I wept profusely as Baba Dantani waded through the rubble of the imposing white storey building. The story of this building was the story of our small community. It was this building that provided pipe borne water to almost all whenever the public water corporation went on its habitual recess. It was this building that ensured that the almost twenty households in the community had electricity for at least three hours whenever the public electricity system was routinely disrupted. This had been the way I and many others of my age had met it since we were born. The consequence of these meetings earned it sobriquets that made it popular in the community. A visitor to the community could hear names such as Gidan Ruwa, Farin Gida and so on such that it wouldn’t take the visitor long to realize that the community at large was referring to Baba Dantani’s house.
Baba Dantani, according to my father, whose house was just next to Baba Dantani’s happened to be one of the first inhabitants of the area. My father said he and Dantani bought their lands upon which they erected their houses at about the same time from the mai ungwar. This was shortly before the Sardauna was assassinated. My father often regaled me with tales of how he and Dantani often rode on Dantani’s red scooter to watch the Sardauna play “fives” at the squash court just behind the Sardauna’s house. I always saw him grin when he told I and my siblings time and time again how he and his friend milled around the Sardauna’s residence after sumptuous dinners. He said they often milled around to participate in the famous “zaman hira” in the evenings. This they did with other men of their age group who came from all parts of the north. It was mostly at this informal social gathering s that they new who was getting married next amongst them.
Baba Dantani had veered into the transportation business after he left the Northern civil service. He had made it big in the haulage business, such that he had become a benefactor to most members of our community. He had acted as the honorary bride’s father when Helen my eldest sister was getting married. My father had also led the groom’s family to offer the customary “sadaki” when Tanko his first son was getting married.
I could still recall a particular time when I was about 8 years old. I had run to Goggo, Baba Dantani’s wife. My mother had threatened to use one of those whips that my father kept in the house on my buttocks for breaking her expensive chinaware. I was fed by Goggo, and when it was getting dark, she took me to her husband and explained what happened. Baba Dantani quickly wore his sleeveless jumper and grabbed my hand dragging me to my house. I could still hear that grumpy voice as he barked out instructions to my mother.
“Kei mamman Jopree ki kiale wannan yaro kin ji”? admonishing her to leave me alone, in a heavily accented tone which had transformed my name from Geoffrey to “Joppri” And that was the end of the matter.
Yes, that was then, about 15 yrs ago when sanity prevailed everywhere.
It all started about a week ago when loud explosions were heard in two different worship centers across some adjacent communities, bringing down the buildings on the worshippers. Many lives were lost in that encounter. Some people attributed these explosions to some renegade groups. And just as it started, some youths assembled themselves in war like fashion with machetes, cudgels, axes, clubs and other dangerous weapons. They went for almost everything in sight, destroying, maiming and exterminating those they sensed had a remote connection with these renegade groups in terms of shared faith or other ascriptions. It was in the midst of this that a mob arrived my neighbor’s house baying for blood. My father, my two elder brothers and I formed a wall preventing them from gaining access to the house. My father insisted the mob had to kill him before they could gain entry into his childhood friend’s house. Eventually we were overpowered, but we were able to smuggle Baba Dantani and his family out of his house with my father sustaining a machete cut on his head. Within minutes the once imposing white edifice had come down. Cars and properties exploded in hails of bonfire.
* * *
It’s been 48hrs after the incident and calm and normalcy seem to have been restored but the scars are still festering. Baba Dantani had made up his mind to pack out of the community with his family. I could see him foraging through the rubble, hoping to salvage some important documents. My father trailed him with his bandage sitting like a crown on his head. Obviously he was making futile attempts to convince his friend to do otherwise. Behind me I could see my mother and Goggo locked in an embrace as if they were sisters. They were both crying. Beside me I saw Aunty Jummai , Baba Dantani’s eldest daughter, crying and resting her head on my eldest brother’s shoulder. Brother Ben’s eyes were also blood shot. I also caught a glimpse of Maijidda, Baba Dantani’s youngest daughter and Clara my younger sister holding each other s hands without saying any word to each other.
As the heavily guarded motorcade conveying Baba Dantani’s family rode out of the community, my father sat on the floor placing his two hands on his bandaged head and uttered these words repeatedly “How did we get here…?”