Saturday 20 January 2018

'I was stabbed in the head and left for dead' - Man (31) kidnapped by Boko Haram on miracle escape

'Jonah', a young man in his village Kaleri in the Mafa local Government area, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria who escaped abduction from Boko Haram and suffered partial paralysis after being attacked. Pic Steve Humphreys
'Jonah', a young man in his village Kaleri in the Mafa local Government area, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria who escaped abduction from Boko Haram and suffered partial paralysis after being attacked. Pic Steve Humphreys
Cathal McMahon

Cathal McMahon

A young man who was kidnapped, stabbed and left for dead has told how he has lost control over part of his body after the horror ordeal.

Student Jonah* (31) was travelling on a bus in North Eastern Nigeria with a group of friends on February 16, 2016 when Boko Haram insurgents pulled over the vehicle and demanded that everyone step off.

"We were travelling from Maiduguri to Biu when they ambushed us. They were in jeeps and the came with guns and knives. We didn't have any option."

Unlike many of the other young men from this area of north east Nigeria Jonah is a Christian rather than Muslim. Boko Haram fighters are attempting to introduce a strict form of Sharia law to the region that has been ravaged by fighting for seven years now.

Shortly after he was captured Jonah was forced into a makeshift camp and repeatedly beaten.

He was then given an offer.

"They told me that if I join them then I can have money and a wife."

In Nigeria, where men are expected to have a significant dowry before marrying, the opportunity of a wife for a young man cannot be underestimated.

However, Jonah knew that the woman he would be given would be another captive and he was not willing to renounce his religion. So he refused.

"Every morning they would bring me to pray, they said 'you must not be Christian any more, you must be Muslim'.

"I told them: 'I will not follow you'."

Eventually his captors grew tired of Jonah's refusals and they decided to kill him.

He estimates that this was approximately four weeks after he was first captured.

"They brought me out to the forest and they took out a large sword. They then hit me over the head with it."

A young girl in her village Kaleri in the Mafa local Government area, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria.
Pic Steve Humphreys
24th May 2017
A young girl in her village Kaleri in the Mafa local Government area, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
A delegation from Plan International Ireland and Irish Independent reporter Cathal McMahon meet with Village Chief Wakil Abdulrahman in Bulunkutu Village, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
Local children in Kaleri in the Mafa local Government area, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 23rd May 2017
Two young boys in Kaleri in the Mafa local Government area, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
Local women and young girls surrounded by children making hats (which normally take 1 month to make) then to be sold as part of the PLAN Livelyhoods Project in Kaleri, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 23rd May 2017
Young girls in their village Kaleri in the Mafa local Government area, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
Local children in Kaleri, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 23rd May 2017
Village Chief Wakil Abdulrahman in Bulunkutu Village, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
Local women and young girls surrounded by children making hats (which normally take 1 month to make) then to be sold as part of the PLAN Livelyhoods Project in Kaleri, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 23rd May 2017
Young children in Bulunkutu Village, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
A young girl amongst local children in Bulunkutu Village, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
Vigilante 'Yunus' (Not Real Name) who is a member of the CJTF (Civilian Joint Task Force) in Maiduguri in Borno State in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 25th May 2017
Paul O'Brien, CEO of Plan International Ireland meeting local children in Kaleri Village in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
Nana, a young woman with her baby in Kaleri Village in the Mafa local Government area, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria who escaped abduction from Boko Haram. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
'Halima' (Not Real Name), a young woman in Kaleri Village in the Mafa local Government area, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria who escaped abduction from Boko Haram. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
Local children in Kaleri, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 23rd May 2017
Young children in Bulunkutu Village, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
Young children in Bulunkutu Village, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
Zainab Yakubu (40), a woman in Bulunkutu Village, a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria who has been internally displaced because of Boko Haram. Pic Steve Humphreys 24th May 2017
Maimuna who was an abducted by Boko Haram and held for 5 years is seen here with her son (4) in her village Kaleri in Mafa local Government , a district in Maiduguri in Nigeria. Pic Steve Humphreys 23rd May 2017

The  force of the blow meant that Jonah was knocked out instantly. His captors, assuming he was dead, left the scene to return to the camp.

"They thought I was dead so they left me there," he said.

But, incredibly, the victim awoke and managed to stumble to freedom. The attack left him with partial paralysis on his right side - an affliction he is still suffering with today - making his escape all the more difficult.

Boko Haram, who are aligned with Islamic State (ISIS), have kidnapped thousands of young men and women since they started their campaign of terror in 2009. The vast majority of these have been murdered or remain in captivity.

For this reason, Jonah's return to the village of Kaleri in the Mafa district was treated with a degree of skepticism by the government and military who feared that he had become a spy for the Islamists.

Luckily for the young man his parents did believe him and today he is back living in his home.

However, the physical and emotional scars of his ordeal are still visible. Jonah struggles to walk and talk and will now find it extremely difficult to support himself in one of the poorest regions in Nigeria. He says he is in urgent need of an operation but cannot afford the medical bills.

Aside from the physical scars he explains that he is still constantly looking over his shoulder.

"I am fearing them, every time I close my eyes to sleep I am seeing them coming."

Plan International Ireland is an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children's rights and equality for girls. Plan Ireland is responding to the crisis in Nigeria with child protection, livelihoods and education programmes. See Plan.ie

Boko Haram: A brief history

Who are they?

The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.

Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri (Borno’s capital) by Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf in 2002; its aim was to create an Islamic state under Sharia law.

When did the uprising start?

In 2009 Boko Haram carried out a spate of attacks on police stations and other government buildings in Maiduguri. The military hit back and hundreds of insurgents were killed while thousands of residents fled the city. The group’s headquarters was seized and Yusuf was killed. Security forces declared Boko Haram defeated.

What happened next?

Boko Haram regrouped under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau. In 2013, it was declared a terrorist organisation by the US after it emerged that it had developed links with other militant groups such as al-Qaeda.

In Borno state, the group used motorcycles to carry out attacks on police, politicians, Christians and even Muslim clerics who criticised them. Schools became a particular target. For a while the government took the decision to close all schools in Borno.

Why are they abducting young girls and boys?

Young men are coerced into joining the group with the promise of money, guns and “wives”. Young unmarried girls are abducted from their families and given to the fighters.

What about the fight back?

The military began to make advances and by 2016, many areas previously under the control of Boko Haram were seized by the army. In August 2016, the group apparently split and a number of those abducted started returning to their families. President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that Boko Haram “practically defeated”.

What is happening now?

Boko Haram has shown an ability to adapt and adopt new strategies in its jihad and it has recently turned to suicide bombers.

Its  preferred bombers are young girls. In many cases the bombs are poorly constructed and they kill only the carrier. But this may change.

Pictures by Steve Humphreys

* Jonah's name has been changed to protect his identity

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