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New Dawn on the Plateau

New Dawn on the Plateau
January 10
19:50 2015

BY FUNSO AKINLADE

The cries of horror from perishing souls, the defeaning sounds of gunshots as well as the screams of sorrow from the wounded and the bereaved, all tinged with thick smoke and its smell would have woken the deepest sleeper. That was the exact case almost a day earlier when the Central Mosque was razed down and the worshippers therein hacked down in droves by a multitude of people believed to be and or sympathetic to the Christians, but apparently now, it was the reverse.

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Daushep peeped through his window from his three bedroom bungalow, which by the standard of Yelwa town, was exquisite. The foundation was rather high and it gave his house a height advantage, enabling him to see surrounding houses very well from his windows. Now, he saw houses being consumed by inferno of no little sizes and the fire lit up the streets. Close-by, there were men brandishing machetes, axes, barandami – long double-edged sword-like knives – as well as firearms. He paced up and down in his living room and his wife followed him with every single step. Panic, fear and agitation all permeated the air.
‘Dear, I warned you; I advised, implored and warned that we should flee like a lot did since this crisis started few days ago,’ the wife said, scared to the bone.
Daushep felt guilty and couldn’t look his wife in the face. He was Tarok, a predominantly Christian tribe and a local businessman. However, he was more influential than any local politician in the multi-tribal town, and was known for his campaign against the use of religion and or ethnicity to divide the people. The crusade by a negligible few like him seemed to have worked for years until in recent weeks when the choice of the candidates of major political parties had split them yet again along the perennial ‘settlers versus indigenes’ lines. Attacks and counter-attacks had been the order of the day, and it came to a head when a day earlier, Saadu, the local chief of a nearby village of Yamini, a predominantly Muslim village about 30 km from Yelwa, was killed by some gunmen and they didn’t spare his family as well as some Jarawas who were their real targets.
It had never been an easy crusade for Daushep because his people felt his campaigns gave the Jarawas, Fulanis and other so-called settlers more courage than they usually had, and now blamed him for the series of violence that had erupted. Unsurprisingly too, he found no words of comfort from the Jarawas for whom he was being castigated by his people. Same went for people like him from other tribes, just like the Muslim local chief that was killed.

Now his mental prowess was in full swing in a bid to save his family from the obvious menacing destruction. More than that too, he had over twenty Muslim Jarawa women and children hiding in his house since the onslaught of the Tarok, Biroms, Gamia and other ‘indigenes’ a day earlier.
Then they heard loud bangs on the gate outside, with different screaming voices.
‘Allahu Akbar. Let’s fight those arna,’ one of them screamed from outside, calling them infidels.
‘Whether you open this gate or not you die,’ a loud and gruff voice screamed.
His wife held unto him and his son started weeping. His daughter kept a sad but stern face, with her eyes red, but she fought back the tears. She shook with fear all the same. The wife and son were inconsolable.
‘Daddy, calm down and think of a way out,’ the daughter advised.
He looked at Paulina, his daughter who just joined the club of teenagers a year earlier and saw a replica of himself. He gave a mild smile in admiration.
‘I have a way out but one can’t be too sure,’ he replied.
‘Then we try it, rather than wait here to die,’ the girl said.
‘I wonder why I never thought of this all the while,’ he said as he sprang up with some verve and hope. He carried his son and others followed swiftly. ‘Hope the compound lights are out.’
‘Daddy, all lights are out! Everywhere is dark in town, save the raging fires,’ Pauline replied. She then asked, ‘And dad, what of those hiding in our house?’
‘Those wicked people?’ Her mother asked, shocked by her daughter’s question. ‘Is it not their people that are after us?’
‘I am sure they won’t touch them,’ Daushep replied his daughter. ‘Those people outside are after us and they won’t touch their own.’

He went through some corridor and then entered the kitchen. He opened the door leading outside from the kitchen and they were at the rear side of his compound. The fence had a little door in it, leading outside the compound but it was concealed by the poultry cages in the compound. The door had never been opened since he moved into the house, and they rarely remembered the door. He entered the poultry house with his family and moved away the cages. He unlocked the door and opened. Behind was nothing but bush and thick bush.
‘Do find your way to anywhere safe. I shall try to talk with those banging on the gate.’
‘What do you mean?’ The wife screamed. ‘We go together!’
They heard some noise from the other end of the compound and it was that of the gate giving way. Daushep helped his family out of the door fast. ‘Run, run and run. I shall keep them for some time, so even if they chased you, you would have gone far from them,’ he concluded as he closed the door against his protesting wife.

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Pauline woke with a start and realised she had been dreaming. Unlike most dreams though, hers was a reenactment of a live event of few months earlier, which led to her father’s murder. All in the dream was real, and she had dreamt same over and over again. The startle from the dream jolted her and the ensuing shift made her skin touch the bare floor on which lay the mat where she slept. The floor felt cold and the cold ran through her spine and then her whole body. She shivered. Then, the hazy harmattan wind blew gently, and made rustling sound at it struck the tatch that served as the roof of the red-brick hut. With each sound of the unforgivingly cold wind came some rush of same wind through the several holes in the walls of the room, and the light nature of the wrapper Pauline used to cover herself did just little to save her from the cold in the room.
Same fate befell her younger brother, mother and cousin who lay on the small mat with her. Her mother was on one side of the mat while she was at the other end, in a bid to ensure her little brother and the cousin were not too exposed to the cold. Now Pauline had barely slept throughout the night and the incessant crowing of cocks meant daybreak was fast approaching.
‘Hmnn,’ she heaved, and turned to her side, to face her younger brother. Now, her eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the room and she was able to see her mother sitting on the mat, and not sleeping.
‘Maama, you’re not sleeping,’ she said, nearly exclaiming.
‘I should be telling you that, Pauline,’ the mother said, rather bemusedly.
The daughter made to give some explanations but her mother took over.
‘You haven’t been sleeping well since this harmattan started; how then will you concentrate when you start school?’
Their discussion seemed to disturb the two boys on the mat, but each just changed position and swung to another gear of sleep. Pauline’s mother stared at them and shook her head pitifully.
Pauline understood the sullen look and pitiful feeling was not for the boys, but ironically for the woman herself. She took a matchbox just beside her on the floor and struck a stick against the box. She lit an oil lamp and looked at her watch.
‘It’s almost six, maama,’ she said as she sprang up. She picked up a plastic bucket from the side of the entrance door, as well as a bar soap and walked out to the make-shift bathroom, made with palm front.
Her mother watched every step of hers and couldn’t but remember her husband. Being female was just the only thing that made Pauline different from her late father. She was gracefully slim, smart, bold, relentless and not one to easily give in to emotions.
‘Won’t you boil some water?’ She asked after her. ‘You know that water in the big jar outside will be too cold.’
‘It’s too late maama.’
The cold weather outside slapped her face with the harsh wind and she shivered. Undaunted, she walked towards the bathroom and scooped some bowls of water from the big mud jar into the black plastic bucket. In the bathroom, she spread her wrapper across the entrance to serve as door and set to bath. She really was in a hurry to run inside, away from the cold but when she felt the water with her hand, cold waves made some mileage from her hand to the entirety of her body. She shivered.
Almost immediately, she heard some rustling sound and then entered her mother with another bucket of water. ‘I kept this for you in the house before I rested for the day last night.’
‘Thanks maama,’ she appreciated her mother and blessed her from the bottom of her heart.
Before seven, she was ready for school, and she took her cane school bag with some tattered books and a pen. She looked at her mother who now sat on the wooden chair, the only one in the room, and she could see the look of hard life, wretchedness, suffering and especially regrets and fear.
‘If only…’
‘Maama please, don’t go into all that,’ Pauline interrupted and pleaded. ‘If only father was alive; if only he had not waited behind to see if he could bring an end to the then looming crisis; if only he hadn’t been one who gave out almost anything he had and then left his family poor after his demise; if only, if only and if only!’ Pauline tried to be as calm she could as she recited what was now an anthem by her mother since her father died.
‘Yes my daughter.’ the woman was now weeping.
The two boys on the mat wriggled their body lazily and both opened their eyes reluctantly.
‘Mother,’ Pauline looked away from the boys, ‘I have to set out so I can call my friends out of their houses on time.’
Her mother looked at her as she moved towards the entrance of the tiny room, clad in a blue gown that had seen better days, and proudly holding her knitted bag of wretched books like the daughter of a governor would.
‘I hope to sell off the corn and millet before this week runs out, so I can get you some exercise books.’
‘Maama, I know you will get me the whole world if you got the money. So you don’t have to feel bad,’ she appreciated her mother even without looking back. ‘Let me resume school with my friends for the first time in over a year,’ she said as she vanished out into the haze outside.

 

After some boring assembly ground arrangement each teacher led a group of students to a class. Pauline was with the group going to the third class and suddenly, she spotted Aisha who used to be her best friend. She was first shocked, then confused and then scared. She trembled and her legs nearly gave way to make her stumble. She raised her head to look at Aisha again and the girl herself looked away, staring at the floor, apparently to dodge Pauline’s gaze.
She lost all concentration and was struck at the shoulder by Fidelia.
‘Is that not Aisha?’ Fidelia asked as they walked behind the rest, pouting out her lips in Aisha’s direction.
‘I think she is the one,’ Pauline replied pretending to be flippant about it.
‘This will be great news when we get back to our Yelwa which her fellow settlers have turned into a desolate village for us.’
‘How do you mean great news? That we have found our friend?’
Fidelia was startled. ‘Who is your friend?’ She asked with all the amazement in her. ‘That murderers’ daughter?’ Usurpers’ too? People you allow to join you at a meal but then they seize your hand and finish up your food? Please don’t bring that joke.’ She spoke in a really low and hush tone.
Pauline paused a bit and looked into Fidelia’s face. ‘But Aisha wasn’t and is not responsible for the killings.’
‘See I don’t even have your time, because I know you will soon go proverbial, philosophical and whatever,’ Fidelia concluded, her voice now quivering.

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The first few hours of the day was spent getting the students settle down in classes. Soon, it was time for break. Pauline, Fidelia and Aisha had not been able to concentrate all along. Now everyone trooped out of the class, but Pauline remained seated. She could not put her senses together and come to terms with being in the same class with Aisha, her former best friend, and in fact sister from another mother, like they referred to each other in the past. Things ceased being the same again though, since the ethno-religious violence that consumed not just their town, but Pauline’s father, uncle as well as his wife and children except one.

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Aisha, on her part, had been disturbed for over a year that her family had fled Yelwa, a place they’d called home for over a century, not knowing anywhere else as home. Fleeing Yelwa was just the least of her mental disturbance; she knew the people who called themselves indigenes blamed all the ‘settlers’, exempting no one, for their woes; she also knew Pauline’s family wouldn’t be left out of the blame game, and the thought of Pauline being in that category was the greatest source of distress for her. Now that they had both met and Pauline didn’t greet her, she was heart-broken. She sat in the class, head on the locker and wept profusely but silently.
Pauline looked back and saw Aisha, head on her desk. Almost immediately, she heard some sob and stood up, walking towards Aisha’s desk.
She put her steps to a halt at about a step away from Aisha.
Am I doing the right thing; sure? She asked herself quietly.
At that point, Aisha raised her head. She saw Pauline and both appeared shocked and speechless. Aisha’s eyes were blood-shot from weeping. Pauline saw the look of guilt, shame and fright in her eyes, and emotions ran high in her. She saw her very best friend broken completely by the thought of atrocities she never had a hand in. Her heart melted and she broke out crying as well.
‘Aisha, please stop crying,’ Pauline pleaded as she rushed at her and held her in a warm embrace.
‘Pauline,…’ Aisha called her friend silently, but she was short of words, and she sobbed.
‘Aisha, just calm down,’ Pauline said to her with a strong tone of consolation, ‘there is a lot to say, but we have to stop crying first.’
‘It’s ok.’
‘I’ve missed you my dear,’ Pauline said as they released their grip on each other and then looked into each other’s face, and then, they wept again.
‘I’ve missed you and my greatest fear since last year had been the thought of never meeting you again.’
‘More importantly,’ Pauline said, ‘thinking I’d blame your people for the crisis?’
‘Exactly!’
‘No, no and no,’ Pauline answered her, shaking her head rhythmically. ‘The Jarawa, Hausa and Fulani also have the right to think we are the devils. My dear, where do you come from? I mean where in Nigeria are your parents from?’
‘They don’t seem to be too sure of that o,’ Aisha replied. ‘My dad says his father is from Dass in Bauch, while his mother claims both Sokoto and Kaduna. My mum’s case is more interesting; her parents have claimed virtually every state in the north at one point or the other, aside Benue, Kogi, Kwara and Plateau States.’
‘Aisha,’ Pauline cut in, ‘your people are from Yelwa, just like we who call ourselves indigenes. Truth is everyone was at some point a visitor at a place they now call their home because their ancestors settled down. Come to think of it, both settlers and indigenes pay tax to the government and contribute to the development of the place.’
‘But what do you now say of the Fulanis that keep attacking villages to kill?’
‘Do you know them?’
‘No I don’t and I bet I don’t know anyone that knows them. Unfortunately, deep inside them, they are fighting for our sake.’
‘Same goes for my people,’ Pauline said, ‘one of your people’s village, Borghom, was attacked days ago, and so was Lakushi, one of my people’s, last week. The carnage just goes on and on. I remember my dad once told people at a meeting that no one should ever fight or kill in the name of fighting for him. He always insisted he hadn’t and would never send or implore anyone to fight for him.’
‘That reminds me of that Herbert Macaulay quote that was always on the wall in your house.’
‘Oh yes,’ Pauline replied excitedly, ‘you know my dad had it pasted on several walls in the house; I picked one from the ruins of our compound. It is in my bag, though I also have it in my head.’ She giggled.
‘That’s my friend; my brilliant sister from another mother,’ Aisha praised her friend.
Pauline shifted her butts in the chair they both sat on and looked right into Aisha’s face again. She saw a beautiful smile emanate from her face. She saw the Aisha she always knew and was happy. The slim face with a nose of same proportion. A set of white teeth that glittered whenever exposed in a radiant smile, as well as an endearing mien. Pauline had missed her friend.
‘Wherever my dad is, I’m sure he’ll be happy we both don’t have our eyes befuddled and beclouded by the dummies selfish politicians sell to us, making us hate each other, fight each other and then kill each other.’
‘And then the politicians are the ones who harvest bountifully from the spoils of the hatred,’ Aisha added.
‘Just take for instance, no matter who the president of this country is and no matter his tribe or religion, people from other tribes and religions partake in his government, but it is baffling that people who don’t even gain from same government argue over them, and even maim and kill because the president is or isn’t form their tribe.’
‘I get,’ Aisha responded. ‘I wish everyone will be like your father and bring up their children the way you were brought up. My parents weren’t like him, but it’s amazing to know they think just like that now. It started when you and I became friends and they realised what kind of person your dad was. Now, my parents insist everyone is guilty until we stopped preaching and teaching hate.’
‘And that reminds me; how is your brother Ibrahim?’
Aisha’s face went sour. ‘Hmnn, that’s one story gone awry. Remember he was beginning to give my parents troubles, coming home late and even wouldn’t come home at times?’
‘Yes I do remember.’
‘He doesn’t even come home again; at all!’
‘How I missed seeing him protecting you back then in primary school, as if his life depended on you,’ Pauline said.
‘No one understands him again o; whenever he bumps into the house, he says he comes around only because of me and that I am the only reason he still sees the reason to live on.’
Then entered a few of the students and that was when the two friends realised they had heard the bell ringing for end of the break.
‘Pauline!’ Fidelia screamed after she entered and saw Pauline sitting right in the same chair with Aisha.
It dawned on both friends that their new-found love was never going to have a smooth sail.
‘Fidelia, hem, hmnn, it’s Aisha,’ Pauline stammered as she tried unsuccessfully to be her bold self.
Fidelia looked spitefully at them and walked on to take her seat, seething with complete contempt and anger.
‘We talk later.’ Pauline stood up to walk to her chair. ‘You don’t worry about her; I am happy to find you,’ she added before she left.

Pauline’s mother screamed as she raced toward her hut. ‘Pauline, Pauline,’ I think this child wants to kill me. ‘Ladi!’ She called her daughter’s native name.
Pauline was startled. She was lying on the mat, reading some book when she heard her name. If she wasn’t sure of whom the caller was before, the local name called last was just what she needed to be sure it was her mother.
‘Maama,’ she screamed in reply.
Her mother then rushed into the room, eyes red, body shaking and her voice in rhythmic fashion with the shivering body. ‘Pauline, what do you want? I mean what do you want me to do? To die so you can become an orphan and turn you, your brother and cousin to destitudes?’
‘I don’t understand maama,’ the bemused Pauline replied, looking askance at her mum as she rose to her feet.
‘No, you don’t,’ the mother went sarcastic, still seething with fury. ‘You mean you saw Aisha and anger, mixed with sorrow did not reign supreme in you?’
‘Haaaawww,’ Pauline took a long sigh as well as deep breath as she realised what the uproar was about. ‘Maama, please…’
‘Please, do well to keep your mouth shut,’ her mother cut in. ‘Do you know what it means for a woman as young as I am to train kids alone? Do you realize it was that girl’s people that killed your father? Will you dance shamelessly on your father’s grave by mingling with the same girl? Will you…’ She couldn’t continue as she broke down in tears.
Pauline held her mother’s hands and helped her to the mat. ‘Maama,’ she started, ‘I am not dancing on my father’s grave and shamelessly at that, by living for what he lived for.’
She then sat beside her on the mat, holding her hand and facing her. ‘All my father preached was peace and love, as instructed and exemplified by our Saviour Jesus. Maama, you don’t seem to get it that if we all loved one another, Jarawa, Gamai, Borghom, Angas, Fulani, Pyem, Kwalla, Junkun, Sayawa, and I mean everyone everywhere, this pogrom wouldn’t have occurred in the first place.’
‘That is the point,’ her mother cut in, still with white scummy liquid streaming down her nose. ‘If we all loved one another; not when we love and we don’t get any in return.’
‘My father,’ Pauline started, and shook her head, looking up, ‘God bless his soul. I remember asking him this question many times and even more tricky and thorny ones; he had answers for all.’ She looked back at her mother.
‘When do you really show love maama?’
‘When o?’ Her mother asked too in mock retort.
‘You really have shown love when you do good unto someone from whom you don’t ever expect such, and maybe naturally or in a divine fashion, such gesture, somehow, somewhere, sooner or later, will come back to you.’
‘Pauline, we are not God and can’t be Him. You talk of settlers whose primary aim since they settled here well over a hundred years ago has always been to uproot us from our land; where on earth does that happen? Can anyone do that do them where they came from?’
‘My dad would have reminded you of the quotation that the earth as well as all therein is the Lord’s,’ Pauline replied, smiling and gesticulating. ‘He would have asked you if the human race, and our own ancestors met themselves on this land. Obviously no. Somehow, everyone settled somewhere at some point and later called the place home. Besides, what do we gain by annihilating and dehumanizing people who pay tax like we do and help develop the land with us because they see it as their own? What do we gain?’
‘We try to secure the future of our children, so they don’t come after we have gone and start lording it over you and your children,’ she said to Pauline.
‘The same children who have died and are still being killed in midnight raids, all because of the seed of discord you sowed?’ She asked her mother.
‘Hmnnn,’ Pauline’s mother seemed to be short of words. ‘You see what we say?’ She suddenly found something to say. ‘They keep killing your people, despite not being allowed to become part of us; you can imagine what will become to us if we allowed them.’
‘Maaaama,’ she stressed as she called her mother, ‘I may be young but I know of several villages dominated by the Fulanis and Jarawas that have been razed, with almost everyone killed. We are not only sure they didn’t kill themselves, it is obvious people on our side did it. And you know why my cousin is still alive is because he was picked up after his parents were killed and was hidden away from some marauding killers. The man who picked him up was a Muslim. He was later killed by people who claimed they were fighting for you and me.’

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‘I don’t even know why I am sitting down here, listening to you,’ the mother said and she rose up to leave, probably back to Fidelia’s parents’ side of the blocks of huts. ‘Your father was a more ardent believer and speaker of all these polemics. I didn’t really believe in it, but just lived with it. He paid with his life and here we are. At your age, I don’t know where and how you get different ideas from; you’ve always been like that since your cradle though. Your dad called it being inquisitive and great brilliance, but now I think some tomfoolery has been added. Mark my words, you don’t go back to that school again. I can’t even stand you and Aisha sitting down together. Besides, what if they used you as a bait to get us?’ She asked with a tone of finality and walked out.

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Aisha had been feeling blue throughout the day. She couldn’t come to terms with her parents decision that she would have to forfeit going to school for the time being after she had told them she met her former school mates, especially her friend Pauline at her new school. They had never felt safe since they fled to Shendam, but their fright had become heightened after they learnt some children from Yelwa, including Pauline whose father was brutally decapitated and butchered had seen Aisha at the school. Aisha wept inconsolably throughout the day and refused to eat.
She sat in the sofa in the big room that served as parlour in the three-room mud house. A slim tall frame walked in from one of the two rooms. She didn’t care to look up, but she knew it was either her father or mother. Soon, she saw the feet close to her, and with the traditional painting on the feet, she knew it was her mother.
‘Aisha, I just made some nunu for you; the way you love it,’ her mother told her.
‘Maama, I want to see Pauline,’ she replied, sad.
‘You know how much we have changed over time as regards our view of those people,’ her mother said patting her on the shoulder. She then sat on the edge of the seat.
‘Your dad and I personally do not have anything against anyone, no matter their religion or tribe, especially a special family like Pauline’s. However, tensions are high and we can’t take anything for granted now. That we were careful was the reason we fled where we called home and escaped the killing; that is why we are still alive. My daughter, we may even have to flee to Lafia now that some Yelwa people have seen you. We don’t mean any harm to anyone, but Allah has given us the wisdom to save our own lives too.’
Aisha remained sad and quiet.
Then came some noise at the door and her elder brother walked in. He stood at the door and looked round the room like a first-timer would do, to take everything and the people in. He panted heavily and gave some sharp sniff at about every twenty seconds.
Aisha brightened up at the sight of her brother and sat up straight. Almost immediately though, she became sad again, after she actually saw how unkempt he was. Ibrahim loved on her; she loved him as well, but sometimes she is scared of and more so, for him. Now, he was in the same dirty tunic he wore when he entered the house few weeks earlier and even the last time before then. He also had a white vest that had become multi-coloured through the better times it had seen.
‘So you remember home today?’ The mother asked. ‘We thought you had gone forever!’
‘Are you chasing me from my home?’
‘The home you don’t have any regard for again?’ His mother asked. ‘It’s got so worse than the Yelwa days that you haven’t even slept here for once since we got here.’
‘Your husband disowned me long ago and my sister is the only family I have left,’ he replied, now pacing up and down. He then looked at his sister more intently and sniffed habitually.
He became worried when he realised she didn’t appear happy. ‘What is it?’ He asked.
Aisha’s mother stood up and went out.
Ibrahim squatted before his sister. ‘First thing first; where is father?’ He asked .
Aisha looked into his eyes, considering whether to reply or not. She then motioned at one of the entrances to the two rooms.
‘Sleeping?’
‘Probably.’
‘What is the problem?’
‘Pauline.’
‘I don’t get; isn’t that suppose to be your then friend whom I suppose is now your enemy?’
‘She is still my best friend; I don’t have anyone as close to me as she is,’ she submitted with every tone of affection.
‘Even me?’
Aisha looked at him, mouth aghast. ‘Seriously? You whom I haven’t seen in weeks?’ She went vituperative. ‘I grew up knowing you as my brother and friend who could risk and forgo anything for my sake. With you, I feared no one in school, on the street and anywhere, and then suddenly, something changed in you. No one sees you, and you don’t even care whatever happens to anyone.’
‘Most things I do, I do for you,’ Ibrahim cut in and then he placed his right hand on her left shoulder and held her right hand with his left.
‘You say that always and it makes me think you still see me as the then four, five or six year old, because I am your younger sister. Ibrahim, I am fifteen years old and some of my peers are already mothers.’
Ibrahim’s countenance changed and his eyes turned red a bit. He felt so bad and obviously pained by the way his sister felt neglected by him.
‘I appreciate that you still remember that I once loved you and could die for you. If nobody is ever going to take it from me that I have become like this because of my family, and especially my sister, at least I can try to make amends henceforth. Aisha, why exactly are you sad?’ Just tell me and I shall wade in.
She opened up.

‘So what is it this time?’ Ibrahim’s father asked him, without looking up to his face from his bed. ‘I overheard your voice while sleeping earlier in the day but I expected you to have disappeared as usual before I woke up. Now, you plead that I listen to you in private.’
Ibrahim sniffed and looked round the room, and it dawned on both he and his father that that was the first time he would be in that room.
‘Father, I cannot by any means come to ask you for forgiveness for all the pains I have caused. However, I plead that you hear me out.’
The father shifted in his supine position in bed, but still didn’t look at his son’s face.
‘I miss my sister, and I am so downcast meeting her unhappy.’
His father then looked at his face and saw the sincere love they always knew him to have for Aisha. ‘You know we have no other option than to stop her from going to that school?’
‘I understand that father, but I have to put my life on the line now so she wouldn’t become even really sad in the real sense of it!’
‘I don’t get!’ His father rose from bed and sat up fast. ‘What do you mean really sad?’
‘Let me start by saying I fired the shot that killed Pauline’s father!’ He said, with a blank expression on his face.
‘What!’ His father screamed and stood up from bed. ‘That good man!’He lamented.
‘Father, please calm down so my mother and sister won’t hear us,’ he now started crying. ‘They are not in but they may come in anytime!’
‘What do you mean they should not hear? I shall have to hand you over to the police!’
Ibrahim smiled even in his tears. ‘I am not scared of that father. I just don’t want to hurt my sister with the news.’
‘That is never an excuse to cover up killing; you know how much Allah cherishes each human soul.’
‘Father, you are not getting me too well,’ he paused his intermittent sobs and explained. ‘I started this conversation by saying I didn’t want to hurt my sister further, and that is the only reason I am here. I have done more evil than the sermon you want to start. See all our people’s villages have been decimated in this land. Just last week, your cousin and his entire family were wiped out,’ he heaved and paused. ‘May I sit down father?’ He asked and sniffed. ‘I seem to get tired easily nowadays.’
His father puckered up his lips and nonchalantly pointed at a stool in a corner of the room.
‘There are various groups on our side also fighting for our cause.’
‘No,’ his father protested. ‘They claim to be fighting for our cause but by Allah, they are not, at least not for me and my family.’
Ibrahim sniffed. ‘Ok. No issues,’ Ibrahim concurred flimsily. ‘I was coerced and deceived into joining one of the militia groups as the stormy issues that led to the crisis raged about two years ago. They threatened to kill my family if I repudiated their offer. I think they particularly came after me considering our family’s ties to a lot of the Christian groups. I was instructed to be the one to kill Aisha’s father and, father, all these are stories for another day; probably if I survived till the day you will hand me over to the police.’
‘I am taking you in today,’ his father told him with no emotions.
Ibrahim sniffed and smiled. ‘By tomorrow night, if I am not allowed to give directions to prevent it, my hit group will strike the part of Yelwa where the remnants of Pauline’s people have gone to resettle and kill all of them!’
Allah na, Allah na! His father exclaimed.
‘Father, this is no time to raise this kind of alarm in a bid to call your God. All we have to do is act fast. From your end, you don’t want anyone killed and from mine, I don’t want my sister’s friend to be killed so my sister wouldn’t be utterly devastated. She is all I care about now, not even my life any longer because I’m sure Allah has long left me for the devil.’
His father rose fast and made to dress up.
‘What next sir?’
‘To go report to the police of course!’
Ibrahim smiled. ‘Father, you won’t stop amusing me, even in dire situations like this.’
‘They will effect your arrest and sabotage the effort of you and your evil group,’ the father replied undeterred.
‘Father,’ the son called out solemnly and stood to walk toward his father, ‘I say I don’t care about myself. All I want is to save that girl whose father I murdered after what I could only call a re-engineering of my brain, and more so, save my only sister, my blood, the pain of losing her best friend!’ His voice was a bit raised now and he broke down in tears.
His father heaved and dropped the cloth he had earlier picked to wear. Unconsciously, he raised his hand to hold and comfort his son, but almost instantly, changed the course of that.
‘So, what do you want?’ He asked, looking at him without any iota of feeling for him.

Pauline’s side touched the very cold floor and she woke up fast. However, she felt something more than the cold floor woke her up. It wasn’t the dream about her father’s death and neither was it the rather smooth noise of the wind of the night. She sat up, only to see the silhouette of her mother, also in an upright sitting position.
‘Maa…,’ she tried to talk, but immediately, her mother’s hands made a dash to her lips to hold them together.
‘Shhh,’ the mother cautioned as quietly as possible. ‘There is some sort of whistling and some other strange noise coming from the end that leads to our farms.’
Pauline understood her mother’s fears and when she heard some voices from the bush, her walls of fearlessness crumbled.

Just few meters away, Ibrahim stood in front of a few men, including his father. They were armed with catapults, machetes, bow and arrow and had been in the bush for hours. Around Ibrahim’s neck was a chain made from beads and he clutched unto it for some seconds, closed his eyes and murmured some words to himself.
‘All things being equal, they should come from the other end of this line of huts,’ he said to them. He sniffed and then pointed at the hut closest to them. ‘That belongs to the family of that man I said we killed at the height of the crisis, and while I intend to save everyone, the occupants of that house are my priority. We don’t intend to fight the assailants, and they may not want to kill us, but my presence may trigger some annoyance amidst them.’
‘Apparently, we don’t even stand any chance against them,’ his father added, looking at their arms. ‘We don’t have Kalashnikovs, G3 and their likes.’ He then took out his hand set and seemed to fumble with it for some seconds. He later smiled and said, ‘It’s way way past twelve.’
Just then, some gunshots rang from the other end of the village. Ibrahim and his men ran out to the open in front of the huts and lit up the surrounding.
Some hooded men had already started hacking down the first house and one of them sprayed it generously with petrol. Screaming voices yearning for help and bemoaning their fate started from that first house and then other houses.
‘Burn this house down , and then do same for others. You shoot any arna that runs out of the inferno meant for them,’ a baritone voice ordered, but his speech was halted when he realised there was some light at some places close to the middle of the settlement.

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‘We come to you in the name of Allah,’ Ibrahim spoke out. ‘We can’t continue like this you know…’
‘Ibrahim,’ the gruff voice of the leader called, ‘I can always identify your voice, even in my sleep.’ He laughed rather wickedly. ‘You shouldn’t be the one doing this, after the number of infidels your hands have sent to hell. Those were not atrocities, because you have been a good tool in hands of the Almighty to help avenge the wickedness of the infidels of this land. You go wrong however if you now stand in the way of our movement for justice.’

Now all the houses were buzzing with wailings, loud prayers and lamentations. Pauline’s mother and her wards cried.
Pauline then brightened up suddenly and looked at her mother, ‘I just have a strange feeling I know one of the voices in action outside.’
She walked to the door and peeped from the key hole. She saw a few men right in front of their house and right in front of them was a young man she knew so well. She was confused the more when she saw they seemed to be discussing with another group ahead of them.

‘Well, I do not deny my involvement in this ignoble movement which you forced me to join,’ Ibrahim started, ‘but I now realise how wicked it is.’
‘I know someone has advised you wrongly, because these people are not just infidels, they have killed and maimed our people and it is just right for us to avenge the death of our brethren, and fight even with the last drop of our blood, to rid this town of the enemies of Allah.’
‘Peace is what we preach and it is what we want,’ Ibrahim replied, ‘but someone has to sue for peace and work towards it.’
‘Well, seems you have a lot of time for rubbish this wee hour,’ the head replied. ‘We don’t ever intend to attack our own, but that is if you won’t be a stumbling block,’ he said and looked back at his tens of followers who now stood behind him, having halted their attack.
‘Seems you are going to have to kill me first,’ Ibrahim said boldly.
The head laughed. ‘Well, your choice Ibrahim.’ He motioned to the men behind him and one came to the front. ‘I shall give you the honor of personally killing you.’ He took a Kalashnikov from the man, but before he could have a good hold on it, an arrow hit his right thigh. He screamed and fell.
Ibrahim’s father and others then ran into the bush to take cover and continue to strike from there, but Ibrahim stood where he was, with a machete. Two of the men ran towards him, but one was hit by an arrow and he fell. The other reached him and brought out a machete. They then set out to fight, but just then some heavy gunshots interrupted.
A voice on megaphone travelled through the silence of the night, deafening the chaos on ground. ‘Stay where you are and surrender. You have been surrounded from every corner. Any move, and you are dead.’
One of the men carried the leader and made to help him run, but he was gunned down.
Ibrahim’s father then breathed with a relieving sigh. ‘Thanks be to Allah I did not end up wasting the lives of my good people,’ he said and went to the open.
The militia men were rounded up and then, the leader of the police team called out the terrified occupants of the houses. Pauline saw some of what transpired and immediately she was out, she ran toward Ibrahim.
‘Pauline!’ her mother yelled.
Pauline ran all the same, but when she got to him, realised he had a big cut in his left hand and his stomach. ‘Ibrahim,’ she called and tapped him from his side.
Ibrahim looked at her and was ashamed. ‘I’m sorry Pauline.’
‘But you just saved us; you’re our hero and I should apologise to you.’
Ibrahim broke down in tears and Pauline was confused. She was still in her state of confusion when Ibrahim called the policemen.
‘Please, don’t go without arresting me too,’ he said to the surprise of everyone. He then looked at his father, and the man gave him a solemn nod of approval.
It was then Pauline saw Aisha’s father.
‘That man and his friends,’ Ibrahim said, pointing to his father, ‘as well as those men with him and more so, your father and their likes are the heroes. My father will explain all about this to you.’
Pauline then walked towards Aisha’s father. Then, a policeman came to take Ibrahim away, but he looked back and then said to Pauline, ‘Pauline, Aisha loves you and I know you love her too. Do me a favour of keeping the love. Let it grow beyond you two alone, and radiate to the length and breath of Yelwa, Shendam, Plateau State, Nigeria and beyond. Peace is all we need and crave for, but somehow, most of us don’t work toward it. So, please do that and let the whole world see that no matter the religion, tribe or colour, good life is what every human being needs. Peace and love are the seeds for that. Now he appeared very tired and he found it difficult to talk. He dipped his right hand in a breast pocket on his shirt and brought out a piece of paper. He handed it to Pauline and then, passed out and slumped.
Pauline was confused. She held the paper and joined the policemen to rush for Ibrahim, so he wouldn’t fall. There were more than enough hands though, and then she looked at the paper. It was one of the few pasted on the walls in their former house. She could read it off-hand, but to be double-sure it was same, she read it out from the paper:
‘As Africans, we have been split almost into smithereens by what we call religion in West Africa, where men and women wrangle for religion, write for it, fight for it, and perhaps even die for it, nay do anything but live for it.’ (Herbert Macaulay, 1934).
She got confused the more and then felt a hand around her shoulders. It was Aisha’s father.
‘You’ll get to understand all soon.’
‘Is Aisha fine? Are we going to attend same school?’ she asked in quick succession.
‘Definitely.’

Funso, born in Yelwa some decades back, is a physiotherapist.

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