Bullets Couldn’t Stop ‘Bamkinaan’ Making Her Appearance
On a sunny May 16, 35 year-old Eunice Simon made a fateful decision to trek out of her village to save her unborn baby. Faced with looming threats from radicalized terrorists who had slashed or shot 50 residents in a nearby village the previous night, Simon set out on a 15-mile walk to reach a safer area. She was 9 months pregnant.
Her husband, Simon Kwarkas had no car to drive her. Besides that, Simon was serving with the citizen guards of her village of “Jwak Mai Tumbi,” located 42 miles southeast of Jos, the capital of majority-Christian Plateau State, Nigeria.
Her determination to protect herself and her unborn child drove her to take this perilous path despite the imponderables of the situation. She had enlisted the help of a motorcyclist—the only available means of transportation at the time—to convey her four children ahead of her to a safer location. No motorcycle available for her: she would walk it.
Meanwhile, husband Simon stood among 30 civilian volunteer guards who had chosen to stay behind and defend the village. Across several communities facing threats of attacks, these volunteers, dubbed ‘vigilantes,’ and armed with homemade single-shot guns and hunting rifles, confront invading terrorists wielding assault rifles. Their action allows the elderly, women, and children to find refuge elsewhere.
For at least 8 years terrorist gangs speaking the language of the Fulani people had been raiding and burning villages in Plateau State in Nigeria’s Northcentral region. Until this year, bloody raids had wrought tragedy chiefly in other counties to the west but not in Mangu, where the Kwarkas couple managed a small plot farm. In 2023 the violent ethnic cleansing shifted to the south and east and into dozens of verdant farms in Mangu County.
As the traditional ruler of Mangu told Truth Nigeria reporter on July 27, the purpose of the raids is to “annihilate” the landowners, to seize the agricultural lands and occupy them with herds of cattle. The raiders don’t represent the larger Fulani tribe that counts as many as 10 million members in Nigeria alone; they are a militant faction driven either by Islamist fanaticism or material greed, depending on who you talk to, according to sources in Plateau’s rural communities.
Bullets Didn’t Stop Miracle Baby
On May 16, having walked just 1 mile from the village at 10 am local time, Ms. Simon found herself in the company of other fleeing residents, facing the harsh reality of the war she had feared and sought to escape.
“I was already tired and needed to stop and catch a breath, but suddenly we heard gunshots,” Simon told Truth Nigeria. “When I looked back, I saw more than 100 people running towards us,” Simon recalled. “They were like a flock of birds, all armed with big guns,” she said.
“Everyone else ran away, but I could not. I was already weak and exhausted. While struggling to go into hiding, I heard a familiar voice ordering me to stop. When I checked, it was a Fulani boy who had lived all his life close to our village. I heard a gunshot, and a bullet hit me in the chest. A second shot hit my leg, and I fell to the ground. At that point, I said a silent prayer: ‘God have mercy on my soul and take care of my children, because I was sure I was not going to make it,” she narrated.
For several minutes she bled helplessly on the ground, guarded by her would-be killer, who stood behind to ensure her death. But a team of vigilantes soon arrived forcing him to retreat.
“When he saw that I lifted my head, he came running, apparently to make sure I was dead. But when he saw vigilantes coming, he ran away,” she said, adding she started having labor pains while being conveyed to the hospital.
Simon experienced the miracle of giving birth to her baby just three hours later. During her treatment for bullet wounds at a small hospital in Mangu, the seat of Mangu county, she welcomed her baby whom she named “Bamkinaan,” meaning “God has helped me,” as a reminder of her survival from a fierce terror attack.
While Ms. Simon was in labor at the hospital on May 16, Truth Nigeria team arrived in her village, Jwak Mai Tumbi, at 12 noon local time. At 12:05 pm, while documenting the aftermath of the attack with photographs of the smoldering village, the team was confronted by a harrowing reality. Over 500 armed terrorists shouting “Allahu Akbar” launched an attack on the team, which was accompanied by 100 soldiers and policemen.
The TruthNigeria team took cover by lying flat and crawling on the ground, witnessing a fierce firefight between the terrorists and the troops. The battle lasted for several intense minutes until 12:45 pm when the terrorists reluctantly retreated to a valley located 1 mile northwest of the town. There, they were joined by reinforcements
arriving on motorcycles. During the engagement, two military vehicles were immobilized, and the troops had to flee on foot.
By the morning of May 17, more than 100 victims, including 10 residents of Jwak Mai Tumbi, were given a mass burial in various villages across the county. The devastating attack resulted in the complete destruction of the village, with an estimated 200 to 300 houses, including Ms. Simon’s house.
Facing Starvation in IDP Camps
Ms. Simon today, a nursing mother, faces an agonizing dilemma. She either remains in the confines of internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp, where starvation looms ominously, or risk returning to her ravaged home and farm, now under the control of the very terrorists who upended her life.
As of July 25th, more than 80,000 IDPs are trapped in makeshift camps and unable to return to their homes in the Mangu county due to ongoing threats by terrorists who killed over 350 residents on 16 May and the days after according to town leaders.
Maj Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, Chief of the Nigerian Army Staff, announced a special military operation on 22 July to combat the terrorists laying siege to more than 50 villages and towns. Gen. Lagbaja brought with him 300 infantry, according to Radio France International https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20230724-nigeria-s-army-reinforces-its-troops-to-try-to-stop-the-violence-in-plateau-state.
At a press conference and show of force in Mangun town, the general announced “Operation Hakorin Damisa.” Observers witnessed the arrival of dozens of gun trucks and armored vehicles. On the night of July 26 at a hub of villages five miles southwest of Mangun, the soldiers got a chance to show their skill during a fire fight that lasted for hours. The soldiers and the vigilantes defended villages from a force of terrorists estimated to be 1,000 according to D. Ali Daniel, the mayor of Mangun District. “On July 26 Mangun was full of war,” the mayor told TruthNigeria.
Despite her difficult circumstances, Ms. Simon expressed her strong desire to return to her home and farm, which serves as her primary source of livelihood. However, the lack of a safe house to stay in and the ongoing presence of terrorists in the village remain significant threats to her and others’ safety.
According to Markus Gumesh, an official at the camp, the majority of the IDPs are women and children who sometimes endure several days without access to food. The dire situation has forced many of them to take great risks, attempting to access their farms to collect whatever crops they can find to feed their starving families, even though doing so puts their lives in danger.
“We are therefore pleading for any support for these poor IDPs,” said Gumesh to Truth Nigeria. “Many of these IDPs are sick, some of them are heavily indebted to various hospitals for the treatments they have received for their injuries sustained in the attacks. At the last check, the total bills for all the people that have been injured and treated on credit is around N8million [$10184.90USD]. We have had to sign undertakings on their behalf to have them released from the hospitals to allow them find help and pay later,” he said.
Masara Kim is an award-winning conflict reporter based in Jos, Nigeria and the senior editor of the newly launched site, TruthNigeria.com.