Four years ago, I would have become a statistic. People would have asked, ‘But she had finished service. Why did she remain in the north?’
I remained in the north because I loved it there. Life was simple, the people were friendly, fresh food was cheap, internet was not exactly light speed but it served and I had made friends.
When I received my call up letter to Jigawa State I was happy. Mainly because I had been born in Lagos, bred in Warri, schooled in the east and I wanted to have an experience of northern Nigeria. Primary assignment took me to Hadejia LGA where I lived for over one year. I started a small business on the side with my three-in-one printer, laminating machine and laptop, making trips to Kano when I had bigger print jobs. I handled ID cards and constitutions for NYSC clubs, question papers for private schools, bulletin for my church. It didn’t pay a lot but it was my business and it meant self-sufficiency.
When service year was done, I decided to stay back instead of returning to an uncertain future in the south. I applied for jobs: banks mostly. I took up an appointment at Maje High School, teaching Physics and Mathematics. I loved the kids, they were mostly curious and once they realized I wasn’t an autocrat they challenged me at every turn, as I challenged them.
Elections were around the corner. I had decided from day one that I wasn’t going to vote for Goodluck Jonathan. It didn’t stop locals from calling me and other still serving corps members Jonathan because as far as they were concerned, every non-indigene was supporting their ‘brother’.
I participated in the elections as a Presiding Officer, standing in for a corps member who had to travel. It was peaceful, Buhari won overwhelmingly in the presidential polls in the ward where I was posted.
When the national results were announced and Goodluck Jonathan won, the PDP members, one of whom was the proprietor of my school and a retired army officer celebrated.
It was March, my senior students were writing their WASSCE. I had just finished supervising an exam and was headed home. There were plenty of stares but I didn’t find that abnormal, I was a woman who did not wear a hijab or headscarf; I got stared at a lot. There were random groups of men just standing around, doing nothing. That wasn’t strange either.
What I didn’t realize was that as I walked a small crowd of young men formed behind and followed me home. I had rented a room next door to a fellowship family house. My first inkling that something was wrong was when I got home and there were no voices from the family house.
New batch A corps members had just arrived a few days earlier so there was always someone at home. I decided to drop my bags first before checking on them.
If you’ve lived in the north, you’ll know that the fences are high and form part of the wall of the house; the entrance usually has a regular sized door, one way in and out.
As soon as I stepped in through the metal door, something hit it on the other side. Next thing I knew, what thankfully turned out to be stones, started striking the door. I dropped my bags and leaned against it. The lock was bad, the caretaker had been promising to fix it for weeks. I felt someone push from the other side but by this time I was scared to death and stayed solid. The push came again, I didn’t budge. I guess they felt the door was locked so they took to throwing stones into the compound and chanting. I barely escaped being hit. This went on for close to 30 minutes. I kept praying, ‘Lord, let them not scale this fence, please keep me safe.’ Recriminations went through my mind. My father had asked me to return home but I refused. Who send me message?
The stoning stopped. The chants moved away. I stayed by the door for a few more minutes just to make sure. Then I ran into my room, got my laptop and my credentials and made a call to my proprietor. While I was waiting I decided to check on the corpers next door. I checked before I came out, coast clear. I knocked and knocked on their door but no answer even though it was locked from inside. (I later found out they were inside but had been too scared to answer because they didn’t know who it was).
My proprietor’s son came on a bike and took me to their house. As we rode down, I could see smoke from burning buildings in other parts of town. At the house I met other teachers who couldn’t go home. From there we were taken to the police barracks by police men who were evacuating non-indigenes (including Muslims) from the town.
I was lucky.
I met a woman at the barracks who had just had a baby. She was naked and alone when their house was attacked. She had grabbed her baby and somehow made it through the roof into the next house where her neighbours hid her till it was safe to come out.
She was lucky.
My parish priest was away at a meeting in Kano when the church compound was attacked. The church and father’s house were burned to the ground.
He was lucky.
A young trader was on the streets when the attacks started. He was clubbed to death and thrown into a gutter.
He was unlucky.
Corps members were evacuated from the town to the state capital. On their way there, a young man with health issues started having complications. He died in Dutse.
He was unlucky.
The violence in Jigawa wasn’t mentioned in the news, not to my knowledge anyway. Kano got most of the coverage and according to eyewitnesses; the violence was played down.
Come February 14, Nigeria votes for president. And this time, there are elements promising bloodshed. So this time, no matter who wins, people will die.
They will become statistics. And Nigeria will move on.
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