A 22-year-old Boko Haram member, Mustapha Ajimi (not his real name), who was captured by the security personnel during a shootout recently in Borno State, yesterday revealed that beneath Boko Haram's so-called Jihad was nothing but a façade for crimes like robbery and wanton killings of innocent citizens to undermine the government of Nigeria.
The young man, who now walks on crutches after receiving a bullet injury during a recent attack in Damboa town of Borno State, said their leaders who coerced them to carry AK47 and other dangerous weapons to kill innocent citizens had never for once preached Islam to them.
"Any time we were running out of food supply in the bush, our leaders would assemble us and declare that we would be embarking on a mission for God and Islam," he said. Then we would be handed AK47 rifles and RPGs to go and kill in targeted villages and towns," he said. "'Each time they declared an attack, I felt sick and terrified; so were most of my younger colleagues, but we dared not resist our leaders; they are deadly; our punishment for betrayal is to be slaughtered like animals."
The acting commander of the 21 Armoured Brigade, under the 7 Division Maiduguri, Col. Ibrahim Yusuf, had obliged journalists' request to speak with the suspect who was willing to talk about his deadly group.
Sipping water from a bottle served him by the soldiers at the Mai Malari Barracks, Maiduguri, the young man, an indigene of Borno State, who barely spoke good Hausa language, recalled how his brother, who had since been killed by soldiers in a shootout, conscripted him into the Boko Haram group about a year ago.
He begged that his face should not be shown in the media lest members of Boko Haram would go after his family members. His story: "I live in Maiduguri with my parents. I suspected that my brother had something to do with Boko Haram, and, one day, I stumbled upon a rifle (AK47) he hid somewhere in our house. And when I confronted him, he warned me that, as a very senior member of Boko Haram, he would take my life if anyone found out about the gun and that my life was, from then, on the line unless I joined him as Boko Haram and work for the cause of Allah.
"Out of fear for my life, I agreed. He took me to the bush camp in Sambisa and introduced me to other members who taught me how to assemble guns and how to shoot. From then, there was nothing we did except to attack villages, security formations, shoot or slaughter people and rob them of their cars, money and food."
According to him, they were different groups and formations across the country and, in his own group, they were up to 150 members who all carried different kinds of sophisticated lethal weapons, the least of which is AK47.
"All of us, about 150 of us, were armed," he said. "The younger members like us were only allowed to carry AK47, while those that were senior carried bigger rifles. We had a lot of arms and ammunition, but we do not know where they came from; it was our leaders who usually supplied us from time to time."
Mustpaha said he had never interfaced with the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau.
"I never knew Shekau in person; I never saw him before. We had a rumour that he was dead, and most of us became worried. But when we later heard his voice in the radio, our leaders said, 'You see, if Imam Shekau is dead, he wouldn't have spoken."
On why they recently turned their attacks on innocent students, villagers and travellers, the young man revealed that "our original target was security operatives and politicians. But since the formation of civilian JTF who now reveal our identities and even arrest us, we decided to kill anyone that is from Maiduguri, because we believe every person in Maiduguri and some other towns of Borno State are members of civilian JTF".
On the rumours that foreign rebels may have supported the group, the suspect revealed that "we have no members from Mali or Libya that I know in our group or any other group of the Boko Haram. But we do have members from Chad, Niger and Cameroon who actively participate in most of our attacks".
Mustapha explained to journalists that he was picked up by security operatives in a village near Damboa, after he was shot in the leg by soldiers during an attack they staged six days before Eid-el Kabir celebration.
"Our people usually pick us each time we got shot and sustained serious injury. However, on that day that I got shot in the leg, I lost a lot of blood. I became weak and unconscious. My colleagues who were trying to escape from the soldiers thought I was dead, so they dropped me somewhere in the bush and ran away. I regained consciousness hours later and began to crawl towards a small village. People there saw me and began running away because they saw me dressed in camouflage uniform like that of the military. But later they informed the police in Damoba who came and picked me up, and I told them that if they gave me water I would confess to them, because that was what I ever wanted to do."
He said the police later assisted him with water and later handed him over to the soldiers who gave him food and some carbonated drinks and treated his injury.
According to the suspect, trying to escape from the Boko Haram group or denounce their membership was an impossible act and even more dangerous venture: "Our leaders conduct head counts for us every other day; they make sure we are all intact and together. I once escaped to Lagos when my senior brother who brought me into the group was killed. But they trailed me to Lagos and arrested me and took me back to our camp here in Borno. Many others who escaped to other places were brought back and slaughtered. When they were about slaughtering me, I pleaded and swore never to run again, and luckily I was spared. And ever since I never attempted to run again. But every day was like hell to me; we all lived in total fear; and whenever we were forced to go and kill, we did so out of fear that we should not be killed or arrested by soldiers."
He said in the Boko Haram camp exists all kinds of professionals and experts in one field or another: "We have qualified doctors who are active members... they were not forced to be in the group; they are much older than us and they do all kinds of treatments including removing bullets from our body and fixing broken bones. We get our medical supplies from the raid of towns and by breaking into medical stores or pharmacy and even hospitals.
"We have mechanics, we have welders, we have carpenters, we have professional drivers, we have butchers, security experts, gun instructors and so on. We lack nothing to keep us moving in the camp. But there is no comfort. Sometimes when we moved away from our main camp, we starved; we got famished and thirsty for water; we drank from dirty pools; normally we didn't take bath for weeks. Some of us even got sick."
He further confessed that many of his colleagues in the bush wanted to escape but they were either threatened by their superiors or discouraged by the fact that they could be killed as well if they came into the open and the civilian JTF caught them. Mustapha said he wanted a new life if given a second chance: "I have never had the opportunity, but if government would pardon me and allow me to get education, I would want to be a soldier so that I can help to protect Nigeria and make it a better society. I love soldiering because, during our attacks, I saw their courage. We were attacking innocent people for no just cause, and we cared about nothing, but they (soldiers) always came before us to stop us and they were risking their lives in most cases."
He called on all other members of the group in the bush to denounce the group, even though he knows it would be a difficult task. "But I would not advise any young person to be deceived into joining the Boko Haram group, because I was there and I did not see any act of religion in there. We were just killing people, stealing and suffering in the bush."
The acting commander of the 21 Armoured Brigade, Maiduguri, said the army doesn't kill any person who comes out to surrender or declare peace. He urged the Boko Haram members in hiding to come out and have confidence in the government that had promised them amnesty and possible reintegration into the society.