We met Joshua Umaru, a farmer and member of the local vigilante unit in the hillside community an hour and a half hike up from Bazza, Adamawa State. He tells us about life in his community before the insurgency, shares his and his community’s experience of fleeing Boko Haram, and the impact of the Boko Haram attack on the hillside communities. He also talks about government’s lack of support for communities in the hillside and discusses their needs.
This interview is part of a partnership with Oxfam International’s Nigeria office and Guardian Newspaper. If you are interested in supporting local organizations that work with hillside communities like these and others, do get in touch with us at email@example.com
“My name is Joshua Nuhu Umaru. I am 50 years old, I live in Koma one of the communities on the hills (near Bazza, Adamawa State).
I am a farmer. When I was born my parents didn’t send me to school, but we were living here in the hills so I learned everything about farming. That’s what I am. When we started having the issues of Boko Haram, we were picked one by one amongst the community and became part of the Vigilante group to provide security support for our area, so that is another job that I do now.
The way we were before compared to now, there is a stark difference. While we were on our own living peacefully. We were enjoying, we had our food, we had our homes, we had our beds, everything. Right now everything has been destroyed, so cannot even compare it to living like before. Everything of ours has been destroyed, and do not even have the funds to replace those things.
On the day Boko Haram came, we were in church. I have 8 children, first of all, and while we were in church we heard gun shots, and the gun shots were coming from Michika town. We heard the gun shots and we were wondering what was happening but we knew that there was problem because we knew about Boko Haram. Soon, the people from Bazza started running up to us.
When they came up to us and we realized that there were a lot of people. How can we accommodate them with the little that we have ? Well, we just opened up and welcomed them. Whatever we had, we gave them to eat. It now turned out that all the food we had finished, but we thank God we had guava trees, it was from the guava that we were eating and the little water we had from the little diggings here and there that we gave them.
Some days later, we heard that Boko Haram came and wanted to get in and being part of the vigilante we came to the tip of the hill to look for ourselves and see are they truly coming? When we got there, we now realized that yes they were at the mouth of the hill side. We ran back to our community people to inform them truly they are advancing. When we told them, everybody gathered their family and they started running. We ran helter-skelter, some were falling into holes, we were trying to look for different caves and holes to you know cover ourselves, some in the process got wounded, some were able to hide. For three days some of us were in the hole with our children and members of our family.
We ran into the forest on the other side. While running, we had to do with whatever we could get. On the other side of the mountain, we waited for few days until everything had quietened down and these people were no longer around our area. We went back to see for ourselves if truly they were still there or not. To our surprise, we saw all our barns, all our yields that were remaining inside the barns were burnt down. Also our homes were burnt, our livestock were stolen, everything gone. We didn’t have anything. And it was rainy season so you could imagine how the place was, the only place we had were beneath a stone, so we could find big rocks on the hill and lay down there.
It was very difficult to return to normal life. Our children fell ill, got malaria and you know we do not have hospitals, we do not have access to good water. That was how some of us lost our children in the process and you can imagine we got no help from nobody. It was later while we went to areas like the other communities down here we met the soldiers and we realized that at least peace was coming. Oxfam now came, and they were the only people who came and found us and gave us something. If we wanted to go to the market we would have to go behind the hills. I thank God it was during the rainy season so most of us could still farm.
For us ever since the situation happened after the crisis nobody, the government has never come. We have never seen the government. We do not have schools, we do not have hospitals, we do not have the basic amenities that a community deserves. The only thing we know is that other communities further down there get some help. You can imagine when anybody is ill or somebody wants to give birth we have to form a sort of a stretcher out of wood, carry the person down, if you are lucky you can make it to the hospital, they’lll be able to take you. Sometimes when we are coming down the person dies. We take them back, you can imagine. If not for the help of Oxfam I tell you there is no hope, nobody has ever climbed up to even come and see us.
My cry out to government today is let them at least come and see us. See where we live, see what we have, be of help to us at least provide the basic amenities like schools, hospitals, at least something that we will have and be recognized by them, even if we can get fertilizer that will be enough for us and that will help us with our produce.
We are leaving in fear. I am afraid that Boko Haram is going to come back. We have already sensitized our women, let us be mindful of where we go, how we go, because we do not know whether they have planted bombs or if something can just erupt. We are being careful because we do not know. We are hoping for the best.”