My mind was wandering, thinking back on the people I’d met and interviewed earlier in the day. I didn’t notice the roadblock until we were nearly on top of it. Only hours before we had visited the community of Tafwa Balewa in Bauchi state. I met and talked with many people who described the attacks on their community in the aftermath of the presidential election of 2011.
After showing me the wounds on her leg, wrist, shoulder and head, one woman described how she had been attacked. “Early in the morning I awoke from sounds of gunfire. As I went to the window I saw armed men shooting at our houses. Suddenly I felt a pain in my leg. Looking down I saw that I had been shot. I dragged myself back to my bedroom hoping to hide from the attackers. They entered my house and followed the blood trail I left. Finding me in the bedroom they decided that they could save bullets by using there machetes instead to finish me off. I raised my hand to fend off the attack so the first blow struck me here on the wrist. As I began to fall they struck again on my head and shoulder. They then left me for dead.”
As we neared the roadblock my thoughts ran further back to my preparation for this trip. I’d read many reports and articles about the violent terrorist group, Boko Haram. The name means “Western education forbidden.” Anything associated with the corrupt West is considered to be Haram or forbidden. Everything that is perceived to be associated with the West should be destroyed. That means that churches and Christian leaders(Christianity is considered to be a Western religion), mosques or Muslim leaders that don’t openly espouse Boko Haram’s narrow ideology, schools, police stations and other symbols of the state are all legitimate targets. To hinder Boko Haram from easily transporting men and supplies the government set up permanent road blocks along main thoroughfares. Unfortunately, Boko Haram adapted. They were able to map out where the road blocks were and then easily bypass them using side roads near the roadblocks. In order to combat this, the authorities began setting up sporadic temporary road blocks. A handful of armed men from the police or military would stand in the middle of the road and stop traffic. This seemed to be an effective tool until Boko Haram again adapted. Just a few weeks before I arrived there were reports that Boko Haram had begun posing as police or the military stopping traffic in a number of places. They would then systematically pull people who fit their profile of the enemy from their cars. Then they would execute them!
That was what I was thinking about as we neared the temporary road block. I remember suddenly feeling wide awake and ready for fight or flight. Adrenaline pumped through my body and I felt fear and apprehension. I was fully prepared to quickly run into the bush on the side of the road if it became necessary.
After we safely passed the roadblock it struck me that I would be going home in a few days where a roadblock consisted of and unarmed man or woman with a stop sign asking me to stop for a few minutes until the road was clear. I would leave this fear and terror, but the people I had become acquainted with would still be here living with Boko Haram after I left.
Life is not at all fair.