In exactly one week from now, the debut episode of Broken Mirrors will hit you. Enjoy this short in the meantime. TL
I’m Nigerian and one of the things that being Nigerian has taught me is an attitude of thanksgiving. I am thankful when there is power. I am thankful when I go through one semester of school without any strikes or school being shutdown due to some rancor or hullabaloo. I am thankful when I drive through the streets of Lagos and I get home without any encounters with the police, LASTMA, VIO and many other acronymic organizations with bright colored uniforms in tow. Hence, when I graduated from the University of Lagos, (do not say MAULAG or a cat will get your tongue) with a second class upper degree from the Department of Computer Science, we had a massive thanksgiving party in my compound. Nothing shows the Nigerian gratitude like an owambe.
After my graduation party, I looked forward to service year with all the anticipation of a bird ready to fly. Because I had grown up in Lagos and had all my schooling, up to university level within fifteen minutes of my house, I was excitedly looking forward to leaving and living outside Lagos for the first time. So I knowingly sabotaged all of my parents’ efforts at organizing my NYSC posting. Five months later, after I had nearly died of boredom at home, my friend Tekena finally called me that our postings were out. I dashed off my bed and raced to the bathroom to freshen up. Within thirty minutes, I was in school and after hooking up with Tekena in Science Complex, we took the stroll to the Senate Building to get our call up letters. Luckily, it seemed the news hadn’t gotten out much; there were not many people there. Tekena got his letter first. He had been posted to Ekiti State. Not bad, I thought. Maybe I would get such a posting too or somewhere like Calabar. I had heard plenty gist about the prowess of their girls in the haystack and I wouldn’t mind verifying this news during my service year. So when I got my letter, my eyes raced to the alphanumeric identification on the letter. The first two digits would tell me where I was posted to. YB. I showed Tekena and his reaction was the first inkling I had that wahala dey.
“Na Yobe you get,” he said, with exaggerated whistles punctuating his speech.
“Where be that?” I asked, my mind racing to all I knew about Yobe. Nothing beyond reciting it in states and capitals and hence knowing its capital was Damaturu. Damaturu. That rang a bell, but I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around it. I would find out shortly.
Tekena had gone to get a diary and opened it to the page containing the map of Nigeria. He pointed to where Yobe was. It was the second farthest state from Lagos, in the extreme North East. Only Borno was farther. “Yepa!” I exclaimed, putting my hands on my head. A wave of regret rushed over me in that moment. In my quest for Calabar escapades, I had unwittingly sent myself to Yobe.
“Never!” my mum hollered when I showed her my call-up letter. “My only son will not go to Yobe. What happened to the man we paid thirty thousand to in order to obtain a Lagos posting for you?” Of course I could not tell her I had chop-lated the money. It didn’t get to the man because I hadn’t wanted to be in Lagos. Regret. Sigh.
When my dad came back, and I showed him the letter, he was much calmer. He considered it for some time and said gravely but with a finality even my mum knew better than to question
“He will go for the camp at least. There is not much we can do about that now. We are at least sure the camp itself is secure. While he is there, I will work to ensure he is redeployed back to Lagos or somewhere in the south west if Lagos is too hard to get.”
Le sigh! It wasn’t as bad after all. All would be well. Once the decision had been made, we all devoted ourselves to the extensive preparation for the adventure that going to Yobe would be. My mum bought everything under the Nigerian sun for me to carry. And then she declared a three day fasting and prayer session to fortify me spiritually. Of course I got myself the famous corper pouch.
Since there was no flight into Yobe, I had to find out how to get there by road. The NYSC camp was in Potiskum. Unfortunately, there were no buses going to Yobe, only those going to Maiduguri which would pass through Potiskum and Damaturu and make a quick stop. Thankfully, the student union came to our rescue and organized an ABC air conditioned bus for all students going to Yobe.
Two weeks after I got my call-up letter, with kit and supplies that would make a camel envious, I departed the concrete jungle of Lagos to the sands of Yobe.
The journey was quite uneventful (save for my mum calling me like every thirty minutes), for one so long. Yobe is twenty two hours from Lagos, and after the energy of the first four hours gives way to the restlessness of the next two, you settle into a half sleepy state to numb the stiffness creeping from your bottom up your back.
An advantage of our transport arrangement was that we got to camp early. We were in fact amongst the first set of would be corpers to trickle into the secondary school temporarily commandeered by the all powerful government institution that the NYSC was for the next three weeks we would be in camp.
As I stepped out of the bus, I was greeted by a harsh cold breeze right under the early morning sun. It would seem the harmattan was still strong here even in mid January when it was long gone from Lagos.
A soldier approached our company and shouted “Banga Baggers!”
Most of the other corpers stiffened, but I didn’t. I had a friend in Lagos whose dad was a colonel and I had learnt to read the ranks of soldiers. This guy was a bloody recruit, lowest on the rung of soldiering. He would not address me like that jor #yimu.
It seemed the soldier had caught my demeanor. He approached me languidly and I stood my ground, seemingly unfazed. Then suddenly, the dude switched pace and was upon me before I could react. He “raked” me, and I was on the floor before I knew it. He the sauntered away. Thus, I was welcomed to NYSC camp.
It would seem the NYSC officials deliberately made it circuitous and difficult to get registration done. It was almost sundown before I got issued the final item in the registration process – my mattress. I dragged it wearily and selected one of the better rooms along with three other guys whose names are yet to stick. One of the perks of getting here early enough. When I hit the mattress, I was asleep in moments out of exhaustion.
The loud boom sound woke me up. In an instant, the sleep cleared from my eyes as I came to properly. I was not in my bed in Lagos, but in a flat six by two mattress in a dark room in Yobe. There were multiple explosions of the type that had woke me up. I realized now that they were gunshots. And they were very close. Suddenly, the soldier that had dealt with me earlier in the day ran into my room. He was initially shouting something in Hausa but then realized I didn’t understand the language and switched to pidgin English.
“Quick, run enter bush! They coming!”
“Who are they?” I asked, not moving from my bed, wondering if this was one of the famous drills I had heard about where they tested to see if you would come out into the field.
Then I noticed he was carrying a rifle. And then as his face came into better light from my rechargeable lamp, I saw something splattered across his white singlet. Blood. I was so numb I couldn’t stand up. “Killers. Dem come kill corpers,” he said, with a arm slicing throat gesture for emphasis. He looked sinister.
By now all the guys in the room were roused and everyone was trying to get into whatever clothes the could in order to run out. “No wear white! Dem go see you quick quick” he screamed at the Igbo boy who was getting into his NYSC issued t-shirt.
Suddenly, we heard footsteps in the hallway. And then the clash of metals. And then blood curdling screams. And then heavy thuds as doors got kicked down. And more screams. Gunshots. Metal. Screams. Our soldier scanned the room, spat and said “Banger Bagger!”, and raced out of the door.
The sounds from outside kept getting louder and louder. In no time, we heard a cacophony of screams in Hausa at our door and then the inevitable thud that meant our door had been kicked down. And then they rushed in.
On the online news blogs and social media from that night into the next day, #YobeKopaKillings trended. The vivid account given by a Unilag Graduate who blogged through the assault and was somehow able to post the story along with an image of a killer matcheting his roommates before he himself was killed was carried by all the news media.
The President himself paid a condolence visit to the site of the NYSC camp massacre immediately.
A new Islamic fundamentalist group has claimed responsibility for the attack and said it had announced itself to the world by the act and pledged to carry out more killings.
Five hundred corpers died in the attack.