After two years in Lagos he can now say that to some extent he’d become rehabilitated. Lagos had continued to offer succour to him on the few times he called upon it.
After graduation from a tertiary institution in the Northern part of Nigeria, he’d headed for Lagos like many a young person his age in search of the golden fleece. Luck appeared to shine on him as he soon gained employment with one of the conglomerates in Nigeria. His experience, having been born and bred in the North must’ve influenced his transfer to the branch of the group in the North-East of Nigeria, precisely Maiduguri.
He was elated by the thought of going there to work. Maiduguri held much hope of opportunities, seeing that the cost of living there was far less expensive than in Lagos in all ramifications. He could also pursue further his education in the prestigious University of Maiduguri while working. Not only did he achieve all these, he also got married to his heartthrob, in a love story that will take volumes of books to fully elucidate. He’d met her in Maiduguri, though she wasn’t a native of the town. His marriage was fruitful with two children in the space of just three years, his borders expanding with various business concerns he’d dipped his hands into. All was going well for him until Mohammed Yusuf was killed.
He had heard about the young cleric from some of his Muslim friends. They spoke loftily about his pious mien and how he lived what he preached. He was leading a group known as JAMA’ATU AHLIS SUNNA LIDDA’AWATI WAL-JIHAD (The Congregation Of The People Of Tradition For Proselytism And Jihad) but popularly known amongst the people of towns in Borno and Yobe States that constituted his sphere of influence, as BOKO HARAM. Though he was said to be a graduate he, and the group he lead advocated for a return to the stricter form of the SHARI’A (Islamic jurisprudence), infact at some mosques he visited, many of his followers were said to have burnt their certificates, academic credentials and other educational paraphernalia at a brief ceremony held after he’d preached to them.
Initially, Yusuf’s group was in the good books of the Ali Modu Sherif-led government in Borno State after the governor declared that Shari’a would be implemented to the latter in the state following in the footsteps of states like Zamfara which had declared same not long after the return to civil rule in 1999 to wide acclaim by Muslims and support financially and otherwise by nations like Saudi Arabia. What he found quite unsavoury was how state governors could go ahead and make such a declaration when a considerable population of indigenous people, even of states like Borno are Christians and/or animists. Being of Middle-Belt extraction, and lived a considerable part of his childhood in Kaduna, a state where Nigeria can be easily divided into her two major parts (of Northern Kaduna consisting mainly of Muslims and Southern Kaduna of mainly Christians and animists), he’d witnessed firsthand discrimination and persecution of Christians and other minorities, growing up, and was in no doubt that the Sharialization officially (since it had always been enforced in Nigeria’s North for as long as anyone could remember) would bring indigenous Christians (talk more settler Christians) more discrimination and persecution on their own land where they are considered second-class citizens. As a young kid he, like other Christians living in the North was taught to be alert and vigilant and to notice even the slightest changes in the social environment. If the streets were unusually quiet especially long after Friday prayers then something sinister was afoot. He knew how to run to the nearest police or military barracks during a crisis at as young an age as 5 years. He witnessed the Zangon-Kataf crisis firsthand in Kaduna, in what will be the first time the Christians will fight back against hegemony and feudal authority backed by a Nigerian state, then under military rule which failed to act swiftly as had become custom to save Christians and animists, indigenous to and settling in the North. Though Christians lost more in that unfortunate incidence, they proved their point. Figures like Zamani Lekwot paid the prize for galvanizing Kaduna Christians to stand up to authority and discrimination by going to jail and having his stellar military career (from which he had retired) besmirked by that incidence, while the masterminds from the other side were granted soft landings.
The governor also used members of the group to pursue his political agenda, as opponents could easily be labeled as KAFIR’s and not Muslim enough by the group thus damaging whatever political capital they had. He couldn’t really place his hand on the reason why there was a falling-out between the state government and Yusuf’s group. Without government protection, they began to clash with police, most notable was one during a procession in which a prominent member was to be buried. The clashes with police led to massive destruction of some lives and property worth millions of Naira and thus began the series of clashes between the group and security forces, especially the police. Boko Haram will attack police stations freeing some of their detained members as well as other criminals in police custody, cart away arms and ammunition in their armoury, then set the station ablaze. The government soon put in place a joint military and police security outfit to rein in the group to initial success.
Before long, Yusuf was arrested by the Nigerian army, and handed over to the police. He was very delighted at the news, but was saddened when AlJazeera reported that Yusuf had been killed by the police not because he had any liking for him, but rather the manner in which he was killed appalled him. He watched clips on an AlJazeera programme which showed mobile phone captured scenes of Yusuf been interrogated by the soldiers and afterward handed over to the police, this was followed by a picture of Yusuf now lying dead, with the police claiming they engaged him in a gun battle as he attempted to escape, though his hands were tied behind his back. This scene was followed by another in which the police rounded up young men including a cripple suspected to be members of Boko Haram, lying them face down and shooting them. One policeman could be heard telling another not to shoot the head of one of the unfortunates lying down as he wanted his cap.
When he got to work the next day, he found that many of his colleagues also saw the AlJazeera programme. He noticed that some of his colleagues became sympathetic to the cause of Yusuf’s group after seeing that item, some even downloaded same from YouTube and passed it from one person to the other. He knew then that this will be used as propaganda tool by the group who appeared to have in their ranks tech savvy people even when they preached against the inculcation of Western ideas, culture, technology and civilization.
The death of Yusuf set his group on the war path against the state government, especially with the emergence of a new leader, Abubakar Shekau thought to be more radical than his predecessor. Government officials became targets, the Christians as well as moderate Muslims and preachers they considered to be antagonists were also targeted, so also were bars and recreation centres including football viewing centers and hotels. The attacks at this time, were few and far between and the modus operandi were throwing of dynamites into crowded places, shootings by assailants atop motorcycles and tricycles.
His mother and other members of his family back home had now become worried and could go into crisis-mode just because his phone was switched off. Whenever he called he reassured them that he and his family were doing okay. Elections were around the corner and as it is in Nigeria, the atmosphere was tense, especially as President Goodluck Jonathan had decided to run for presidency following the death of his principal, the late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua. The position had been zoned to the North after President Obasanjo (from the southwest) had ruled for two terms of eight years (even made covert attempts at having a go at a third term). He had managed to overcome intrigues by powerful personalities within and outside government who wanted him out, though constitutionally he ought to be sworn in as Commander-In-Chief. It was even a battle to have him assume the position of Acting-President, when the late President’s handlers where playing hide and seek, with his whereabouts initially, then later his condition. It took a group led by a politically minded pastor (Bakare) from Lagos and some members of civil society to impress upon Parliament (which had recently benefited from the President’s condition, in blackmailing the President’s handlers to sign off on a budget in which they allocated to themselves, huge bonuses and emoluments) to invoke a so called, DOCTRINE OF NECESSITY for the Vice President to be declared president in acting capacity. Those were days that could be added to the column containing Nigeria’s numerous days of shame, including the part where notable Muslim and Christian clerics including one of Nigeria’s mega rich (private jet flying) pastors were invited to see the then ailing president (when even his vice couldn’t see him), and on coming out declared to all that the President was fine and responded well to them when it was becoming increasingly clear to many that he was either dead or in vegetative state. Even the BBC played what they claimed was the President’s voice, while he was still at a Saudi Arabian hospital, in which he claimed he was responding to treatment and will be back soon to continue his job, to the chagrin of many Nigerians who felt that the same opportunity should’ve been granted the state owned media organization atleast.
He watched all these with keen interest, and in relation to what was happening in Maiduguri, where he lived and worked. Governor Ali Modu Sheriff had anointed a close relative as his successor. This successor was shot and killed a few weeks later by gunmen suspected to be members of the now outlawed group, Boko Haram. Killings and bombings have become widespread involving neighbouring Yobe and Adamawa states and as far afield as in Kano in Nigeria’s northwest, and the tense political atmosphere further aggravated an already bad situation. The visit of the presidential candidate of the opposition Congress for Progressive Change, CPC in Maiduguri for campaign purposes in the midst of the smouldering flame was the harbinger of many unfortunate events that followed.
He was briefed by friends who attended the rally of what took place. The former military Head Of State, and army General was quite popular amongst the masses of the North-West and North-East particularly, and cautiously accommodated by people of the North-Central, or MidBeltans of which he was one. This aspirant avoided campaigning in some states in the SouthEast and South-South for reasons many link to his unpopularity there, he appeared to be dogged by a statement he’d made years back when he asked his supporters to vote only for Muslim candidates. It was what was said at that rally that prompted him to, for the first time, accommodate thoughts to leave Maiduguri with his young family, for he then truly feared for his life, and those of non-indigenes as well as minorities in the North-East and North-Western Nigeria. He was to be proved right not before long.
(TO BE CONTINUED)