So many times I'd wondered why there should be reason for violence and bitterness. On several occasions I'd witnessed violence in diverse ways, yet I'd never seen an occurrence that could equal that of April 18th 2011.
It was meant to be a day of celebration; yes, celebration for the very first successful free and fair presidential election in Nigeria. Indeed, Nigeria had her foremost free and fair civilian-to-civilian transition of government.
I saw it all, it all happened before my very eyes.
I'd visited a relative who lived in the northern part of the country with his family during the election period. Oke was comfortably resident in a comfy one storey apartment, with two kids and a loving wife.
He had a very happy family, and we were all happy together. Mma, his first daughter, took after her mother so closely; she had her mother's features, and social attributes, so much so that most times I almost wished she were my biological daughter.
She would often ask me in her subtle voice; "Good morning uncle. How was your night?" And I would gratefully reply, "my night was great my dear. You too? Hope you slept very well." And she would as well reply. "Very well uncle, my night was great."
I grew so fond of Oke's family that I barely felt the absence of my nuclear family. Oke's wife made me enjoy my stay the most. She had me in every comfort that courtesy could ever afford.
Oke, on his own part, was very found of his son Bob. Bob was his miniature version entirely; and I guess he'd beaten his wife hands-down to that one. They were a very happy family and I supposed they'd been the same, before my visit, and would have continued likewise, even after my visit, if not for religious violence.
We were all seated in the parlor that Saturday evening, watching the election proceedings. Soon, the commentators came to the general conclusion and result of the day's presidential election.
All ears were itching to know the returning candidate and the losing parties. The total number of votes was announced and President Goodluck Jonathan emerged victor. This was great news for most people, especially the easterners and non Muslims in the state. Soon celebrations began and the neighborhood became lit with merriment.
I could see the joy lit all over Oke's face as he let out a yell of elation. "Yes! I told you Dan, I told you GEJ would win this election. I said it, didn't I?" His mood was as well as my mood, as we were both Christians and easterners alike.
"We must celebrate! Yes! This is fresh air for Nigerians! Fresh air! Ha ha!" Oke asked Amaka, his wife, to fetch wine and glasses from the freezer. I heard him echoing the popular Goodluck Jonathan campaign slogan, "fresh air for Nigerians". I barely giggled over it as I was as elated as him, if not more. Everyone was joyous; I mean the entire Oke's family. I'd never seen Amaka in that mood once; she was just jumping about like a-kid-on-her-birthday, anyone could hardly tell her age from those of her two children as they jumped about the sitting room singing, "Good luck Nigeria, Good luck Nigeria."
I came out of the balcony with Oke; we were revising the entire election in our conversation. Suddenly we saw a mob of youths; they were chanting a popular jihadist chant: "la hi'lah ila'la, Mohamed hi'lah ila'la" having spent almost all his life living with Muslims, Oke was conversant with the Fulani ascent. He told me there must be trouble coming. "These people only sing this chant when they're on rampage," he said. I looked around, he was virtually correct. Truly there was another sect of people, they were probably under attack. Soon the Fulani boys began setting fire to most houses. They blazed the flames as they approached and as well butchered their defenseless victims.
"They will be here soon, we must do something." Oke's voice was audibly jittery as he made his sentence. "Most of those boys know me; they know I'm a Christian." "Wait, you mean they're killing Christians? Again?" I asked, beginning to lose my feet. "They do so at the slightest provocation, we have to leave now. Where're my car keys?" Oke ran down stairs to the parlor, Amaka and the kids were still reveling.
"Honey! Honey!" I heard Oke call, as he ran into the parlor. "We have to leave at once, there's trouble. Come on, pick up few things."
I was so scared that I remained stock to a spot, just staring at the way the people were being slaughtered, from my viewing point. Soon, a batch of the mob attacked our building from the rear. The others advanced from the front, and within a flash they'd rounded up our building. It dawned on me that we could be meeting our Lord the Creator soon if no care were taken.
Before I could reach the parlor, they were already in. little Mma was their first victim. I almost melted when I heard her squeal, while their knives sliced through her throat. "Daddy! Help!" she cried breathlessly, but poor Okey was powerless.
The most painful thing that could ever happen to a man is watching his family being slaughtered in cold blood. This was Oke's fate that very day.
Next, they took Bob. His death was the most brutal of them all. That was the first time, safe for the films, I'd seen someone being beheaded. They chopped his head from the neck, and I saw it dancing on the floor.
I grabbed my cell phone and began typing a text message to a friend who's a police detective. In the text I let him know how dearly endangered our lives were at the moment. He was in Abuja, and quite a very distant jurisdiction from my beacon point, but it was the only thing my hand could manage up to.
I was not through yet when I heard Oke's voice. He was pleading with those boys, speaking to them in their native language. I could only place but a few of his words in the little translation I could, out of my little knowledge of Hausa language. He was saying to them, "Please spare my wife! I can offer you any amount you wish. Just spare my wife! Kill me instead!" The boys taunted him in his exact words. I heard them all laughing and displaying their treacherous disjointed blood stained teeth. I heard Oke scream "Please!!!"
And that was the last I heard of Oke's voice. They resumed their chant, some of them dispersed into different parts of the building as though they were searching for further victims. Two mean looking boys approached my hiding place; they were armed to the teeth and five times bigger than me, each.
My heart beat so thunderously that I almost lost my breath. I heard a woman's yell from within; it was Amaka's. I assumed they must have been raping her, and truly they were taking turns on her.
The two boys suddenly turned back and returned to the parlor. They were probably after their own turn on Amaka's body. I saw them dragging her out of the building. They dropped her just in front of the house, she was almost lifeless.
One of them brought an axe. I wondered what use it was at that moment, but my thoughts were answered when he raised it and hacked into Amaka's stomach. He cut into her waist successively. Soon, he severed Amaka's trunk from her waist. The rest of the boys cheered him like some hero after defeating a deadly opponent.
I couldn't take it anymore. I began to say my last prayers. I even wished there was a better and faster means of dying than the barbaric way those Fulani boys butchered my people.
Another mean looking boy brought a gallon of petrol. I saw him rounding up the house with the gasoline. Another one brought a match box and they began their chant once more. They sang and danced round the building consecutively.
But as God would have it, I heard a police siren from a distance. They lit the house at once and took to their heels through diverse routes.
I was overwhelmed by the arrival of the police; they came just in time.
So, while many Nigerians were still celebrating the victory of a Christian presidential candidate; their brothers in the northern part of the country were busy grieving over their lost loved ones, and counting tolls of dead relatives in mass graves.
For months I wept for Oke and his family. The memories of how they were massacred did not leave me, and have not left me till date. I only pray for and wish their departed souls a peaceful rest in the Lords bosom.
This was how I lost a dear brother and friend to religious violence and political crisis. The tears of Christians in Nigeria have ever since flown endlessly like a river.
Mine is a cry for peace and a cry for ease across Nigerian rivers and seas.