Her narration was as spell binding as it was gruesome. Mrs. Deborah Shettima, 48, and mother of six, who in a day lost nearly all she had laboured for in life in an attack by Boko Haram insurgents on her household, recounted yesterday in Abuja, the blackest day of her life.
She watched in horror as the Islamic fundamentalists first shot and killed her husband; a cleaner who was preparing to go and minister in a church when the death angels came calling. Though her life was spared, she lost an eye.
Before a gathering that included some select journalists and dignitaries, Shettima, at a press conference organised by the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told her story. The event was organised to bring succour to victims of Boko Haram.
Her story: “On April 25, 2012, I returned from the clinic where I was working as a cleaner. Under the tree where children usually play in front of our house was deserted and this aroused my curiosity. I immediately rushed inside the house, where I met my husband, who was preparing for the evening service.
“My husband asked that I should give him water to bathe before going to minister in the church. On my way to fetch the water at the backyard, suddenly, I saw five men in a tricycle riding towards our house. I stopped to see who was inside the Keke. Four out of the five occupants came down and ordered me to lead them inside the house. On getting to the sitting room, we met my husband praying. He was ordered to stop and all of us in the house, which included me, my husband, and my two daughters were all ordered to lie down.
“They told my husband that they were in our house to do God’s work. I started begging them because once they say they want to do God’s work, it means they want to kill. They turned their gun from facing my husband and pointed it at me and they threatened to kill me. I started pleading with them, but they won’t listen. In fact, one of them asked why were we not serving the Lord in Muslim way?
“At this time, my husband said I should not talk again and concentrate on praying. He turned to the wall and said ‘God, I know my time has come to meet with You, please accept my soul into your kingdom. Forgive me of all the sins I have committed and grant me the grace to meet with you.’ The killers shouted at him and roared that despite the gun pointed at my husband, he was still praying to God. Suddenly, they started raining bullets on my husband until they ensured that he was dead.
“I started shouting and crying aloud, not minding that I could get killed as well. They moved towards me and pointed their guns at me. One of them used the butt of his gun to hit my right eye, which has remained blind up till now. My two daughters, Bintu, 9, and Baby, 7, started shouting and pleading with the killers not to kill me since they had already killed their father. They retreated, but seized the two girls by their clothes and went away. Up till this day, I have not set my eyes on any of the girls, whether dead or alive.
“So, right under my very eyes, my husband was shot dead, my two daughters taken away, and three months later, my 17-year-old son was shot dead by the same people.”
Visibly shaken and confused, Mrs. Shettima said she ran to the church and reported the case to the soldiers on duty, who followed her back home and also searched everywhere, but they could not find neither the killers nor her daughters.
Her husband’s lifeless body was taken to the mortuary and later buried by the church.
Exactly three months later, the same set of people came calling and descended on her 17-year-old son, whom they met at home. They shot and killed him instantly as if to celebrate the third anniversary of the death of Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf.
“By this time, they did not even waste time. The only thing they said was that so we are still going to church? They killed King Solomon, my son who was consoling me over the death of my husband and the abduction of my two daughters and left me totally dejected”, Shettima said amidst sobs.
While she was still mourning her great losses, one day, some people came to her house and told her to pack her things and leave the neighbourhood as the Boko Haram members who killed her husband, son and abducted her two daughters were still trailing her household so as to kill others since they still go to church.
“We have been living in AYN, Bulukutu, Maiduguri all our lives but since it was obvious that my life and that of my remaining three children were in danger, we ran from our house, forcing us to now live like refugees in our land. My first born is currently serving as a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Owerri, Imo State. Another one will write JAMB this year, while the last one is still in secondary school. No one to assist me in taking care of the household since I have left my base where I was working as a cleaner. Please, I need the help of all Nigerians to assist me to find my two daughters and help take care of my family,” she cried.
As parts of the relief plans put in place for the victims, the President of CANAN, Dr. James Fadele, said his association had contributed $50,000 as initial relief fund for the people.
“If backers of terrorists are raising the money to perpetuate acts of terror, supporters of and advocates of peace can no longer look the other way. We want to join CAN today to call on Nigerian philanthropists, businesses, captains of industry, well-to-do individuals and all people of goodwill to consider the apparent financial plight of Boko Haram victims and lend a helping hand,” he said.