I flew into Nigeria from New Zealand a few days ago. It had been a while since I had been in the country. I had been brooding over the decision to visit Maiduguri, the town of my birth. My name is Nnamdi. The name is obviously an Igbo name. As a kid, the only home I knew was in Wulari, Jerusalem. It was a Christian dominated part of Maiduguri.
While in Abuja, I partied with friends I had met in Wellington. We went to bars and we visited night clubs. While my friends enjoyed themselves dancing and conquering whores, I passed through the hell of fear while drinking. It was the terror of realising how Boko-Haram conquered Jerusalem. It was the terror of realising how my parents and siblings died.
I made up my mind, and exactly a week after my arrival in Nigeria, I decided to go to Maiduguri. The plane was the worst I have boarded in my entire life. Bad take off, and rough landing making my heart to toy with death. I can’t imagine why the whites would agree to be hired to pilot such a flying casket.
I met Yemi waiting at the airport in Maiduguri. She was now a woman. I cannot place her resemblance to the house girl that once took care of my younger ones while I was still in Nigeria. Her deep scary eyes had become insightful and beautiful. She wasn’t skinny any more. She looked elegant and was voluptuously hippy. She no more looked like the poor daughter of Mama Gboyega. She sounded too educated for me to link her to the past.
The year a man called my Wellington number to announce the tragic news of my family, she was with him… I spoke with her briefly but got nothing on how my father, my mother, my younger brother and kid sister died. It was just money my father left for me. His house in Jerusalem was no more. My mum’s shop collapsed too, burnt by wickedness. My father’s gratuity was the second reason the man with little Yemi had called. I had given the whole money to Yemi out of anger, that year.
Yemi was still very appreciative. I could see it in her eyes. She drove me in her small Honda all the way to Wulari. I was back in Jerusalem. She packed at a security point filled with soldiers.
‘We would walk the rest… This area is still very dangerous,’ she said to me before telling the soldiers who I was. One of the soldiers had to accompany us.
Along the streets I grew knowing, I saw the burnt houses, burnt Churches and burnt beer parlours. Yemi pointed at a Church that had its pastor killed brutally.
‘They asked him to renounce Jesus Christ, and he said no. They chopped off his hands and also his legs before stuffing bullets into his eyes.’ Yemi said.
My tears were dry but the bitterness in my heart was firm. I was indeed walking on the streets of Wulari, Jerusalem. The current state of the street lived in pretence, I would say. The soldier pointed at spots that were littered with bodies of Christians in the year my parents died. The spots seemed barren now, bowling dried grasses and garbage.
Finally I came to the house I once lived. It wasn’t completely burnt down as I thought. But the blackness of the walls that still stood was evidence that no soul in the house survived when Boko-Haram struck. I squatted right in front of the burnt door leading into the house, leaving the soldier and Yemi metres behind. I couldn’t go in. Finally my tears came quietly. Yemi came behind me. She caressed my back asking me to be a man.
‘I want to know how they died, now…’ I demanded.
It wasn’t still easy for her telling me. She wept like a baby stammering at each mention of the word, Boko-Haram. She told me how my mother had instructed her to go and throw away some left over dinner outside the house. It was an hour before midnight. Oh mama… My mother expected house-helps to walk 24 hours a day… Yemi lasted more than any other house-helps we had… When Boko-Haram struck, it was sudden. Yemi watched from her hidden cover, near the refuse dump, how the house was lit on fire. She said she didn’t hear screams from the inside, concluding my family members had all died quietly.
‘It was the next morning when the calamity was subsiding, and their remains were brought out that I had a hint of how they died,’ Yemi said.
She said their bodies were all together as if they held themselves. They all had been on their knees. Her words tore my heart. She said, ‘They were all clustered together looking like the roasted goats that butchers display in Monday Market. It was obvious your father had assembled your mother and your siblings for prayers. Their eyeballs were all bulging out… Pains showed in their protruding eyeballs.’
The soldiers on his part described the Boko-Haram members. He said most of them had long beards and were dressed in kaftans. He said their trousers were half way down the lower parts of their legs.
‘Dem de move like breeze… We go shoot shoot dem, but their number bin de still increase… We kill kill Dem but dey no dey finish… Dose Boko-Haram people chop charm enter their bone oh… Bullets no de gree enter some of their skin at all…’ the soldier went on.
Shortly before I decided to leave, I asked after how Mama Oloye died. I knew her as a Moslem woman who fries ‘akara’ beside my mother’s shop. Yemi said the extremists had bathed Mama Oloye with the hot oil she fried ‘akara’ in. The woman had danced with all her strength in pains. They set her ablaze afterwards, ending the misery.
‘Didn’t they know she was a Moslem?’ I asked.
‘She was Yoruba… Those Boko-Haram people see Yoruba Moslems as part of the Christians Oh,’ Yemi replied.
I couldn’t understand the motives of Boko-Haram when the soldiers said they burnt a Mosque that had its name written in English. I then remembered that I had once goggled in search of the meaning of Boko-Haram. These extremists were all out against English Language and education. They wanted Arabic to rule the state. Yes, everything written in Arabic. They wanted Islam to become a way of life…
I rejected Yemi’s offer to drop me back at the airport. I stopped a taxi. Not long after I waved Yemi and the soldier off, I realised my driver was a Hausa Moslem, one of them. I now saw all of them as one. I longed for a gun. He started up a conversation in Hausa. Though I understood him, my reply did not, ‘Bar Hausa.’