Friday, December 11, 2015

Living With Terrorism: Kano

Peace is a fundamental human right. Over the past 4 years, the once peaceful state of Kano, Nigeria has been ravaged by terrorist attacks from Boko Haram. The local media will report these attacks, the international media will mention the attack in passing, pictures of the devastation are posted all over the social media, not mindful of how the affected people must pick up their lives after the dust has settled.

Each time there's an attack, it is a period of chaos, mayhem, blood and death. Healthcare workers work overtime to bring succour to the affected. When the attack happens, messages are sent by various regulatory bodies and unions to mobilise doctors and health workers to provide the manpower in this time of crisis. As news of the attack spreads, the town people also respond through donations which include blood, medication, food and clothing.

Although, as Health Providers, we cannot allow sentiments to hinder us from doing our jobs, there are incidences that are permanently seared in our minds, One of such is the story of a young girl who came to see me in the Surgical outpatient clinic. She was a student at Federal College of Education, Kano. She was in such a hurry to get back to class that she forgot some of her tests. I decided to call her after the clinic. By then news had reached us that Boko Haram had attacked the school. I kept calling her but couldn't reach her. As the victims started arriving at the hospital I saw a friend of hers that was with her at the clinic. She told me that she was shot at the gate and that she died immediately. I also remember a set of twin baby girls that were also shot dead together with their mother who was also a student. Another mind-numbing story was that of a young pregnant woman that was shot through the abdomen immediately killing her unborn baby. The mother was rushed into surgery and her father was asked to donate his blood as she had lost a lot of blood. What the father said, I'll remember until the day I die. He said, "I'll donate the blood, but give it to someone else who has a chance, my daughter will not survive." The surgery was successful, but as if the father had a premonition, she passed away around 3am that night.

Another gut clenching experience we had was with the dead bodies. Our mortuary doesn't have the capacity to handle such a magnitude of human remains, so the remains have to be piled up one on top of another. Most of them were in pieces. There was blood everywhere; I had nightmares for months. As if all this wasn't enough, the two major hospitals that handle these victims were targeted by suicide bombers. Luckily their attempts were thwarted and they were not able to detonate the bombs.

The worst attack we had in Kano so far was the attack on the Central mosque. Being a Friday, thousands of people went to the mosque for Friday prayers. Because of its close proximity to the hospital, a lot of our male staff were at the mosque that day. Thankfully none of them were killed and only a few sustained minor injuries. Immediately after the attack the doctors didn't have time to catch their breaths, they started instituting life saving techniques to the injured victims. One doctors described the incidence as "like a war zone." The carnage that day was unimaginable. It was as if we were in a horror movie. The entire ordeal wasn't for the faint of heart. Most of the victims were little boys and girls. I was working at the pediatric surgical ward, the ward was full. One of the little ones that touched my life was a 2 year old, who witnessed the death of his two older brothers. He sustained first degree burns to the abdomen and lower limbs. I can't imagine the despair of his mother as she had two sons on admission and two dead. His recollection of the incidence will make your skin crawl. To hear of the ordeal from the perspective of a 2 year old will make you shed tears.

When we went to pay our condolences to the families of the victims, we visited more than thirty houses before giving up. Even the gravediggers were overworked and tired. For almost every house within the vicinity of the mosque lost someone, some more than others. There was a woman who was widowed by the attack and she lost all five of her offspring. She eventually had a stroke and then passed away.

At the end of the day, we retire home with mixed feelings: feelings of joy for the lives we saved, feelings of sadness for the lives we lost, and feelings of doom for what was to come.

This was the attack that was meant to be the end of Kano. But it didn't. The Emir of Kano, His Highness Muhammadu Sanusi II came back immediately from his trip and gave a most invigorating speech to the people of Kano. He said that if the attackers meant to instill fear in us, they have failed. He gave us renewed hope. He led the Magrib prayer in the same mosque on the same day. The following Friday he also led the Friday prayer and the mosque saw an influx of worshippers more than it has ever seen since its construction. The youth were mobilised to give security during prayers.

In the middle of one devastation after another, we were mindful of the plight of our soldier who were at the frontier of these terrorist attacks and were being killed every single day. Most of the teaming populace were were placing the blame on the inexperience of these young officers. Unbeknownst to us, they were also victims of the ineptitude of the immediate past administration. They were sent to battle with insufficient and outdated weapons. Sometimes they even share ammunition. Their allowances were not paid.

On the 9th of February 2015, my family has a rude awakening. Terror has struck home. 31 year old Captian Usman Aliyu fell to the bullets of terrorist while defending Nigeria. Our sense of despair was immutable and it all came as a shock to us because when he was posted to Maidugurihe he didn't have the heart to tell us. He said he had been posted to Gombe. He was the commanding officer on the battlefield that day and they didn't have enough ammunition. None of his other team members made it out that day. He was shot on the head, neck and thigh; all deadly shots meant to kill. Clearly the work of a well-trained sniper.

It's been months now, but the loss is still fresh in our hearts and remains as painful as ever. We'll miss the brother, the son, the man that loved and embraced everyone around him, the man that died fighting for his country, his beliefs and his religion. We'll mourn the man whom we lost so tragically, but we'll remember him as he deserves to be remembered, a hero who lived on the fearless edge of what was possible.

My prayer is that God brings an end to this avalanche of carnage and madness. Prayer is the greatest weapon we have.

*Dr Maryam Nasir Aliyu is currently volunteering with Ripples Foundation and using her medical experience to help us deliver Medical MOT events to communities in Kano State. One such event included treating young boys who were orphaned by Boko Haram's violence, as seen in the photos featured here. We would like to take this time to thank Dr Maryam for the invaluable help she has provided and for sharing her deeply emotional story here with us.
Dr Maryam Nasir Aliyu Web Developer

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