‘They separated the aged from the rest of us, ordered us to take turns in paying homage to their leader inside an abandoned building. But whoever went in never came out. At a point one of the insurgents guarding us told us those inside were being slaughtered and asked us to flee. I was one of the few lucky ones.’
The massacre last Saturday of more than 70 farmers in Zabarmari community, in Jere Local Government Area of Borno State by Boko Haram terrorists has left the whole country in shock. The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar described it as one of the most gruesome murders carried out by Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria for such a large number of casualties while the the United Nations, in a statement by its Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon said the entire UN system was outraged by the killing. The manner of the killing was heinous, despicable. It was a tragedy members of the community wished it never came to pass and as they mourned the killing of their loved ones, some of them who escaped the killers’ knives and guns, though still traumatized, have recounted their harrowing experience. They relived the horror, the murderous countenance of the killers and their narrow escape.
Zabarmari is an agrarian community predominantly occupied by Hausa people who came from Zamfara, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi and Kano states to work in the community as hired labourers on the farms with very few Kanuris and other minority tribes.
This community which is less than 20km from Maiduguri, the state capital has a vast fertile land which guarantees dry season farming due to its proximity to Lake Chad Basin and other riverine areas. It has a population of over 10,000 inhabitants who are mostly farmers in rice, pepper, onion, okro and fishing.
The terrorists posed as labourers —Survivour
Recounting his narrow escape, a traumatised survivor, 24-year-old Abdul, said the murderers posed as labourers who had come to the rice fields in Koshobe, Borno state, to engage in seasonal work.
According to Abdul, who came with hundreds of others from Kebbi, a poor region 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) away; “For several days, the killers lived peacefully among us sharing our buildings and eating our food and pretending to be labourers who came for seasonal work. I ran errands for them, getting them food and washing their plates. Then, on Saturday afternoon, they took out their guns, rounded up the people like cattle and slaughtered about 60 workers one by one in front of an abandoned building. They separated the aged from the rest of us and ordered us to take turns in paying homage to their leader who was in the building. 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 those who went inside were being slaughtered and asked us to flee. I was one of the few lucky ones. As I fled, I witnessed the unbearable as the assailants then went on a killing spree, seizing workers on the rice fields, tying them up and slitting their throats. About 40 jihadists were involved in the massacre”.
They breached agreement not to attack our community —Resident
It appeared that the terrorists 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. According to Bello, “one of the survivours told me that the insurgents asked who among them came from Zabarmari and my brother immediately stepped forward and he was asked to enter the house where he was slaughtered. 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.” he narrated.
I escape by divine arrangement —Rice farmer
Mallam Aliyu Isa, a rice farmer in Zabarmari said he was lucky as he couldn’t go to his rice field in Koshobe on that bloody day due to illness. “I was supposed to be on the rice field on Saturday, but I woke up with severe pains, and had to go to the hospital where I tested positive to malaria. I am happy that I escaped the massacre, but I am also worried as to how I will go back to Koshobe and harvest my crops which I laboured for”, Isa lamented.
Chairman of Rice Farmers Association in Zabarmari, Mallam Hassam Maina in an interview described the incident as a “deadly blow” which will definitely affect their productivity and further worsen food security not only in Zabarmari community, but the entire north east sub region who rely on the community’s rice and other agricultural commodities. He called on the government and the security agencies to live up to their responsibility in protecting lives and property in the state.
43 corpses were found in the building and 33 have been found in the rice fields.
On Tuesday, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the massacre. Its leader, Shekarau said it was in retaliation for the death of one of its members who had been arrested by members of the community and was handed over to the authorities.
Governor Babagana Zulum while reacting to the massacre after the burial on Sunday said, “It is disheartening that more than 70 citizens were slaughtered while they were working in their farmlands. Our people are in very difficult situations, they are in two different extreme conditions. On one side they stay at home, they may be killed by hunger and starvation, on the other, they go out to their farmlands and risk getting killed by the insurgents. This is very sad.
“With what happened in Koshobe/Zabarmari community, I can admit that members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect are still existing strongly in many parts of our state especially in the Sambisa forest, river fringes of Koshobe and Lake Chad Basin posing threats to over six million people in the state. As you are aware that this administration has launched a security outfit called ‘Agro-Rangers’ which comprised of military, paramilitary and members of the Civilian Joint Task Force including Hunters/Vigilantes safeguard farmers, there is the need for collective responsibility especially from the the Federal Government and Governments of border countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroun Rebublic to team up and address the lingering Boko Haram crisis in the region. The governor later presented a six-point demands to the Federal Government on how to tackle the insurgency which included the employment of foreign mercenaries to assist in prosecuting the war against insecurity in the region.