Serving My Fatherland
I just completed my university thesis as I waited eagerly to be engaged in a year service to my fatherland via the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) The Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a sovereign country located in West Africa, the most populous black nation on earth with an estimated population of over 200 million people. In 1996, electoral and political process led to back-to-back military coups. The first of them, which was led by mostly Igbo soldiers under Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, caused great chaos and division to the country. The young coup plotters succeeded in assassinating prominent leaders of the Northern region like Sir Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa Ballewa together with the premier of the western region, Samuel Akintola but they struggled to form a centralized system of government. Later that same year, the counter coup primarily supported by the Northern military officers, facilitated the rise of General Yakubu Gowon as the military head of state. This resulted in tension between the North and South dominated by Muslims and Christians respectively. With the declaration of Eastern region independence from the Federation as a state called “The Repulblic of Biafra”, it was precipitated by the Nigerian civil war, which began as the Nigerian government attacked Biafra at Garkem on 6th July 1967. Estimates of the number of dead in the former Eastern region during the 30 months civil war is said to range from one to three million. With the country torn apart, the NYSC scheme was created in 1973 as an avenue for the reconciliation, reconstruction and rebuilding of the nation after the civil war. Under the scheme, corps members are posted to states other than their state of origin where they are expected to interact with their peers from different religious, cultural, ethnic, social and family background to bring about unity in the country and help young people appreciate others. While the NYSC made effort to unite the most populous black notion, prospective corps members from the South and East dreaded the idea of serving her motherland in the North. This was not unconnected with the insecurity and silent grudges and resentments from the first military coup.
We wouldn’t want our son to be posted to Northern Nigeria, neighbours and friends said. As the chip chap rafter of the roadside Cafes printer ejected my posting printout, Northern Nigeria was sealed as my place of primary assignment. Not at all, my son will not be the victim of Boko Haran or bandits, you will have to reject that posting and relocate to a safer state closer to home, said mum. No mum, I have made up my mind to serve my fatherland even if it is in Northern Nigeria where the Islamic sect have made a slaughter slab was my response. She was in tears as I left for the park to embark upon this dangerous trip.
Having spent most of my years in the relatively peaceful middle belt region where majority of her populations are fluent in speaking English, a new cultural group surrounded me at the motor park. Mallam Inakwana! (Good day sir in Hausa language) were chorused at me while I nodded like an agama lizard not being able to decipher between a sour or sweet locust beans. Men were mostly dressed in long flowing gowns with a round cap that mostly colour-rioted while the women dressed modestly in simple fitting wears and hijabs that distinguished the typical Muslim woman. On examination of the teeth of my new voyage neighbours, they looked brown and this was not-unconnected with their love for devouring heaps of kola-nut. Every attempt to communicate with me fell through. While my fellow travellers were acquainted with the Hausa language, they lacked knowledge of Basic English language. Every attempt to communicate in English is met with the response, Ba turenchi (I don’t understand English in the Hausa language). As we proceeded on the journey, we passed through varying landscapes and vegetative belts but further into the voyage as we got closer to the Sahara desert, everywhere was gradually becoming dry and dusty while the absence of trees made visibility into kilometres ahead clear without obstruction. This raised the thoughts of kidnap within my spirit as I thought about the incident of the 276 Chibok students who were kidnapped from their school dormitory in April 2014 while they prepared for their senior secondary school certificate. Boko Haram, the jihadist terrorist organization, responsible for the kidnap was formed in 2002, by Mohammed Yusuf. During their formative years, their actions were nonviolent as their main goal was to purify Islam around the Northern Nigeria axis. The execution of her founder by the Nigerian police force escalated their mode of operation to include attacks using sophisticated weapons initially against soft targets but in recent times, have been extended to police buildings and the United Nations office in Abuja. About 2.3 million people displaced by the conflict of this sect have fled to neighbouring countries like Cameroun, Chad and Niger where the sect has little presence. The group have killed tens of thousands in the North and was at one time, the world’s deadliest terror group according to Global Terrorism Index.
After an arduous 2 days journey of travel, I finally made it to Shimei- my first destination in Northern Nigeria. The environment was very dry and dusty. Men and women hawked goods for survival while the presence of grazing cattle and sheep limited traffic flow along major road networks. “Beast of burdens” also littered the streets as they made their way onto dry cornfields in search for pasture.
As I went to an ATM point to withdraw some cash, a mob of youths with guns and other fiery weapons raced along the major highway down to a police station where a suspected bandit was in custody. The sight of these scene sent shivery signals through me. Their intention of killing the suspect fell through because of the resistance of the enforcement agents.
“When the sun sets and the rest of the world goes to sleep, vigil kicks off. It is then that the terrorists and marauding bandits arrive , cruel beings armed with guns , knives, claws and charms, coming to maim children and hack pregnant women to expunge helpless foetus, while the men marry the trees for the night to stay alive”, locals tell me as the hot whirl wind from the Sahara makes baobab and neem trees to prostrate as the moon brightens the night for the men that own the night.
Over the last 30 years, violence in the region have flared up mainly in forms of riots, which has pitted minority Christians against majority Muslims. The 2009 and 2010 troubles in the North East states of Yobe, Borno and Bauchi for example emphatically shows that the region is volatile to violence. The reintroduction of Sharia (Islamic law) at the beginning of this century has not been able to put an end to the security situation. It has instead, caused untold controversy over its non-adherence with international human rights standards of the common person. One could be hanged for blasphemy under this system while untold number have lost their hands and legs for stealing.
In addition to the violence, bandits have in recent times affected the daily lives of the people living in Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger, Kebbi, Katsina and Sokoto in the Northwest. These gangs of heavily armed bandits, made up partly of disgruntled Fulanis who themselves have lost cattle usually prowl the vast Dajin Rugu forest which spans several hundred square kilometres across the North. According to the Miyetti AllahBreeeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), an umbrella association of Fulani herders reported that over 23,000 Fulani herders poured into Cameroun from Nigeria following deadly clashes with farming communities.
After settling down at a temporary abode, great darkness accompanied by a sense of fear breezed as I settled down for a night rest. Gboooooom Kpaaaaaaaaaaa Tush Kpa- Kpa- Kpa- Sound woke me from sleep. This must be the announcement of the arrival of terrorist or bandits, I rhetorically asked? With tension around, thoughts of escape through the ceiling or into a new by bush came knocking but the fear of a stray bullet would not permit me to grant any. I got up in haste while my heartbeat increased to have a view of what went on. Police vehicles were already moving towards the direction to arrest the situation at hand. It was bandits who specialized in carting away livestock were the august visitors in town.
As the cock crew to mark the break of a new day, bulls are yoked for the days farm work while calls for the Muslim prayers was said over the conical Ahuja speaker on the mosque tower. As kettles swung from hand to hand at ablutions peak, faithful’s congregated to make petitions to Allah for the security of the land. After reporting to my place of primary assignment, my host directed me to teach some Jss3 students Agricultural science of which I obliged to. The students ranged from the age of 11 to 18 but practically couldn’t communicate in the English language. They were vast in the knowledge of Arabic and the Hausa language. As I struggled to influence these kids out of frustration of the language barriers, I was amazed to discover that the native teachers taught using the mother tongue. However “I must serve my fatherland in this slaughter slab I whispered”. Google translator proved handy for me as I made extra effort to translate lessons in English language to Hausa before teaching. Leveraging on the use of drama and pictorial illustrations also helped me to enlighten youths whose destiny rested on the shoulder of a young man that had risked his life to serve in a slaughter slab. On one occasion while teaching, my students scrambled for cover as rumours filtered in that bandits were in town. Mallam! Mallam! Yan fashi suna kusa (Teacher! Teacher! Bandits are around) said a female student named Amira. How do I escape this trouble? Maybe I should jump through the window. Nevertheless, I am here to serve my fatherland in this slaughter slab. I summoned courage and asked my students to remain calm. Just like the good shepherd in Psalm 23 whose sheep do not want and are protected, I must protect this young Nigerians that have found themselves in a situation they never wished nor prayed for. With words of encouragement, my fearful class came alive while security personnel’s took over the situation.
As holidays drew close and my peers took long trips to visit family and friends, I knew it was pertinent for me to organize a lesson that will keep my students engaged. After all, I am here to serve my fatherland. This birthed an English holiday school where the communication skills of youths were sharpened during the holiday duration. About 30 students attended, and learnt the alphabets, parts of the body, reading and letter writing.
My quest to learn more about the region drew me close to a man named Bashiru. He narrated an incident about how a female suicide bomber nearly killed him. While Muslim were purifying themselves in preparation for the Friday prayers, a beautiful teenage woman with explosives was trying to gain entrance into a mosque, capable of accommodating 100 persons. Her suspicious movement made him to get closer to the scene. While interrogating her, he held her hand only to discover she had a detonator in her fist. He overpowered her and disconnected the explosive before handing her over to security operatives.
During a chat with an indigene, he had this to say, “The security situation is not pleasant. Everyone is worried about the security of his or her lives and properties. At the blast of a bomb, even animals like dog can clearly distinguish if it was a firework or an explosive. People especially the men now spend their nights on trees and in the bush like monkeys for fear of terrorist and kidnappers.”
In spite of the situation, youths come out in droves to play football after the 4pm prayers while girls sit beside the roadside to prepare pap, beans and soybean cake for lazy citizens that found cooking burdensome. Older men set up their temporary chai (tea) shops to appease the taste buds of customers willing to devour bread with suya (roasted meat).
The outbreak of the Covid-19 was seen as a myth in the region. Good principal, hope you are keeping yourself and the students safe with the recent corona virus outbreak, I asked. Fogerit! , it’s all propaganda to swindle the nation of her resources was his response to me. As I grappled in shock, why a learned man could think in this way, I painstakingly took time educate and enlighten him about the danger.
Towards the end of my stay, a man was kidnapped while working on his farm. His abductors demanded for a ransom of over a million naira for his release. After series of negotiation and prayers to God, he was finally released back to his family.
The security situation has affected every sector of the economy from agriculture to education and healthcare. Many a school have closed down due to fear of Boko Haran attack. Educators are no more willing to go to these areas for fear of their life. Students are discouraged from going to school because they do not know who will climb the slaughter slab.
This has caused some hospitals and healthcare centres to be abandoned. Helpless villagers now have to take long trips to major towns and cities before receiving healthcare.
Farmers now abandon their lands to fallow for fear of been kidnapped or killed. This has caused a fall in the food production of the region.
It is very common for terrorist and bandits to make use of motorcycle as a means of mobility. This prompted the government to place a ban on its usage and regulate their operation period from 6am to 7pm.
As a measure to ensure self-security, youths, men and women are now in the habit of moving around with knives, machetes and other weapons of protection. People avoid staying out late while local community security guards called “Yankara” have been empowered by local authorities to assist in securing communities. Many of the guards resort to spiritual protection like charms and concoctions in order to escape bullet attack.
After my one-year service to my fatherland, I can boldly say….Na tafi, na gani, kuma na cinasarar yankan yanka (I went, I saw, and conquered the slaughter slab in Hausa language).
Ekoja Solomon is an agripreneur from Nigeria who has a passion of impacting his world for Jesus Christ. He employs the skills of research, critical thinking and creative writing to effect change and he is open for further projects. Contact him on www.facebook.com/ekoja7