It was a heart-rending session yesterday in Abuja. Many were in tears as victims of the Boko Haram sect relived how their loved ones were killed, leaving them with shattered lives. It was at an event where funds were raised to support survivors of the fundamentalists' bloodletting.
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In a shaky and emotional voice, Mrs Deborah Shettima from Borno State recounted how Boko Haram insurgents killed her husband in her presence, snatched away her two children and returned a few days later to kill her only surviving child. All she has left are photographs of her loved ones, which she displayed.
Pastor Serana Chinda of the All Saints Protestant Church, Hauran Wanki, Barracks in Kano spoke of how 17 members of his congregation were killed for refusing to divorce Jesus Christ.
Former Minister of Education Dr. Oby Ezekwesili and others wept as the victims told their chilling stories – at a joint news conference by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Christian Association of Nigeria-Americans (CANAN).
The President of CANAN, Dr. James Fadele, its Executive Director, Laolu Akande and CAN Secretary General Dr. Musa Asaki addressed the conference where N8million ($50,000) was donated to the relief fund set up by CAN for the victims of Boko Haram attacks.
Mrs. Shettima (45), who lost her husband and three children, narrated: "On April 25, 2012, after work, I went home and discovered that everywhere was quiet. I met my husband sitting on a table. He was preparing to preach to the children at a prayer meeting. He asked me to get him water to bathe. So, I went outside and saw a tricycle approaching with five persons inside it. Four of them came down and went into our house. I started running but one of them blocked me while another said they should allow me in and asked me to lie down.
"When I got in, my husband was praying and I heard him say, 'Lord, today I'm going to visit you. I ask you to please receive my spirit.' One of them said, 'Have you finished praying and you think your prayer is going to save you?' And after that, I heard four shots of gun. I said, 'I will be the next target' and started praying, Lord, they are finished with my husband, here I am, receive my spirit, but they opened the door. When my two daughters, nine and seven years old, heard me, they started crying, saying 'They have killed our father, they will soon kill our mother,' and as they were crying, they reached out to them and took them away. Up till now, I have not seen them. They have not been declared dead or been seen. One of assailants hit my eye with the gun. I cannot see with the eye.
"After three months, while marking the death of Yusuf Mohammed, their leader, they returned to my house and killed my last son. Someone came and told me to leave the house."
A young man held his own photograph, taken when Boko Haram assailants attempted to cut his throats. There is a gory gashes on his neck. He survived miraculously.
Mrs. Ezekwesili, in tears, said Nigeria does not place value on human lives.
She said: "Whatever happens to one of us, happens to every one of us. So, if we have become a nation that does not put value to human lives, then we really are in a bad place. Listening to these women particularly and seeing what these women have to carry alone, you almost feel a sense of abandonment for them.
"We must get ourselves back to a drawing table and figure what we really are; what are we and what we have become as a people and as a nation. Is it right that a mother would watch her husband killed and her two children taken away and does not know where they are up till now and nobody is concerned about it? Three months after, they came and killed her son. I know a nation where this thing happened before. It's called Rwanda and it didn't end well."
Akande urged President Goodluck Jonathan to become aggressive in fighting the Boko Haram sect.
He said: "I think government itself has expressed hopelessness, including President Jonathan who has said on several occasions that this problem is big. We believe that Nigerian government cannot handle this problem anymore. There are instances of lack of political will on the part of the Federal Government. The cases of some supporters of Boko Haram like those senators who have been accused should be pursued.
"Government can become more aggressive in going after members of Boko Haram and those supporting this sect. Government is not proactive. It must seek support from other countries, like the United States, to deal with Boko Haram. This is an international problem. I wish government could do more in protecting the lives of Nigerians. Some of the cases are not even reported. How can somebody be going to another person’s house to kill. If government cannot provide law and order it then becomes worrisome."
Fadele urged Nigerians and people of goodwill to "rise up and come to the financial and material aid of the victims of Boko Haram attacks in northern Nigeria".
According to him, Nigerian Christians in America have taken notice of the impact of the actions of Boko Haram. "We are concerned about the widows and are touched by the plight of the orphans. We reckon that many of these individuals are left without a source of livelihood."
He said: "We have heard that CAN is setting up a Relief Fund where Nigerians can donate money and relief materials to support the victims. For instance, victims' children can benefit from scholarships taken out from such a fund. Towards such fund, CANAN is making an initial widow’s mite contribution of $50,000.
"If backers of terrorists are raising the money to perpetrate acts of terror, supporters of and advocates for peace can no longer look the other way. We want to join with CAN today to call on Nigerian philanthropists, businesses, and captains of industry, well-to-do individuals and all people of goodwill to consider the financial plight of Boko Haram victims and lend a helping hand.
"CANAN does not conceive itself as a political group. We are an advocate for innocent and helpless people being slaughtered in their places of worship. Christians are being killed, churches are being attacked and destroyed, health workers and doctors are being assassinated, markets are being ravaged, police precincts are being vanquished, and neighbourhoods are being tormented. This wickedness must stop. We commend the bold leadership of CAN for speaking up in a categorical, courageous and consistent manner on the Boko Haram issue."