A train attack victim has told THE PUNCH why she declined to marry a terrorist commander.
Lois Azurfa, a 21-year-old undergraduate, was among the 65 passengers in the Abuja-Kaduna train kidnapped by terrorists on March 28, 2022. She shares her 191-day traumatic experience with FRIDAY OLOKOR and why she refused to marry the terrorist commander while in captivity
We understand that you were one of the victims of the Abuja-Kaduna train, who were picked by the Boko Haram terrorists. How did it happen?
We boarded 6pm train, so we were on transit and at about 7:59pm at exactly Rigena, there was a loud sound that rocked the train like an explosion, which made the train to derail and the train stopped.
So we were being asked to lie down flat in the train and it wasn’t long we started hearing gunshots. Then, next thing, the gunmen just entered the train and started shooting sporadically. So if you’re not even careful, you can be hit by random shots and become victim of stray bullets. Some people were killed and some got injured because they were being shot. They asked us to go out, so we left the train and then we were asked to climb a hill, which we did.
They collected all our belongings like our phones, our bags and money, everything we had on us they collected it. The men amongst us, their hands were tied up, and they asked us to start trekking, start walking, so we walked for about approximately six hours that night until we got to a place where we saw motorcycles which conveyed us, carried us to another location that night.
We used the whole night, journeying till we got to a place where we were asked to lie down and then it wasn’t long, then it was time for their morning Muslim prayers. So after the prayers, they took us to a rocky area where we stayed there and they gave us Garri and groundnut to eat. So throughout that day, we didn’t do anything but were just seated there.
How many were you?
We were 65 in number. They were always taking us from one place to the other at night; so that’s how we journeyed throughout that night too and it took us like four days before we got to the permanent camp, they kept us.
How was the issue of ransom settled?
Actually I don’t know, but at a point it was sometimes in July, that was when the issue of ransom came in and then families started securing the release of their members from the camp. So for the first set that left, they were like seven in number, including the Pakistani among us. So then subsequently, people kept paying for their families to leave the camp.
There were reports that one of the Boko Haram members; their commander said he was going to marry you. Can you shed light on what really happened?
He approached me, that he is one of of their superiors, their commander, so he approached me because I was the youngest there and then I’m actually a Christian. He approached me and he said he liked me and wanted to marry me and keep me in the camp. I told him I could not because I’m still young and then I could not just take that decision because I barely knew them and for the fact that they were my abductors. And then why would you just offer to marry me and then I would still accept? So at that point I actually rejected but then they subsequently kept coming with threats.
When you were there, did the experience of Leah Sharibu come into your mind?
Yes it did, because I felt like maybe I could end up being like Leah Sharibu, so I wasn’t. I didn’t even know because they were people that you could not really joke with because they are hardened. At that point, I just kept praying because that was the only thing that could get me out of there. So my faith was just in God and the thought of Leah Sharibu kept coming and any time I actually thought of Leah Sharibu I got traumatized because I felt I would be the next Leah. But at that point, I didn’t just want to believe that, so I kept my faith high, that was it.
When you were in camp there, were there people that escaped and were there people that died?
No, no one died, but someone escaped, that was the first time when we were still journeying before we got to the camp. That was when he managed to escape.
How many days did you spend there in Boko Haram camp?
I spent 191 days in (Boko Haram) captivity, that’s six months, three weeks.
With your experience and trauma, do you feel secured now anywhere you are?
No, I don’t feel secured because it’s something that can really happen anywhere. If a whole train can be attacked, then I feel we shouldn’t be too sure to be safe in this country because for me I even feel unsafe, not even in my own country. So I don’t actually feel secured. Even going out, I’m always scared.
When you came back, how did your parents receive it, the day you were released?
Everyone was overwhelmed with joy because at some point my family gave up, they didn’t know I was going to come out alive. So, it came as a shock to them that I’m actually out. So they were so happy to receive me and to have me back.
There are many others that were kidnapped and didn’t come back alive and some were not even released, they were being forced to stay back. But in my own case, I would say it was a miracle. So coming back, everyone, especially my family was really happy to have me back.
When you said that there were some people that were still being held, is it that there were people that are still held back in ‘your set’ or almost everybody has been released?
No, in our own case everyone was released. There was nobody that was being kept back. Yes, we were all released, we were 65 in number that got kidnapped, one escaped and the rest got released.
Describe the camp. Were there houses there?
We were outside, yes, sitting under trees and it was more like an island because we were surrounded by water. There was none except the hut that they built for us to always run to for shelter once it’s raining.
We understand that sometimes they used to sleep with, you are lucky that they didn’t touch you. Now we were told that sometimes that they used to rape some women where they cases like that?
There was never a case like that in our own captivity. There was never a case like that. There was no any sort of sexual molestation there.
Why do you think so?
I can’t really say, but in our own case, I think the impression they give us was that they are not those kinds of people. They said they don’t rape and they don’t do such.
So in our own case, I can’t really say if it was actually true, they did that because of their own personal reasons, so I don’t know why they spared us. They even try to protect us the ladies there.
Do you intend to continue schooling in this country or travel out if the opportunity beckons from United States, United Kingdom and Canada?
If I really have opportunity to travel out, I think it will be better for me because staying in this country, I feel I’m not still safe for the fact they (Boko Haram) had indicated interest to marry me. At some point, I was actually thinking they never wanted to get me released. I feel that staying back in this country, Nigeria, they can come back for me if they still want me.. So, I don’t really feel safe, that’s one reason why I don’t really go out.
So I feel like it can still happen again, so I don’t really feel safe. I feel if there is any way for me, if there is a way for me to leave this country, it would be better for me.
What is your appeal to the international community?
My appeal is that the international community should come to our aid, especially those of us that were kidnapped because till today some people are not over the experience and trauma. We had children amongst us too that were kidnapped and then coming back I feel like their education too should be something that should be sponsored. I also feel most people lost their jobs during the attack and then some still finding it hard to survive. I feel the international community should reach out to us and then know where and how they can help in education or any other basic needs.
Are your captors on uniform or mufti?
No, they are on mufti.
Do they have any medical personnel among them in case of any emergency?
They were always bringing medications and among the captives, we had doctors and nurses. So they were always bringing medications and they will hand it over to either the doctor or the nurse. So they are always giving us treatment when it arises.
In terms of treatments, did they treat you people equally?
Yes, at some point, there was cold treatment. Yes, we were being treated fine. The Muslims abductors always praying like they pray five times a day, so once it’s time for prayers. The Boko Haram members also pray, so once it is time for prayers, they pray. There are Muslims too amongst the captives; yes they allow us to practice our religion, so they pray too likewise the Christians.