HEGIRA (III)

No title(15)

Soon after the arrest of that supervisor at work, he began to take more care of who he confided in, infact he altogether stopped seeing, speaking or meeting with some of his colleagues except on and for official purposes. The atmosphere at work had since ceased to be jovial as everyone viewed the other with suspicion, besides people (suspected to be government informers on the activities of Boko Haram) were beginning to disappear in town, families were been burnt in their homes at night while they slept by arsonists suspected to be doing the bidding of the Bokosites and Haramites as they were been called in some quarters. There was this pastor in Chibok (mostly populated by indigenous Christians) who was targeted by members of the insurgent group, he was known by all as a “Man Of Peace” for his activities of mending fences between Christians and Muslims each time a crisis erupted no matter how huge or trivial, both sides trusted him because of his forthrightness. Gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram visited this pastor’s house on the evening of 22nd December, 2011 where they shot him thrice in the chest before his son and daughter Deborah. They thereafter discussed amongst themselves what to do with his children, before shooting Caleb (the pastors’ son) as well, and then made Deborah lie between both of them while they breathed their last.
The news of that event shocked the whole town and beyond. Another local pastor organized with other well meaning Christians around to mobilize funds for Deborah’s evacuation from Chibok and onward to the United States of America, where on the 21st of May, 2014 she lent her voice to the call for the release of more than 200 girls abducted by the Boko Haram insurgent group, before the American Congress.

He continued to remain unfazed by the unrelenting pleas from family and friends outside Borno state to leave. Leaving shouldn’t be difficult for him, seeing that he had concluded his studies at the University of Maiduguri, and could initiate a transfer at work to other branches nationwide, as well as the fact that his wife was now well into the second trimester of her pregnancy. The fact that he had acquired some landed property, living in a town where the cost of living was relatively low to the much he was earning continued to be an attraction to him, besides the security forces were doing a good job of maintaining security atleast in Maiduguri while attacks remained in the outskirts of town where they’d been driven, even as far into what used to be a game reserve known as the SAMBISA FOREST, which is roughly the size of New England, in NorthEastern United States.

Something unexpected happened while the insurgency raged as well as the fight against it. A splinter group emerged from the Boko Haram group known as JAMA’ATU ANSARUL MUSLIMINA FI BILADIS SUDAN which literally means “Vanguards For The Protection Of Muslims In Black Africa” also known as “ANSARUL”. This group carried the insurgency to the NorthWest of Nigeria, even dipping its fangs into the abduction of expatriates mainly contractors involved in road construction projects in the North. On one occasion the attempt by Nigeria’s security forces to free some abducted French contractors after their location in Sokoto was discovered, led to the death of the hostages who were killed by their captors as they made to escape before been confronted by Nigeria’s security agents.

In Kano, Nigeria’s northern commercial city, the police and State Security Services came under attack from what many people considered to be Ansarul, leading to several deaths and injuries besides destruction of public and private infrastructure and property. Amongst the security agents, mistrust and distrust was rife. He found very sad but amusing a story his friend told him about an event at the police college in one of the northern states, how on a particular day Muslim members of the police force of a cadre undergoing training failed to turn up after afternoon prayers. The fear that something may be afoot, led to the scampering of Christian and Southern officers into a nearby bush, some of them overnight till the next day before they resurfaced.

Before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab aka “Underwear Bomber” decided to attempt to blow up a plane en route Detroit on behalf of Al-Qaeda in 2009, suicide bombers were unheard of in Nigeria, Infact, the propaganda material that followed, which was put out to counter the negative impression created within and outside Nigeria by government via the state-owned media was “NOT IN OUR CHARACTER”. The insurgent suicide bombers succeeded in making suicide bombing a byword in Nigeria, placing Nigeria at par with insurgent activities in Kenya and Somalia via Al-Shabab, Pakistan via the Pakistani Taliban and Haqqani Network, Afghanistan via the Afghan Taliban, Iraq via Sunni insurgent groups, Syria via the Al-Nusra Front and the dreaded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS much later.

The peace in Maiduguri was again shattered after a short while of a lull in insurgent activity there. Little was heard of the Ansarul faction whom many say were members of the group mainly of North-Western Nigeria extraction, with the consolidation of power in the hands of a ruthless lieutenant of Yusufs’, named ABUBAKAR SHEKAU. He it was who drove fear into the hearts of even members of the military. Attacks on pubs, bars, brothels, public football viewing centres became almost daily occurrences. However, one of the intriguing aspect of all these was that the joints mostly targeted were ‘beer parlours’, bars, brothels and the likes that were frequented by Christians and Southerners while many others frequented by Northerm Muslims and politicians from within and outside Borno State like the one at Coca-Cola Road junction by Garzagamo Cinemas, a mini Sodom and Gomorrah, were largely spared the ordeal many victims and unfortunates on the other side of the divide were exposed to.

One day, while at work his phone rang, the number was hidden and he was reluctant to pick the call because of the security situation in the state. He changed his mind when it occurred to him that it might mean that someone was in trouble and needed help. The voice at the other end was that of a female who wouldn’t give her name but claimed she was his wife’s friend, she told him in the Hausa language (which from the tone sounded different from the way the locales spoke the Hausa) that his life was in danger, even those of members of his family, and it will be in his best interest to leave the state altogether with his family if he valued his life. The unknown woman terminated the call immediately after passing her message across.

He didn’t understand why anyone would want to harm him. He wasn’t an informer and doubted that many considered him so, though most people around where he lived and worked where surprised that he frequented bars at will and kept late nights with friends without incidence, at a time many indigenes were shot at and killed by soldiers and military police for straying even at hours that may not be considered too late, but that was because he frequently met them at the bars, paid for their drinks most times, even offering them lifts to their guard positions on the road before retiring. If the rapport he enjoyed with those soldiers became interpreted by members of the insurgent group as with that of an informer, then he was automatically in hot soup.

It didn’t take him long to make two and two together to get four when another colleague with whom he hadn’t divulged the information he’d just received by phone, told him that their former supervisor who had earlier been arrested for aiding and abetting, even participating in acts of terrorism has managed to secure his freedom, and though he was at the moment in Abuja with his benefactor had sworn to get back at those who snitched on him.

Though he hadn’t done anything of the sort, he felt his former supervisor would definitely have him on his hit-list. It all made sense to him, especially the timing, yet at the back of his mind someone may be conjuring mischief, not necessarily to kill or harm him, but inorder to gain undue advantage. He was already senior cadre at work and with the way things were going could make supervisor within months, hence seeking a transfer at that point could thwart all of that. He would also have to sell off his property including the plots of land at short notice at most likely a giveaway price. He wondered how and why the security agents could let a hardened terrorist like his former supervisor go just like that, when he should even have been shot or neutralized for crimes and acts of terror they were reliably informed he committed, and to which he allegedly confessed to!

For him, there’d be no winning the war against insurgents and terror if the situation where terrorists like Kabiru Sokoto, Mohammed Konduga and other influential members of the insurgent group are arrested and then released or said to have escaped while they were been transported to other interrogation and detention centres. It dampens the morale of those who kept sleepless nights in apprehending the terrorists in the first place, and beyond that endangering their lives and those of their families.

The rest of that day became wasted, at home he couldn’t even taste the tastefully prepared soup and guinea-corn meal delicacy his wife had laboured to present before him because of the huge weight bearing down on his shoulders. All of a sudden he felt like Atlas. He couldn’t confide in his wife for fear of exacerbating her condition who despite the fact that she had carried two pregnancies to term before the latest one, was still careering through it like it was her first. That night he resolved to begin the process of seeking a transfer at work, to meet his estate agent friend to give out his apartment to another that will pay him the difference of what is left of the one year he still had, and discuss the possible sale of his landed property and other sundry. He was occupied with such thoughts when sleep overcame him.

Everything seemed normal at work the next day, he proposed to use his break time to go out and do all he had outlined to do. His attempt to meet with the Human Resources Manager to discuss means by which a possible transfer for him out of Maiduguri could be expedited (hoping to use information regarding his safety or lack of it as last card), that day was futile as he was said to be out of town. Even the estate agent he attempted calling couldn’t be reached as his phones were switched off (that estate agent was not heard from in the weeks to follow before friends and family later found his corpse by chance amongst those the mortuary authorities at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital wanted to organize a mass burial for).

None of the things he set out to achieve that day was achieved, he committed himself to seeing them done the next day, cleared his desk and elected to go down some bottles of beer to clear his head awhile before heading home, as his custom was though less frequently now because of the state of affairs. Nothing looked out of place on his way home at about midnight, even the gunshot that appeared a tad loud for comfort didn’t faze him, thinking it must’ve been a “friendly-shot” from some of his soldier friends at the checkpoint he’d just passed, in mock salute.

But a second shot rang out within seconds of the first shattering his left side mirror, that was when it occurred to him what was happening. He had pushed the V6 engine of his 2003 Honda Accord popularly called “Baby Boy” in this clime to the limits only once, on his way to the Federal Capital Territory to meet up with an important business appointment, two years ago when he just bought the car. His life depended on his car now, and when he beckoned on it to reenact it’s disappearing act, thankfully it didn’t disappoint.

He didn’t explain much to his wife, he made her pack only the needful, he moved his “red bag” (containing all his documents, academic, career, business and otherwise), and the sleepy eyed kids and sister-in-law into the car and they headed out of town. It wasn’t till close to dawn after about five hours of driving and then running out of fuel that he turned into a gas station in Azare, Bauchi State that was devoid of staff and attendants, he parked to rest and watch over his family, while planning his next line of action. He couldn’t bring himself to sleep.

‘kovich

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