The university was closing down indefinitely, and students scampered in all directions trying to get to the hostels and pack their luggages. They had been given four hours to evacuate the hostels before the mobile police were sent in to force them out, and no one wanted to brave the wrath of the mobile police.
The air was still thick with the tear gas that had been used to quell the uprising that led to the shut down of the school and several students were still coughing intermittently and dapping at teary red rimmed eyes.
The university was known for its many religious conflicts between the muslim and christian populace, which was a reflection of the happenings in the state where it was situated. The state, located in the middle belt of Nigeria, had been thrown into a state of religious conflict for six years when a state governor decided to join the forum of Northern governors. The North was predominantly muslim and this move was seen by the christian, who were the majority, as an attempt to islamize the state, and thus the “state of harmony” was thrown into disharmony, a situation which spilled into the academia.
In the university, the war had been an intellectual one with each group trying to gain supremacy over the other by holding key positions, from the vice chancellorship to the student union government presidency, and while in power to subvert the other.
The current vice chancellor was a muslim, and his first act on ascending power two years before was to restrict proliferation of christian fellowships on the campus and banning the use of school halls for religious purposes, ordering all denominations to merge and use only the school chapel. The reaction had been immediate and christian students took to the streets protesting but in the absence of the support of the student union governnent- headed by a muslim student, nothing had come of it.
For the next two years, the christians had united and dominated the student union government and were able to promote the cause of the christians in the school, and an uneasy calm was maintained.
All hell broke loose on a sunday afternoon, twelve hours before the closing down of the school. It was a sunny day, the air was still and the sun was shining brillantly against a clear blue sky. There was a general air of complacency among the students.
The silence was broken by a voice over the megaphone from the central mosque opposite Hall 2, calling muslim faithful for the Asr prayer.
In room 20, a student groaned aloud. The noise had woken him up just as he was falling asleep after hours of tossing and turning plagued with thoughts of the coming exams, his unsubmitted assignments delayed by lack of funds and his mother’s ailing health which was draining the family’s meagre resources. He had finally found reprieve in sleep when the call to prayer woke him up. He knew he wouldn’t fall asleep again.
“These useless people sef, always disturbing one’s sleep with their stupid prayers”. He froze immediately, realizing he had spoken his thoughts aloud. He hadn’t meant to. He had always being careful to keep his opinion on religion to himself as he was living with four muslims. They were the fanatical types, the ones that wear prayer caps on suits with trousers reaching to the ankles and sporting long often untrimmed beards. He knew how passionate and often aggressive they could be in defence of their religion.
He prayed no one heard him and he lay still on his bed. Moments later, a blow landed on his head jerking his head up and closely followed by a slap. He was being mauled by four very angry muslims.
His cry for help shook the students in the hall out of their complancency. In a matter of minutes, excited students were pouring into his room eager for some action- nothing excited students more than a fight. By this time his face was swollen and he was bleeding from the nose and burst lips.
The outrage was immediate. The assailants were beaten to a pulp and in a matter of minutes, a full scale religious war had broken out, and spread to other halls.
In no time, an army of christian students were marching to the central mosque with only one intent- to burn it. The mosque was guarded by muslim students in battle formation. The fore consisted of the males who were hauling stones at the approaching army, and the rear formed by the females who were gathering stones into buckets and passing it to the males.
The approaching army was undettered. They were led by members of cult groups whose only claim to christianity was being born to christian families. They had guns, machetes, and axes of various sizes.
The battle wore on into the night. The muslims were overpowered and the mosque was burnt. Muslim ladies escaped being killed by removing their hijab to avoid being identified and the males went into hiding. There was a man hunt going on.
The mobile police force arrived just after dawn and wasted no time in releasing tear gases and whipped anybody they could lay their hands on. The students dispersed and pandemonium reigned. It was announced over the radio that the school had been closed indefinitely and all students were to vacate the hostels within four hours.