in the crossfire. At that time, he said, it was not clear whether the air strikes were coming from the federal troops or the insurgents. But the real casualties were mostly civilians, elderly men, women and children. He told the reporter that countless corpses that littered the streets of Mubi paled in comparison with decomposing bodies deserted in the bush. For days, he and other survivors lived with the stench of gangrene and bodies shattered by bullets, as they walked through the snake-infested undergrowth. Bullets created deep wounds in surviving victims that never stopped bleeding, such that those that hung on the thin thread of life, groaned in excruciating pain where they had no access to medical care. According to him, it was a moment when the wounded envied the dead.
His words: “We spent four days in the bush before we found a place from where we took a tricycle to Yola. There was no sleep. We kept running in the bush even in the night. People were fleeing and you had to keep running to pass where there was much crowd. You had to keep running as far as you could to keep away from crowd. There was no arrangement for food or water but as God would have it, we didn’t even remember food or water during the period. The only thing we did was that when we entered people’s farmland where they planted groundnut and other crops, we harvested them and ate. When we saw a river, people would be bathing at one side while we would be drinking from the other side. We had no option. Now as I talk to you, I am sick. I am about going to the hospital because I have been diagnosed of an infection,” he said.
Running to the Cameroonian border
Ugwu and other surviving victims roamed the thick bushes, hiding behind rocks at the sound of approaching aircraft. Carrying the boy on his back and shoulder, as he navigated rough terrains in the bush and surrounding hills, became his heavy cross. His words: “We ran very close to Cameroon. Some people ran into Cameroonian territory and Cameroonian soldiers captured them. But I refused to run into Cameroon. There was no road at that point but we kept running in the bush. We were just moving east, but we didn’t go back because we might run into the hands of Boko Haram. It was a terrible experience. We were running without knowing exactly where we were going. I was even the one leading people in the bush. I became a commandant in the bush. Before they attacked us, I would ask people to take cover. Those who followed me came out successfully without going into Cameroon. When we came out of the bush, people were surprised that I survived. Some of them thought the insurgents captured me. There was no Nigerian security in sight during those four days that we were running in the bush. Majority of people that died were killed in the bush.”
Arriving Yola after four days in bush
He recalled how they eventually got to Yola. Hear him: “When we came to a place where we were able to get a tricycle to carry us to Yola, it was just a miracle. When we arrived there, the keke (tricycle) riders were waiting for people still in the bush. Lots of people were stranded. But one person approached me and asked me if I would pay N15,000 to carry us to Yola. I pleaded for N10,000 but he refused. Somebody intervened and he took N11,000 from me. I asked other people there, including students that knew me to join us in the tricycle. When I reached Yola and told my relatives that I was coming to Abuja with the boy that I rescued, they advised me not to take him out of the state because it could be termed child abduction or human trafficking.”
Rejection by the church
If the horror perpetrated by the terrorists would haunt Ugwu for years to come, the rejection he suffered at a Catholic church in Yola (the name of the church is withheld by us) brought him more sorrow than the enemy’s sword. He explained that he met helpless people in large numbers in the church, but their cries for help never attracted the expected sympathy. Having taken the little boy he rescued to the church, where over 2,300 displaced families took refuge, he had hoped to register him as a missing person at the Internally Displaced People’s centre (IDP) run by the church but he was disappointed by the cold treatment of the priests. He said he even had to angrily protest to the Bishop, but that changed nothing.
Help from the police
Ugwu said he was reluctant to take the boy to the police station because nobody could predict the next place the insurgents might attack. According to him, his desire was to ensure the safety of the boy and possibly hand him over to his parents before he travelled to Abuja. But since that was not possible, he had no option than to make a formal report at the police headquarters, Yola.
“The next day I took the boy to the police station. The police asked me to spend another two days in Yola for proper documentation of the boy. I left N10,000 with my friend, Stephen, in Yola so that he would be visiting the boy at the police headquarters, till his parents came. I got a phone call last week that the father of the boy came to the police headquarters because the boy was shown on the television as a missing person. The mother of the boy wanted to see me but because of my health condition, I was not able to go. I am happy that the boy has been reunited with his family.”
The reporter called Stephen who confirmed that the little boy had been handed over to his parents. However, his promise to send pictures of the handing over ceremony at the police headquarters, Yola, was not fulfilled as at the time of filing this report.
[Reported By Daily Sun]