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Families of kidnapped UNIMAID staff gripped by fear of the unknown
From TIMOTHY OLANREWAJU, Maiduguri
An atmosphere of loss has continued to hang over the small bungalow at the far edge of a dusty street around Polo Area, Maiduguri, Borno State capital, since the day news got to the occupants of the house that their breadwinner had been kidnapped by Boko Haram.
Staffers of the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), along with some oil workers, were abducted by Boko Haram during an oil prospecting trip to the Lake Chad area of the state three months ago. On this particular day as Sunday Sun approached the bungalow, some women and relations of the families were seated in a parlour. The place appeared dark though it had whitewashed wall and bright-coloured curtain. A loud silence pervaded the room.
“I am dying,” an elderly woman seated on a sofa at the corner of the room broke the silence. “I have not been myself since my son was kidnapped,” 62 years old Saratu Ibrahim, mother of Yusuf Ibrahim, one of the abductees said in tears.
The trio of Ibrahim, Dr Solomon Yusuf, lecturers at the Department of Geology and Haruna Dashe, a driver in the department were kidnapped by the Khalifa Albarnawi faction of the Boko Haram on 25 July at Mongumeri, northern Borno while returning from a geological survey for oil prospecting with some staff of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Five other UNIMAD staff, including Dr Joseph Millitus, Dr Manaja Uba and Idris Njodi, were killed in the attack.
Saratu, Yusuf’s mother said she has been depressed by the abduction of her son, the last born in the family. “Life has lost all its beauty and meaning to me since the incident occurred. Yusuf is my hope,” she said sobbing intermittently.
Boko Haram, a killjoy
For Yusuf’s mother, Boko Haram was a killjoy. She has toiled to see her children through tertiary education with her meager income from a tailoring business after her husband’s death some years ago. Yusuf could not secure a job after his graduation until about three years ago when UNIMAID offered him a position as a Graduate Assistant in the Geology Department. “He is my joy. He provides for my needs regularly and he wouldn’t want me to suffer but Boko Haram has killed my joy. I am troubled and have heavy heart,” she said. She said she often cries each time the issue of her son is discussed. “I am always crying,” she said, the tears flowing again.
Fear of unknown
The absence of one of the abductees, Dr Solomon Yusuf, at home is already creating a big vacuum. “It has been a void since he was kidnapped and only his return can heal the wound and fill the void,” said Hannatuu, his wife.
A mother of three (the oldest child is just eight years), Hannatu said she’s been carrying the responsibilities of a father and mother, all together for three months now. Worse, the children keep asking about their father and regrettably she has no right answer to offer the inquisitive kids. “Silence is usually my response and they ask again and again.” More disturbing to her is the fear of the unknown. “You don’t know what is coming. We wake up every morning hoping any news about my husband may come. We fear any negative news and so the day is always long and very lonely.”
As she was speaking, the eldest child, eight-year-old Suzy came in, stared at her mum. Mother and daughter gazed at each other for few seconds in silence and in tears, mother cuddled the baby on her lap – Mercy, now three months old. She was born eight days after her father, Dr. Solomon, was kidnapped. It was an emotional scene as others could not hold back tears.
Appeal to authority
About 100 days have passed since Yusuf Ibrahim, Dr Solomon Yusuf and Haruna Dashe were abducted by Boko Haram. Their families have appealed to the authorities to intervene and secure the release of their breadwinners from the insurgents’ bondage. “We earnestly appeal to the Federal Government and other relevant authorities not to allow their (the varsity staffers) answer to national assignment be in vain,” the families said in a statement jointly signed by Saratu Ibrahim, Yusuf’s mother and Hannatu Yusuf, Dr Solomon’s wife. They commended the university authority, Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) and NNPC for their quest in seeking the release of the abducted persons.
In a video believed to have been released by Boko Haram on July 28, three days after the incident, the three abductees pleaded to the government to commence their release. Dr Solomon, the man in the middle in the short video who spoke in Hausa and English warned against the use of force to release them. “We were caught while in the line of service to the country. I want to advise that the use of excessive force is not the solution and will not be the solution,” he stated.
UNIMAID authority said the incident would not force it to abandon research efforts on oil prospecting in the Lake Chad. “We will not be deterred by the sad development. We will continue all our collaboration with the government and relevant agencies not only in oil prospecting but other development areas of human endeavour,” UNIMAID Vice Chancellor, Prof Ibrahim Njodi said. He when his counterpart and Vice Chancellor of Intertnational University of Africa, Pro Kamar Obed, made during the visit of the Vice chancellor of International University of Africa.