I’m devastated. I woke up in the morning of Friday, January 4,to the story of an unnamed student shot in Maiduguri. Like most Nigerians used to hearing news of assaults and atrocieties from the northeast, I muttered a prayer for the victim and returned to my business. My attention was drawn to the name about an hour later and, upon investigation, the victim turned out to be from my own family tree. Abdulmumin? My heartbeat stopped for a minute. Abdulmumin? I went for my phone at once. This very unlucky Nigerian isn’t another log of wood, not a mere statistic to be impersonally prayed for. This one is a brother.
Abdulmumin was my “school son” in secondary school. He was the most sociable student in our dormitory, and the truest dandy in our room. I was either three or four years his senior in school, but his knowledge of the vogue meant we relied on him for the latest songs, clothes, shoes and perfumes. Skip the next sentences please. (We used to dash to Abuja together from the Suleja-based boarding school to hang out with friends.) Our parents must not hear a word of that! But you must forgive this because, if what our clerics preach about purgatory is not exaggerated, the experiences there are just as found at government-owned boarding schools.
I began my enquiry on the online news media. At Sahara Reporters, that hub of sensationalism, Abudlmumin was merely “hurt”. Nothing more. Abdulmumin had been caught in a shootout between JTF soldiers and Boko Haram insurgents. Hurt. That Sahara Reporters didn’t sensationalise or investigate the story means that military brutality is, just like the many evils before it, already becoming non-news. At the Premium Times website, Abdulmumin was “hit by a stray bullet”. The stories kept coming, each with slightly different details, until friends and family of Abdulmumin intervened and thus contradicting narratives going viral on the cyberspace.
There were indeed no Boko Haram insurgents, they said. There was no shootout, they clarified. It was just another case of state authorised terrorism waged by the Joint Task Force, they accused. Abdulmumin, I learnt from their narratives, left Minna for Maiduguri on Thursday 3rd January 2013, with the post-holiday fervour (and fear, I assume) of settling down in that hotbed of terrorism. Vehicular movements are outlawed in Maiduguri from 9 pm but the bus that took Abdulmumin to Maiduguri didn’t beat the curfew regime, so the passengers passed the night at the Borno Express Park. It was on his way back to his base at 303, a private hostel in the university’s vicinity, in the early hours of the morning that he ran into that fate. Abdulmumin was in a taxi with other passengers and just as they approached a military checkpoint at Gwange quarter, the soldiers began to shoot at them. According to the narratives of eyewitnesses, the bullets that left those guns were not “stray”. They were “aimed”. And so they lodged a bullet in Abdulmumin’s head.
But, were they remorseful? The emerging stories scared me: When the taxi driver managed to stop and was forced out to lay face down, he reportedly called the attention of the soldiers to a shot passenger. “So what?” They responded, and then threatened to kill the driver if he misbehaved. That unfolding tragedy was checked only by the approach of the operation commander. Their exercise was, ironically, dubbed “Operation Restore Order”. The commander asked to know what happened and the soldiers gave that the taxi driver was speeding towards the checkpoint. Case one. The taxi driver told the commander that he didn’t see the soldiers, neither did he their checkpoint. Case two. In summary, the commander, God bless his heart, joined the driver in the taxi to have Abdulmumin rushed to the University Teaching Hospital where he is now a pitiable wreck in the Intensive Care Unit. Case closed? Oh no, the other passengers who were witnesses to that episode of human worthlessness were not dropped off. They were left with the soldiers!
What happened to the witnesses? London-based Nigerian blogger, Kayode Ogundamisi, shared a story of one of them. Hauwa Seidu, he wrote, was threatened with death if she dared say a word about what transpired. They then seized her identity card. The choice is left for her.
On the social networking media, all the Nigerians who commented on this flip of our history unanimously agreed that JTF is now a “government-endorsed terrorist group”, citing the security agent’s previous brutalities and killings, and clampdown on the media houses and journalists that reported on their exploits. This discord between JTF and the people to whom they consider themselves protectors seems to me a breach of trust. Oppression justifies terrorism, and much as these peace-keepers in khaki fail to set themselves apart from the ideologically hollow insurgents of Boko Haram, their opponents expand their reach. May God save us from us!
Page 2, Blueprint Newspapers