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As CNN’s Christian Purefoy reports, truck drivers in Nigeria are risking their lives to keep the economy alive.

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As CNN’s Christian Purefoy reports, truck drivers in Nigeria are risking their lives to keep the economy alive.

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EDITORS PICK

USAfrica: Is Nigeria’s President Buhari above the Law? By Chidi Amuta

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Nigeria is striving to build a democracy. Our history is steeped in a variety of authoritarian excursions of sometimes frightening extents. President Buhari is quite conversant with that history. He has the singular distinction of being easily the prime author of the most draconian chapter in the history of human rights abuses by the Nigerian state in history to date.

It is a chapter in which national security was mystified, degraded and routinely abused. It became a myth that was conjured by state minions to justify horrendous violations of the rights of innocent people. Crating and boxing citizens in foreign lands for repatriation as cargo to face trial, routine public executions of citizens for criminal infractions , gagging of the Press and jailing of factful journalists as well as lengthy prison terms handed down by kangaroo tribunals fell under ‘national security’.

National memory can forgive. It never forgets. Therefore, Nigerians have difficulty in trusting even a democratically elected president, let alone the former military dictator Buhari, to invoke national security to justify acts of state that could violate individual rights and freedoms. Justifiably, the burden of distrust weighs heavy on this land.

 Even then, it is our collective subordination to the constitution as ultimate law that makes us citizens of a republic.

By Dr. CHIDI AMUTA, Executive Editor of USAfrica magazine since 1993, and USAfricaonline.com

 

Nigeria’s President, retired General Muhammadu Buhari has just advanced what may pass as his most debatable and far reaching proposition on law and sovereign responsibility in a democracy since he assumed power almost four year ago. He reportedly told the annual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association a few days back in Abuja that where the rule of law and the imperatives of national security collide, the arc of supremacy would bend in favour of national security.
 
The inherent controversy is old but its relevance to today’s Nigeria is boiling hot.

This is perhaps an elaboration of a position earlier articulated by Attorney General, Malami to justify the continued detention of both Shiite leader, Sheikh El Zakzakky, and former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, in persistent violation of an avalanche of court orders to the contrary.

In that preceding submission, Mr. Malami, himself a lawyer of some repute, had argued that the crimes for which both detainees were being held are matters of severe national security interest that supercede judicial adjudication. Therefore, the administration cannot but hold them in defiance of court orders. 

In particular, Mr. Dasuki’s alleged crimes, he argued, touched on grave security issues that have to do with the Boko Haram insurgency.

Mr. Malami almost ruined his own argument then when he argued that vicariously, Mr. Dasuki as NSA may have omitted or committed acts which led to loss of lives in the insurgency war. His detention he inferred was partly to atone or compensate for those deaths and therefore his freedom to continue facing justice would endanger national security hence his continued detention. This consideration of national security lies above the democratic imperative of the supremacy of the rule of law.

Implicit in Buhari’s and Malami’s mutually reinforcing positions is the presumption that the determination of national security is the exclusive preserve of the president or the federal government as sovereign authority who is implicitly above the law.

Without necessarily linking both positions, it is safe to say that both the president and his chief legal surrogate have touched a rather contentious issue in both jurisprudence and political thought. In a nation that is replete with all manner of lawyers and judicial pundits, a land where the rule of law can appear more like the rule and even tyranny of noisy lawyers and legalistic intellectuals, it would perhaps be futile to engage on the matters of legality and jurisprudence that have been raised by the executive branch..

But on the political implications, implications and meaning, fidelity to democracy and its originating liberal ethos dictates that we as a public openly interrogate the proposition further. We We may not be equipped to wrestle with lawyers on the matter but we do have a stake as to who decides what constitutes national security and also the ultimate source of the authority to decide what threatens us as individuals and as a national community. Even more important, it is our right to know and agree on where national security ends and individual rights begin.

In a democracy, the most fundamental assumption that attracts us all to subscribe to a republic by surrendering our rights and liberty to a sovereign is a certain belief in the equality of all men(and women) before the law.

The fair assumption is that both the sovereign and we the people are presumed equal before the law. Therefore we exercise the freedoms which democracy confers in reasonable assurance that those we empower to rule over us will do so in fairness and justice according to law.

There is a further assumption that in the conduct of the affairs of the republic, the leader will be guided by fidelity to the law. This is why the oath of office is worded the way it is and taken with hands on a holy book- a symbol of the divine source of all secular power- literally, God in the absence of a pope or grand Imam!

Belief in the rule of law and sovereign equality before the law is perhaps the only guarantee we all have that those we elect to rule over us will not turn into a band of outlaws. This is my personal perennial quarrel with the immunity provisions in the Nigerian constitution which, ab initio literally empowers and emplaces authorized ‘outlaws’ to preside over the affairs of law abiding citizens.

Be that as it may, there are certain concessions that must be granted to the president’s proposition.

First, the premier condition in the job description of an elected president in a free democratic state is to preserve law and order by guaranteeing the security of life and property.

The assumption is that without national Security, there will be no order let alone the application of law. It is only fair then that we trust the president in determining what constitutes national security and what acts of citizens could endanger nation’s security.

There is in the management of national security an implicit assumption that the president has privileged access to intelligence and information that is not available to the rest of us. After all, the president is the boss of a network of professional security experts on the basis of whose judgment and inputs he determines matters of national security.

To that extent, we can assume that presidential judgment on such matters will be in the highest national interest and in conformity with the values that inform every democracy.

There is the additional convention that estimates of national security at the highest level of state can be ascribed to the ‘reason of state’, an indication that those who manage the affairs of state possess a collective wisdom that embodies the highest interests of the nation.

Yet, it is often the case that a governing collective finds it difficult to rise above their own narrow interests. Thus, national interest becomes the interests of the power collective or in local parlance, the ‘cabal’. In Nigeria, such successive cabals almost now approximate a Nigerian deep state. It will be unfortunate if the enemies of the Nigerian deep state are canvassed as enemies of the nation.

Therefore, great care needs to be applied in granting the president the prerogative of absolutely determining what constitutes national security.

It should not be a blank cheque because we remain largely a compromise nation state, ruled by revolving tribal chieftains, persons ‘elected’ as representatives of geo political appeasement.

Where a president’s conception of national security infringes on the fundamental rights of individuals and groups in open violation of the constitution, then we are in the region of abuse of sovereign power or authority.

Also, where the definition of national security is skewed to resemble a partisan, sectarian or sectional bias, then there is a further danger to the entire polis. 

In either case, it is only the courts that can intercede to decide where presidential authority and responsibility end and fundamental the rights of individuals begin. Both the president and those individuals whose rights are violated or who feel aggrieved must go to court to obtain justice according to the law whose grund norm remains the constitution. The situation requires justice, not just judgments.

And once a court of decisive jurisdiction makes a ruling on the matter, the republic expects obedience by both king and public.

To constantly scale the wall of rule of law by citing national security as an absolute unquestionable prerogative of the sovereign is to veer in the direction of autocracy and medieval

Chidi Amuta

absolutism.

While no court will overrule a president on genuine national security assessment or decision, no credible court will grant a president the authority to violate individual rights under the guise of national security. Where both positions clash, it is still the courts that will have to make the final determination. In the final analysis, then, authentic democratic order dictates that both kings and plebeians should obey the law.

In the recent history of the United States, for instance, president Donald Trump had to repeatedly return to court to obtain the right to exclude certain categories of immigrants from the US on grounds of national security.

Even the US Supreme Court in its ruling on the matter was very careful. While upholding the right and responsibility of the president to act to protect national security at all times, it insisted that that presidential obligation must not infringe on the rights of innocent individuals nor must it violate the non discriminatory principles that underly the American constitution.

Nigeria is striving to build a democracy. Our history is steeped in a variety of authoritarian excursions of sometimes frightening extents. President Buhari is quite conversant with that history. He has the singular distinction of being easily the prime author of the most draconian chapter in the history of human rights abuses by the Nigerian state in history to date.

It is a chapter in which national security was mystified, degraded and routinely abused. It became a myth that was conjured by state minions to justify horrendous violations of the rights of innocent people. Crating and boxing citizens in foreign lands for repatriation as cargo to face trial, routine public executions of citizens for criminal infractions , gagging of the Press and jailing of factful journalists as well as lengthy prison terms handed down by kangaroo tribunals fell under ‘national security’.

National memory can forgive. It never forgets. Therefore, Nigerians have difficulty in trusting even a democratically elected president, let alone the former military dictator Buhari, to invoke national security to justify acts of state that could violate individual rights and freedoms. Justifiably, the burden of distrust weighs heavy on this land.

 Even then, it is our collective subordination to the constitution as ultimate law that makes us citizens of a republic.

On a scale of supremacy, therefore, national security as defined by any one particular sovereign remains inferior to the eternity of individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by law as deriving from the constitution.

 

 

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CHIDO

USAfrica: Fani-Kayode tells Buhari to “step down” like Nigeria’s Finance Minister Adeosun

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Special to USAfrica [Houston] and USAfricaonline.com @Chido247

Femi Fani-Kayode, one of the prolific critics of Nigeria’s President retired Gen. Mohammadu Buhari has called on Buhari to emulate his Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun who resigned two days ago over national youth service misrepresentations.

”I was one of her harshest critics but the fact that she has stepped down impresses me. How I wish that Buhari himself would take a cue from her and step down as well.” Fani-Kayode, former Aviation Minister commended Adeosun “for courageously treading the path of honor by resigning.”

Buhari has also faced criticism for his factually lopsided appointments especially against the south eastern Igbo who.form at least 1/5th of Nigeria’s population.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EDITORS PICK

USAfrica Exclusive: Chiebuka, from long nights in Biafra to Boko Haram’s Cattle Cake. By Success Akpojotor

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Chiebuka, from long nights in Biafra to Boko Haram Cattle Cake

By Success Akpojotor, contributor of short stories and features to USAfrica magazine and USAfricaonline.com

It was a grim cockcrow on Ash Wednesday of February 11, 1970. The geopolitical space of defunct Biafra smelled like musty mortal blood. Its wasteland earth was blanketed with gore and the vestiges of bangs and cannonballs.

“Nothing is civil about a civil war,” Chiebuka remarked, rested her head on her husband’s bosom as her eyes ousted brackish drops.

Shrieking swishes bolted from the chafing of the bus’ tyres which burnished the blood-tarnished roads. Cadavers instead of shrubs made an apparent movement. 

Obi managed to suppress his tears as he palmed his wife’s left shoulder and effaced the ash stains that her forehead had rubbed off on the lapel of his long-sleeved white shirt.

“The Blessed Virgin Mary will see us through,” Obi muttered.

The swarm of rubbernecked passengers, whose foreheads had the cross insignia engraved on them with ash, overlooked their own pain and goggled at the scraggy couple who, notwithstanding their frailty, demonstrated vigor.

An aging woman with concealed gray hair who sat across the aisle attempted to bolster her. “We’ve all lost loved ones in this civil war and–”

“With all due respect,” Chiebuka butted in, “there’s nothing civil about a civil war and none on earth can be more bereaved than me.”

Chiebuka’s husband stroked her shoulder again.

Obi’s touch was the elixir that was needed to quieten her. His touch transmitted an enigmatic strength which wafted through her nerves like a drop of cold water on a skin in a hellhole.

The scruffy, flea-infested seats coupled with diesel smell did not get to the commuters. All that stayed on their minds was arriving Maiduguri, the capital city of the North-Eastern State of Nigeria, in one piece.

For Chiebuka and Obi, who feared and ran for their lives from Maiduguri during the pogroms of 1966, an ocean had run through their forest.

Chiebuka and her husband, both medics in the North-Eastern State, could not bring themselves to the truth that all they had laboured for in the pre-war years had varnished like burning charcoal in harmattan. They had lost their two beautiful daughters to hunger and malnutrition during the war. No wonder the scene where they lowered their daughters beneath earth’s covering and buried flowers over them in an Enugu burial ground continued to bother her.

*

On the third day of their journey, they had reached Maiduguri.

Pangs of wistfulness cloaked Chiebuka. Tepid tears cascaded down her cheekbone. Her nostrils slobbered colourless rheum. She wished for a return of the days when she would wake her two daughters from sleep, bathe, prepare and take them to school.

Her husband was her foil. He held a bemused countenance though his eyes seemed lifeless and teary. One could not discern that he had gone through uncountable rounds of angst.

However, Chiebuka and her husband whispered silent prayers for their property to still be intact. They had worked their fingers to the bone in order to be successful. If God still loved them he would answer their prayers. Her name ‘Chiebuka’ reinforced her faith in the Supreme Being.

God is greater!

*

Dusk saw the couple at the entrance of their residence which was sophisticated than Lord Frederick Lugard’s apartment near the Confluence in Lokoja. The gatekeeper would not allow them in. In a moment the new occupant of the house joined them.

“I hear noises for inside, thats is why I am here na. Who you are?” said the new occupant.

“I built this edifice,” Obi said looking at his property that had been turned into a cowshed. “It cost me a whooping sum…you can’t turn it into a barn of cows.”

The new resident laughed, “You speakings grammars. This house is abandons frofati.”

“I did not abandon my property.” Obi declared as he forced his way in, only to be halted by a rifle which sniped bullets in the air.

You fifu runs leavings houses and gofmet say abandons frofati.” The new occupant was furious.

“Can I take my car?” Obi said, pointing at the directional headlights of a blue Citroën DS Pallas parked in the compound, and cattle gallivanted around it.

Abadon frofati,” The livid Northern Nigerian chap echoed, “gets aways prom hia.”

Chiebuka took her husband’s left arm. This was a signal. She had passed a message across to him to drop it. They walked away, resentful.

*

Like a snail, the earth crawled away from the sun into darkness. The parched gale walloped the greenery in their twigs. Crickets shrieked. Snakes hissed. Owls hooted. White dwarfs struggled to shine.

The couple settled in a dilapidated bus park which was the abode of a pinched face man whose hairs were daubed gold brown with dust from years of irrationality. He was stark-naked and gnawed food which he had gathered from gibberish.

Chiebuka bickered her husband’s decision that they share the almost small cubicle with a madman. Obi made her au fait with the fact that they had walked for hours hoping to find a shade with no success except for the madman’s home. After exhibiting reluctance, she agreed that they pass the night with the crackbrained.

For the whole hours of obscurity, Chiebuka’s eyes were never shut. She stayed awake and kept watch over her husband who, without any care in the world, got out like a light.

*

It was sunup. The yellow sun burgled through the hazy tissues. Obi and his wife prayed the rosary as they walked to the bank.

For the first time in the twosome’s life, they regretted their return to Nigeria from the Diaspora. They bemoaned the end of the civil war. They knew the civil war was brutal, gory, gruesome, sordid and unimaginable but the aftermath. The upshot was dreadful because the victory of the Nigerian forces over the Biafran enclave left a carnage, pestilence and abject poverty in its wake, for the Biafrans in particular.

While they wailed, Obi reminded Chiebuka of their last hope–their money in the bank. While Chiebuka had saved sixty-four thousand pounds sterling, Obi her husband had saved a hundred and seventy-one thousand pounds sterling in the period leading to when Colonel Odumegwu-Ojukwu announced the independence of the Republic of Biafra from Nigeria.

At the bank, they joined the countless number of fellow Igbos who had a similar predicament and irrespective of the amount they had kept in trust with the bank before the civil war, each Igbo was given twenty pounds sterling.

They shouted. They cursed. They protested

“This is a deliberate ploy by the government to hold back the Igbo middle class.” Obi protested.

A fair complexioned woman trader declared “First, they bequeath our houses to cows, now they are leaving us with little resources to expand our business interest.”

A corpulent man followed. “They forget that we the Igbos are headstrong. We are like iron that cannot be bent. Yes, they have won the battle but we have won the war. In three years we proved to the world that we could be independent and attain development in all ramifications, within the shortest of time and without external help. Indeed, there was a country the world will never forget.”

Another sinewy woman contributed. “We are not a defeated people because we refuse to accept defeat. Chukwu has endowed the Igbos and in no time we will dominate this country’s economy. With this twenty pounds, we shall establish businesses, send our children to the best schools in the world, build mansions and do many exploits.”

They all said “Amen”.

Chiebuka and Obi walked away. Despair. Disbelief.

*

Chiebuka and Obi had lost all hope. Hope eluded them the more when fellow Igbos who were ‘fit’ ambushed them and collected their forty pounds sterling.

“How the mighty falls!” Chiebuka remarked with anguish in her throat.

Obi patted her shoulders. 

As they perambulated, they noticed a signpost which publicized a vacancy. They followed the direction of the marker which led them to a building almost like an estate. After they knocked on the entrance gate, an army officer emerged. He wielded a Sterling L2A3 (Mark 4) submachine gun, or SMG.

“Good day.” The couple stuttered with concurrence.

What we want?” Asked the army officer.

Obi guzzled spittle at the horrible sight and terrifying voice of the officer. “We saw the vacancy.”

Come my way,” he gestured at the couple to enter after he had rummaged them.

With all the fear in the world inside Chiebuka and Obi, they entered and met an Alhaja and a bevy of other women who sat in the garden and husked melon seeds.

Asalamu Alaykum.” The Alhaja said to them as she beckoned on the army officer and the other women to leave.

“We’re here because of the vacancy.” They sputtered with simultaneity.

“Yes I know,” the Alhaja smiled. “Allah is great. Isn’t He?” She said with her beautiful Hausa accent.

The couple’s answer was a dumbfounded look.

Alhaja smiled. “We were in dire need of two teachers who would teach the English Language. A male to teach my sons, and a female to teach my mates, daughters, and sisters, and Allah brought the needed vessels. Isn’t He great?” She sniggered.

“Yes.” The couple gave a weak nod.

Insha Allah, I shall pay two hundred pounds every week.”

“When are we to start?” The couple faltered.

“Tomorrow,” the Alhaja replied, “one more thing,” she hesitated “both of you have to stay with us. For security reasons we can’t let you smell the outside of these walls until the termination of your appointment.”

To the couple, this was a blessing because they had no roof over their heads.

Then the Alhaja added, “I know you’re not Muslims. Before you would be allowed to commence, you must submit to Allah.”

“But ma” Chiebuka interrupted with vehemence “we’re–”

The Alhaja smiled as she countered. “You have from now until tomorrow morning to think about it and make a decision.” She beckoned on the army officer who hurried to her “Take them to the place where they would be until morning while they make up their minds. Make them welcome. Treat them as inhabitants.”

The army officer put them in separate apartments.

Chiebuka protested, “I want to be with my husband.”

Husband kwo!” the army officer retorted.

“Yes, she is my wife.” Obi stretched forth his left arm for the army officer to see the ring on his fourth finger.

The army officer did not understand. “Alhaja will be made decide.” 

He went into the main house to inquire.

Chiebuka went back into nostalgia. Obi patted her on the back as she buried her face in his bosom stained with the ash.

Minutes later, the army officer returned and granted their request, “Alhaja is made decide. You can sleeps in one places.”

They were acquainted with the apartment by the army officer. After doing his duty, he let them their privacy.

Chiebuka and Obi had their baths and were served tuwo shinkafa and kundirimo. This was their first special treat after thirty months of eating leaves, grasses, paper, and imbibing their urine.

*

Night had crept into the earth but sleep eluded Chiebuka and Obi.

“I can’t imagine myself becoming a Muslim. Betraying my Marian faith because of employment?” Chiebuka whispered, fearing that the walls may have ears.

“Me neither,” Obi muttered.

“So you agree with me that we tell the so called power lordess to go to hell.” She declared.

“Pardon!” Obi pretended.

She sat upright, “We are not taking this job. First thing tomorrow morning we’re leaving this place for Enugu. We should never have come here. I told you so.”

He replied, “Yes, and I’m sorry. I did not know that the government’s policy of declaring our belongings abandoned property wasn’t a rumour.”

“We should never have returned from England. We were a king and a queen in the city. Now in the jungle where cows are preferred, we are subhumans.” She sobbed.

Obi patted her left shoulder. “And even going back now would be difficult.”

“So what do we do? Becoming a Muslim is no option.” Chiebuka was vexed.

Obi cuddled her, “When the desired is not available, the available becomes the desired.”

Chiebuka retrieved herself from Obi’s embrace, “Don’t tell me you’re accepting defeat.” She retorted.

“No.” Obi held her arms, “We are creative and improvising.”

Chiebuka removed herself from Obi’s reach. “Creative? By selling our souls? To those people who have turned us to cattle cake?”

“We’re not selling our souls.”

“Then what are we doing?”

“God will understand,” Obi explained, “we would each earn two hundred pounds on a weekly basis. If we work with them for two months, we would save three thousand and two hundred pounds. With that, we can travel back to Enugu and start anew, start a business and–“ 

“Our faith is more important,” Chiebuka belabored. “God won’t find it funny–”

“Who knows if this is God’s way of re-establishing us?” Obi sneezed. “He works in mysterious ways.”

“There’s nothing mysterious about you not knowing that you’re breaking the first commandment and–”

“Listen to me,” Obi raised his voice “I’m the man and your duty is to be submissive. That was the vow you took before the priest.”

“Not when it soils my relationship with God,” Chiebuka replied. “I can’t be a Muslim. I won’t be caught dead in a hijab.”

“I’m sorry,” Obi mellowed as he held Chiebuka’s arms again. “I’m sorry. All I’m saying is that we become Muslims for two months, save enough money; and then return to Enugu where we’d join our fellow Biafrans and –”

Chiebuka removed herself from Obi’s grip again. “Shall we continue in sin because grace abounds? Shall we throw things in God’s face because He’s merciful? You forget He also is a consuming fire. Sins are mistakes. An intentional wrong is not sin. God forgives sins, not intentional wrongs.”

Obi sighed. “Chi–”

“I’ll not be a party to that. Not in my back yard. Tomorrow we’re telling that veiled autocratess to save her two hundred pounds. Good night!” She climbed the bed adorned with blue sheets, covered herself in the ash blanket while Obi stood, bewildered.

*

It was the crack of dawn.

The Athan woke Chiebuka. Her eyes, in their deep sockets, opened; as her mouth expelled carbon dioxide. Her heart missed a beat when she saw the blurry image of a man by the table on which sat the black transistor, the antenna looking to the roof.

“Good morning,” Obi said with a teary tone.

A minute went by before Chiebuka could process in her head that Obi had been standing there all night.

“You didn’t sleep,” she said almost a question.

“Why should I sleep?” Tears rolled down his jawline. “Why should I sleep when we will be sent out this morning?”

Chiebuka jumped from the bed and wiped her husband’s tears. “If you cry, what do you expect of me?” She embraced him. “I hate to see men cry.”

“Then do what is necessary.” Tears kept gushing out of his eyes and wet Chiebuka’s shoulder.

Chiebuka felt the warmth of Obi’s tears. “By becoming a Muslim!” She mouthed.

“Becoming Muslims on our sleeves and Christians at heart,” Obi replied with a sob.

“Alright!” Chiebuka said, empathetic. “Will you stop crying now?”

“Thank you!” Obi said with a sigh of relief as he squeezed his wife’s body against his.

*

The sun glowed in all her glory.

Chiebuka and her husband had their baths. For the first time after the war and bloodbath, it dawned on them that the civil war had taken a lot from them. They became aware of how gaunt they were. In fact, they were bags of bones. Their eyes deepened in their sockets. The holes around their scapulae could hold more than a handful of water. Their hairs were off-black.

In spite of the fact that things were bleak, they believed in a silver lining. They considered themselves partakers of the experiences of the Biblical Job.

They were served Kunun-Gyada with Kundirimo for breakfast.

*

Alhaja and her husband, Mohammed, met with the couple in their apartment.

“Good morning,” said the couple.

Barka ka dai,” replied Alhaja and her husband.

Chiebuka and her husband gave a staggered look.

“It means ‘good morning'” Alhaja told them.

“We speak Ibo and English,” Chiebuka announced.

“I know” Alhaja smiled, “Are you ready to revert?”

“No,” Chiebuka paused and sighed. “We have made the decision to be Muslims.”

Subhan Allah.” The Alhaja smiled as she hugged Chiebuka while Mohammed shook hands with Obi.

“Now you must know,” The Alhaja sighed. “Islam is not a new religion.”

“Mmmmm.” Chiebuka interrupted.

“Yes, it is a belief system which Allah revealed to Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus, and the Prophet Mohammed long ago. Islam is all about believing that Allah is the one and only God and that the Prophet Mohammed is the last messenger of God.”

The couple sighed relief.

 “I will come in now,” said Mohammed, “repeat after me.” He said and swallowed spittle “Ash-hadu alla ilaha ill Allah-wa.”

Ash-hadu alla ilaha ill Allah-wa.” the couple recited.

Alhaja smiled.

Ash-hadu anna Mohammedan.” Mohammed paused.

Ash-hadu anna Mohammedan.” The couple repeated.

Abduhu wa Rasulullah.” Mohammed said.

The couple echoed. “Abduhu wa Rasulullah.”

“You are Muslims now and your names are Aminu and Amina,” Mohammed said “You just testified that there is no other God besides Allah, and that Mohammed is His messenger. Now you must purify yourselves. Washing yourselves is a symbolic act of washing away your pasts and being purified. You both have been created afresh. Go wash yourselves.”

“You mean we should take our baths again?”

“No,” Mohammed smiled, “You’re purifying yourselves. It is a spiritual bath to wash away your pasts, and after which you become slaves of Allah.”

 “We will be back to present you your Koran and by two o’ clock this afternoon you shall offer your first prayer to Allah,” Mohammed said and left with his wife, the Alhaja.

Obi shut the door and returned to his wife and hugged her, “We are still Christians no matter what. God still loves us. Jesus died for our sins, including the ones we are yet to commit.”

She removed herself from her husband’s embrace. “Let’s go purify ourselves,” she said as tears glided down her maxillae.

*

Two P.M.

The couple joined them, though they did not blend in, and looked like lambs among sheep.

After the prayer, masa and kuli-kuli were served for lunch. 

After lunch, they were introduced to everyone in the ‘estate’. Then it came to their knowing that Mohammed had married Alhaja and three other women.

Chiebuka was given an abaya and three hijabs while Obi, a Koran, and two jellabas.

*

The first week went by and the couple was paid. Alhaja was pleased because her mates, sisters and the children were learning so fast.

Chiebuka and Obi became so lovable.

Though they had found a new life, Chiebuka, now Amina, still wished for the good old days when her two daughters were alive. Alhaja had noticed the burden in her eyes and they talked about it over a plate of kundirimo. She was touched and moved by Chiebuka’s story.

“They died innocent children. They are with Allah in heaven.” Alhaja had consoled her.

Obi, now Aminu, and the army officer became more than acquaintances. They had shared few evenings together. He expressed sincere sympathy over Obi’s loss. He confided in Obi that he regretted fighting in the Nigerian Civil War. He apologized on behalf of the Nigerian army for the millions of Igbos that had kicked the bucket.

We soldiers is understanding only wars. Peaces is confuses us.” He said to Obi in his defense. He promised to make it up to Obi someday if the need arose.

*

Tonight was a nox horribilis for Obi. He was thrown into shock by his wife’s brashness.

Before their purification on the day they became Muslims, they promised each other they were going to pray the rosary every night before sleep. They had agreed upon this so as to soothe their consciences, a self-imposed penance to their Christian God.

“I don’t think I‘ll ever pray the rosary again,” she declared.

Shocked, Obi moved closer to her, “Are you sleepwalking?”

“I’m in my right senses.” 

“So what do you mean by you’ll never pray the rosary?”

“Because I’m now really a Muslim. I’ve reverted to my natural, original self that Allah wishes me to.”

Obi fixed the back of his palm against his wife’s neck to check her body temperature, “Chi–”

“I’m alright,” she cut in, “You think I’m having a fever? No, I’m not.”

“Then tell me it’s a joke.”

“It’s not,” she moved closer to her husband “Allah works in mysterious manners.”

“Allah?!” Obi whispered, flabbergasted.

“Yes. Allah,” she reiterated “Allah brought us to embrace Islam the true religion.

“Islam is, on the whole, about prayer and being close to Allah the one and only true God.”

Obi hit Chiebuka. “You’re bewitched.”

“Allah will touch you soon,” she replied.

“Goodness knows what only four weeks in this place have done to you. First thing tomorrow we’re leaving.”

“I’m not leaving with you.” She blubbered “This place has given me a peaceful and satisfying way to worship God. Islam made me know that I never fit into Christianity. Each time I received the communion wafer I never felt God because–”

“It is not communion wafer but the body of Christ.” Obi cut in. “Chiebuka what is come over you?”

“I’m Amina, “Chiebuka snapped, “and you’re Aminu. Very soon you’d come to accept the truth that Chiebuka and Obi are gone. You’re Aminu and I’m Amina.” she belabored.

“You’ve been bewitched.”

“I’ve not been bewitched,” she wiped her tears, “Islam has brought me a feeling of love, warmth, and gratitude that I had never felt since my born days.”

“It’s all my fault,” Obi remarked “I should have listened to you that fateful night. We should have told Alhaja to shove it.”

“Allah used you to keep me so I’d find the truth–”

“We’re leaving tomorrow morning.”

“No Aminu,” Chiebuka knelt before her husband “I’m not leaving. I like it here. I’ve found the true p–”

*

Obi made his way to the gate but the army officer refused to let him through because Alhaja had made it clear to him that nobody should be allowed outside the walls behind her back. He sucked in air, deeply. His heart beat so fast that he could feel it in his neck, and the army officer smelled a rat but could not place his fingers on it. Obi knelt and blackmailed the army officer. He reminded him of his promise to make it up to him any day the need arose.

The blackmail pulled through and Obi was let out.

The army officer was going to tell a lie: Obi had hit him on the head with a stick. And the Alhaja was going to believe because he had never lied to her before. At least none that she had detected!

*

Obi’s journey back to his Enugu home town suffered five days. He was not himself. He wished for the ground to open in two and swallow him.

He was overwhelmed by the emptiness and loneliness of his family home. He feared he was going to lose his mind if his wife’s shade should show up.

He settled and did some clearing to weed the bushes that had formed a small forest in the surroundings.

In the evening, he received guest–the village youths and some elders who had asked after his wife. He told them he had put her away because she changed religion. They praised him and assured him of their support.

“Abomination!” One of the village elders spat on the ground.

Tufia!” Another followed. “How can a Biafran embrace Islam?”

They promised Obi that Chiebuka had no place in their community anymore unless she re-converted.

They guzzled fresh palm wine and expressed their regrets over the capitulation of the Republic of Biafra.

Prayers were said. Libations were poured. They wanted God to re–empower Ikemba or send another.

Darkness visited this part of the earth before they bade one another “Good night!”

*

A woman silhouetted against the moon chased after Obi with a pestle.

He jumped off the spring bed. His conscience was still nagging him. He was convinced that Chiebuka’s ghost was haunting him.

*

Obi needed to purge himself and clear his conscience at first light.

He trekked to St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church and made his way to the confessional where a pinched woman just rounded off her confession and took leave.

He entered the wooden cubicle where a green curtain demarcated the priest and penitent and knelt.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

Father Benedict, an American missionary, on the other side of the demarcation stopped fingering his violet stole which hung over his shoulders. He sensed fear, grief, terror, and torture in the confessant’s voice. “Yes, child of God,” he said, “speak on.”

“It’s been donkey years since my last confession.”

“Donkey?”

“Yes, before the Nigeria-Biafra war.”

“Go on, child of God!”

“These are my sins.

“I stopped praying the rosary during the civil war. Yesterday I joined my kinsmen in pouring libations. For all I have said and have forgotten to say, I beg pardon from God and you.”

“Is that all?”

The confessant’s answer was silence.

“Be reminded that it’s a sin against the Holy Spirit to willfully conceal anything at confession.”

“Yes, father.”

“Then, go on, child of God.” Father Benedict insisted.

Obi became lost in thoughts for almost two minutes.

“Are you there, child of God?”

“Yes.”

“Anymore?”

“I. Hit. Her. Twice.” Obi said.

“Her?”

“My wife,” Obi swallowed spittle. “We denounced Christianity for Islam almost three weeks ago,” Obi whispered.

“We?”

“I and my wife,”

“Why did you denounce Christianity?”

“It was part of our employer’s terms and condition.”

“Did you enjoy Islam?”

“No,” Obi’s tone now teary “but my wife did and affirmed it her path to God.”

“Where is she now?”

She didn’t want to return with me. She–” Obi paused.

“She what?” Father Benedict investigated.

“I suffocated her. She died and I ran for my life and freedom.” Obi confessed and cried.

The confessor paused, sighed and went mum for a minute.

“Father, are you there?”

“Yes.” He cleared his throat. “You understand that pouring libations and denouncing your faith breaks the first commandment.” He said almost a question.

“Yes, Father.”

“Killing your wife flouted the fifth commandment. You understand that, don’t you?”

“Yes, Father.”

“For your penance say the Our Father, twenty-five times, Hail Mary, twenty times, and the Apostles Creed, thrice.”

“Yes, Father.”

“And as regards your wife’s murder, you must go report yourself to the police.”

“Police?” Obi said.

“Yes, fear not them who can imprison your body in a confinement forged by mortar. Rather fear He who can imprison both body and soul in an extraordinary fiery furnace.

“Say the Act of Contrition.”

*

Chiebuka at the behest of Alhaja had journeyed from Maiduguri to her husband’s family home, only to be greeted by gloom.

She found her husband’s kinsmen and kinswomen in mourning.

They expressed their disappointment at her decision of changing religion. They drove home their points about why she should not have embraced Islam.

They gave her the opportunity to renege her decision.

She declined!

Her kinswomen sat her on the ground, removed her hijab and scraped every hair strand from her head.

“What have I done? Why are you doing this to me?” Chiebuka cried. “Is it because I’m a Muslim?”

“No,” a kinswoman volunteered. “Your husband has gone to the great beyond. You put otapiapia in his food. That was why you did not return with him. Witch!”

None knew what had killed Obi. He had slumped right in the confessional after reciting the Act of Contrition. If a post mortem was carried out on his corpse, it would have come to their knowledge that he had suffered and died from high blood pressure. He could not imagine turning himself in for the supposed murder of his wife.

He had died from a guilty conscience. He took Chiebuka for dead because her body seemed lifeless seconds after he let go of her throat.

She survived, unknown to him, and Chiebuka termed it Allah’s miracle.

*

Next in line was for the now bald Chiebuka to drink the bath water of her deceased husband. There was no way on earth she would acquiesce. She grabbed her hijab and ran, escaping through thick bushes.

Her kinswomen organized the village youth to hunt her.

That witch must prove to us that she did not kill our brother.

She gave him slow poison!

*

It was a damned morning on Easter Sundayof March 29, 1970.

It did not look like Jesus Christ had risen from the dead on this Easter as it marked the third day Chiebuka had been missing.

She was found by a hunter. Found dead in a hijab. Perhaps, the evil spirits of the forest or a wild animal had snuffed her out.

Mayhap, the hunter sniped his arrow after he mistook her for bush meat.


Success Akpojotor, contributor to USAfricaonline.com, born in Benin City, writes poetry, prose and theatre. A graduate of the University of Benin’s Department of History and International Studies, his works have appeared in Saraba Magazine, Kalahari Review, African Writer, The Nigerian Observer, Poets Reading The News, Heavy Feather Review, among others. He can be contacted on Twitter @sadavidia

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