Adamu Rugurugu is a repentant Boko Haram militant who had risen to the rank of war commander, a counsellor and adviser for Boko Haram leaders. In this interview, he speaks about how he led terrorists to different attacks under the influence of drugs, how the infamous Sambisa forest can be conquered, why he surrendered to become a peacemaker, among other issues. Excerpt:
Tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Malam Adamu Rugurugu, I am from Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State. I have two wives and 15 children. I was a top Commander of Boko Haram in Sambisa Forest where I spent 10 years fighting for the Boko Haram sect. We were the first set of people to accept the amnesty window by the state government, which has brought back relative peace. I am among the first batch that repented.
Can you explain how it all began?
We were listening to the radio when we heard Governor Babagana Umara Zulum saying whoever wants amnesty among militants should surrender, assuring that no harm will come to them and they will be kept safe and be forgiven.
So, I began to preach to my people that this governor is honest and would not deceive us. Prior to that, we made some research that convinced us that we were on the wrong path. We now understood the message and that’s why we surrendered.
For how long have you been out?
It’s been almost two years now. When I came out, honestly, I was received and brought to Maiduguri where we are now camped in a very good manner. The governor was feeding us and giving us some pocket money.
When I realized how we were being taken care of, I began to pass the message to other commanders in the bush to come out and embrace peace, which they later adhered to, and more are still repenting. Thousands of Boko Haram fighters have surrendered through me.
I used to tell them to surrender if they truly loved their parents, because God knows that Sambisa is not meant for human beings to live. I convinced them to come out and start a new life with their families and take up/continue with farming and other businesses.
How did you get the name Rugurugu?
I earned the name on the podium because it’s the first word I utter whenever I stand to preach. So, it became a household name.
At one point, many didn’t know that my real name was Mallam Adamu. You must say Mallam Adamu Rugurugu before they would bring you to me.
Were you forced to join Boko Haram or joined willingly?
They deceived us; they came with the face of religion, saying it’s the work of Allah but we later realized it was wrong. There is no place where Allah said you should harm your brother.
They told us it was Jihad, but after some deep research, we understood that it’s not Halal but rather Haram.
We heard you were a Muslim scholar, is that true?
Yes, I am still a Muslim scholar. I have been to many places to preach about Islam in all the LGAs of Borno State. I have a car, with a big sound system on top, and many students and followers in different wards.
They understood that I loved the religion and deceived me with it, that was the only reason I joined. They took us to the bush (Sambisa Forest), and subjected us to a chain of commands. That’s how we lived under their command for so many years in the bush.
They always spy on us to know what we are up to. You can’t escape even if you wish to, especially as a commander, it will not be possible, that’s it. I’m the commander in charge of the Gwoza axis. One thing is that, as a commander, you must never refuse to go to war. If that happens, you would be beheaded.
Can you remember how you were taken to the bush and where you were first taken to?
We were first taken to Sambisa Forest, they moved a lot of people there, and they gave them leadership roles; everyone with a battalion under him, and that’s how our leader, late Abubakar Shekau, made me the commander with boys under my watch.
Gwoza was once a caliphate of your group
I was there when Gwoza was declared as a caliphate in 2014, but Mallam Muazu was the overall commander in-charge of the headquarters because as a newcomer, you won’t just be appointed as a commander until you were proven worthy. I can’t remember but many things happened when Gwoza was a caliphate.
Did you see any of the Chibok girls? Is it true that they were married off? And, at what location?
Yes, I saw the Chibok girls. They lived very close to me in the same forest, we were neighbours and I witnessed them being married off. In fact, when I was leaving, I made arrangements for seven of them to go with me but their husbands were displeased with me and they warned me not to interact with them anymore. So, I left the forest.
I last saw them in Jimiya town. I was with the Chibok girls for 7 years; some were married off while others were not. The husbands of the married Chibok girls were commanders. They include Abu Halid, Abu Mutaheed, Auwal Munzul, Abdul Rahman and others.
They were married in Takwalla, Jimiya, Gobara and Garin gwai-gwai also known as Lagara inside Sambisa. Although the Chibok girls were not treated like queens, they were treated as wives of commanders. Those who are married to commanders are respected because their husbands are always in charge of loots and spoils which are shared accordingly.
What sector did you head in Sambisa?
I was a war commander; then I had two promotions as a cleric, adviser, counsellor and war commandant ranks. I’m in charge of Mallanta. For any battle we will fight, I’ll be summoned for advice and secondly, I’m among those who choose a location to launch an attack.
Can you remember how many battles you fought in your 10 years in Sambisa as top Commander of Boko Haram and what the experience was like?
Honestly, I can’t count the number of battles I’ve fought because I don’t want to lie. I participated in battles for 10 years, leading battalions. As battalion commander, you must be at every war front so you won’t be able to count how many you fought.
Sometimes, we win battles and seize trucks and weapons, and sometimes we dump the arms we recovered for soldiers in the event we were defeated.
Can you remember your worst encounter with the military?
The worst attack we had was in Konduga. Konduga has never fallen to us and that’s where we lost a large number of our combatants. We retrieved their dead bodies on that fateful day in about 5 trucks.
After we returned to base that day, I lost the zeal to fight again. It got to the point where I kept giving excuses on any battle I was assigned to, I would either say that I’m not ready or kept postponing the attack.
Where do you get your weapons from?
We get arms and ammunition from the military bases we attack when we infiltrate. We share them among those who don’t have weapons.
Are there any drugs given to you guys when embarking on battles?
We take drugs, we smoke weed too. This gives us the morale to attack villages, burn them down and kill people without remorse. And yes, we abuse drugs inside Sambisa Forest and honestly even the one who slaughters people abuse drugs. When a dealer of drugs is caught, he’ll be killed and those who hawk it are flogged, but funny enough, the person administering the punishment is intoxicated by drugs.
What is unique about Sambisa Forest that makes it difficult for the Nigeria military to capture?
Sambisa is a very large and thick forest, but if the federal government puts all the mechanisms in place, it will be easy to capture the whole forest. It’s not as difficult as it seems. As we speak now, there is no single military barracks inside Sambisa, why?
If there are barracks inside Sambisa, no Boko Haram members would be hibernating there. There are barracks in several places around Sambisa including Bama, Konduga, Gwoza, Chibok, Damboa and others, why not two or more barracks inside Sambisa to stop their illegal movement?
I assure you that with the presence of the military in Sambisa and its environs, this crisis will come to an end because there are many hamlets and villages under Sambisa where they hide after perpetrating their evil acts. Our government should destroy Sambisa with full force to restore peace in the region.
Why did you abandon the Boko Haram Sect to preach peace now?
I read deeply into the Quran and discovered that we went astray. I told them that what we were doing does not please God. They said I wouldn’t leave the enclave but I defied their threat and surrendered. I later made some calls that yielded results. I thank God for all the people that knew the truth and surrendered through me. Many of them are commanders at the Sambisa Forest.
What do you do in this camp now?
What I do in the camp is preaching. I gather them in groups and teach them to shun the thoughts and habits of Boko Haram, telling them the mistakes and sin we had committed in the forest, but since we now know the truth and have repented, God will forgive us.
Right now, we’ve agreed that all our children should be enrolled into western and Islamic education. I often preach to them day and night to desist from the ways of Boko Haram and live peacefully with people. Many of our deadly commanders have come out, those who are in the bush now are few.
Do you have any regrets being a Boko Haram Commander?
There are many things I was involved in which I regretted. I seek forgiveness from God and the people I’d wronged. People should find it in their hearts to forgive us. When we abduct a policeman or soldier at a war front or ambush, when we return to the Markas (Jimmai), we gather everyone in Sambisa Forest and have something like a court session. Afterwards, they’ll be slaughtered in the presence of everyone and if the personnel is a senior officer, we will demand ransom for his release so that he will not be killed.
Sometimes, Shekau orders such senior officer(s) to be brought to him for interrogation. Then he will decide if he will be killed or regain his freedom after collecting ransom. Even if he’s a Muslim, we’ll say to him he’s not a true Muslim and sometimes he’ll be killed.
The reason I left the Boko Haram group is that I realized that the campaign was not the will of Allah. We were deceived by Mohammed Yusuf. The belief is purely to kill and it’s Allah that created human beings so why destroy ourselves? The only thing I regret was the killing of innocent people.
What is the best decision you have taken so far in your life?
The best decision I have ever made was to denounce the sect. I was in Sambisa Forest for 10 years, and every now and then, military jets hover over our shelters and it was fearful. Now, I have rest of mind. Initially, when I told my wives, the second refused to come with me, saying after 10 years in Sambisa where would I go again? So, I left her behind in Sambisa for months but after several phone calls and evidence of how the state government was taking care of us, she decided to come out and now we are fine. So, if you ask me, that has been my best decision in my entire life.