From MURPHY GANAGANA, Jos
At age 13, Nyiri Choji is no stranger to cruel fate. Her parents died when she was an infant, and was raised by her uncle, Filibus Choji, at Rakung, a remote community in Gassa, Ropp district, Barkin-Ladi Local Government area of Plateau State. The serene setting at Rakung gave her hope of a peaceful life as she grew up, but distress set in sooner than she expected.
Daily, she walked with trepidation to the primary school on the outskirts of the community where she recently graduated, as bloody clashes between members of her predominantly farming community and Fulani herders turned her witness to violence, especially since 2015. But she had always pushed back thoughts of being a victim.
On Wednesday, November 1, Nyiri had a raw taste of hell. She had gone to a farm in company with six other members of her family to harvest maize, and left after some time, to ease herself at a nearby bush. Suddenly, she said three armed Fulani youths, two wielding rifles and the other, a long knife, emerged while she was defecating and her world crumbled.
“They accosted me and threatened to shoot if I raised the alarm. I was terrified and kept quiet. One of them who held a rifle gagged my mouth and they dragged me into a forest close to Sho community, where two Fulani elders came and met us shortly after we arrived. They discussed in their language, and took me further to another bush, not far from some of their huts, where they brought a bag of maize and asked me to manually extract the shell”, she recalled.
Humans for cows
When the men abducted her, she knew they were evil, but she didn’t know what she was in for. The reality dawned on her moments later when they dragged her into the forest; she thought she would die. She was scared stiff as she looked into their bloody eyes; eyes of the devil. After their discussion, the men who were now joined by two more elders of her father’s age bounded and gagged her; they tortured her with knives and punches as she was tied to a rock. They were out for revenge over two missing cows they suspected were stolen by members of her native Berom community
It was a dreadful revenge, which the teenage girl said was executed without mercy, and a promise to make another Berom native pay dearly for the alleged missing cows. “They beat me and tied me with some ropes to a rock; they asked me to produce the two missing cows, or another Berom native would be abducted, because each cow attracted a life. I told them I knew nothing about missing cows, and pleaded with them to release me. They mentioned names of about nine persons in my community including my father, and asked if I knew them; they said they were all targets and threatened to kill me after questioning me for a long time”.
Nyiri was left to be watched by two of her abductors after five others left the spot where she was being tortured. Moments later, her guards also left to pick something elsewhere. It was an opportunity she grabbed and miraculously cut the twine on her legs with a knife inadvertently dropped by one of her abductors, but she didn’t get far in her escape bid before she was recaptured.
She screamed in agony as she was savagely beaten, and was told she would be left to die slowly. “I started running but was accosted by three of them who brought me back and beat me severely; they hit my head on a rock and used the butt of their rifles to hit me on my chest. I vomited blood and bled, but was tied to the rock again. Two of them said I should be shot dead, but one of them disagreed”.
Perhaps by providence, the confusion, which set into the fold worked in her favour as she was miraculously set free from bondage. When others walked away from where she was tied, the man who opposed her being shot untied and asked her to run as fast as she could. It was a second opportunity that almost turned fatal.
“When he eventually untied me, and asked me to run, he further instructed me that if I am caught again, I should say I was the one that untied myself. As I ran, the two others spotted and came after me. When I saw them, I miraculously found a cave and ran inside. When they got to the spot, they couldn’t find me. But before my escape, they had taken my photograph with their mobile phones with the intention of sharing it among themselves to enable them recapture me if I escaped because I would expose what happened and their plans”.
In a dazed state, she scampered out of the pit of hell when her captors were no longer in sight, and as she ran, her biggest fear was not finding someone to offer her help. When she ran into the path of two men riding on a motorbike, Nyiri knew it was her only chance to be alive. She was lucky. One of the men was a mobile policeman, and the other, a member of her community. They rescued and took her home to the warm embrace of her distressed uncle and his wife, who wept as she narrated her horrific experience. But they were happy she got divine mercy.
Suspects walking free
As she recounted her ordeal, which lasted hours, Nyiri wondered how she survived. She believes she died but was jolted back to life by divine intervention. “I have witnessed violence, I have seen vicious attacks on my community by armed herdsmen; I remember an incident where four members of my community including a 60-year-old man, Luka Pam, were murdered in broad daylight on a farm, but I have not been so horror-struck”, she lamented.
More than one week after the incident, she says the nightmare is far from over. “I am the only person that has suffered this fate in my community, but I give glory to God for saving my life”. Nearby in Vom, two sisters, Racheal and Mary Bulus, were allegedly raped on March 25. Nyiri told Saturday Sun the suspects in that case are standing trial in a court.
But she is sad that those who abducted and tortured her seem to enjoy reprieve from the arms of the law after the incident was reported at the Barkin-Ladi divisional police headquarters.
Filibus choji, her 59-year-old uncle, and her stepmother, Na’omi, are apprehensive. Choji, a retired staff of the Plateau State Specialist Hospital fears for her life, since the perpetrators are in possession of her photographs with which she could be traced. He also feared the community might come under attack and therefore, urged the authorities to provide security.
Mathias Tyopev, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, ASP, and spokesman for the Plateau State Police Command, however, said Nyiri had not been presented to the police to make statement on the incident for continuation of investigation. He said rather than making a direct complaint, it was the military that handed over two suspects to the police over alleged indecent assault on a teenage girl.
“The military handed two suspects over to the police that there was an indecent assault. The parents have been prevailed upon to bring the girl to the police to make statement. Up till now (Monday), the girl has not shown up at the police station. If the suspects are to be charged to court, who are the nominal complainants?, he queried.
Lawyer steps in
But Solomon Dalyop, a legal practitioner and rights activist has taken up the fight for justice for Nyiri, whose ordeal he described as the height of wickedness. “I shall press for justice until it is seen to be done; it is unacceptable for some unconscionable persons to inflict such agony on an innocent girl”, he remarked.