You actually did form a part of my life, and you did so in ways I can’t explain. Only I wish now I had more time to appreciate. But even as I write, there is this looming doom in the horizon and it’s just few hours before the Imam comes with a vest of explosives to dress me up. Life has been most indifferent for me. I know they say it’s not a bed of roses, but I would have preferred a bed of thorns to what I am passing through. My peril describes that of a sinking man who actually thinks he is floating until his back touches the river bed. That’s the sad point I am now, a point of no return.
It all began when I met you. You carried an aura, a semblance of that possessed by Queen Amina. You were queen, an angel or so I thought. I fell in love with you. But ours was not the Western world where you could express your love publicly especially when it was considered ungodly. Religions in Nigeria demand purity and Islam would not be an exception. So even in the midst of our passions, I never got closer than close to you in those early days. You would invite me over to your house on Salah days but I shied away. I remember on one of such occasions you promised your father would be out and only your mum would be in. So I went along with you. We talked, joked, laughed and were only interrupted by your mum’s intermittent calls. That was my very first visit and it seemed pleasant. When you came to see me off, you held my hands for what seemed to me like forever. I felt I was in the presence of Allah. That night as I walked back to school, I felt butterflies dance in my stomach. Our friendship went on and on and we began seeing each other at late hours and odd places. I loved it but usually wondered what kind of father you had that was never at home to monitor your movements. Each time I enquired about him, you answered, “He has gone to the mosque”. He must be a devoted one I thought. Whenever you came to visit me, you would wear one of your big hijabs. When we wanted to kiss or do our thing, I would hide under the hijab. No one ever noticed, probably because romance under the hijab was the norm then. This went on and on until one day you said you would like me to meet your father. He was a politician and was well known throughout the state. We arranged for a Friday after mosque for me to meet him.
Alhaji Usman as he was called was not a man who spoke much. So that Friday when he met me in his house, he only asked my name and whether I’d been to the mosque at all. When I told him I had, he only smiled and went into his room. You were proud I’d met your father and even spoken with him. Your mother served freshly made Kunu and Masa but I didn’t join them. I was shy. That was my second visit and what would be the last.
One evening I returned to the room and met a note. I looked at Abdul and he jabbered “your girlfriend brought it.” I carefully opened it. You wrote, “My father wants to see you”. Fear seized me. Had he found out my sins with his daughter? I’d be finished. The next sentence read, “He said you should meet him at the mosque unfailingly this night, any time this night. Love you…” What could he possibly want from me? We had only met once. And why did he choose the mosque of all places? And he said any time at night, was he going to sleep there? I looked at my watch and it was already past seven. I decided to go straight away.
Alhaji Usman sat beside the Imam in a circle of eight men. One of them was dressed in army uniform. I could recognize the silhouette of one other person, Shehu. Shehu was one of the most notorious students in school, a strong advocate of Islam. What was he doing among noble men? I wondered. I drew a mat from the shelf and sat on it waiting for Alhaji Usman to be through. I could hear faintly their voices. It looked like they were agitating over something. The discussion went on for about forty minutes before they prayed and dispersed. I felt like asking Shehu to wait for me so we would walk back to school together but I had no idea how long Alhaji Usman intended keeping me. As the others walked out, I saw Alhaji discussing privately with the Imam and afterwards started walking towards my direction. I could perceive his Tulare fill the air, the scent of a noble lover of Allah. I imagined that it was bought from Mecca. As he approached, I quickly squatted well and bowed in respect. I received his outstretched arm and stood up. He did not look like he was mad at me for anything. His very first statement made me relax. “I knew you’d come”, he said. “Right from the very first day I met you at the house, I knew you were the special kind. But as you can see, you have come late and we possibly can do nothing today.” I saw the Imam approaching. He whispered something to Alhaji and then left. Alhaji Usman continued, “Please come a little earlier tomorrow.” He hurried after the Imam till they both disappeared into the inner room.
That night as I walked back to school, I wondered what Alhaji wanted from me. I thought about the man in military uniform, the agitation, the fierceness of the few faces I saw. What was wrong?
The next morning had a series of unusual happenings. The hostel tap had been damaged by nobody. Ali, the hostel chef, master in noodles and eggs did not open and most unusual of all, Abdul had left the room before me. I left my room to look for water in the next hostel. There I found Shehu addressing a group of students. I pretended not seeing him and quickly took the next turn towards the tap.
It was a light day and I returned to the hostels earlier. I and Abdul played the game of chess for a while and then I slept off. I woke up some minutes to seven and made straight for the mosque. They were already seated in the usual manner and the Imam was addressing them. He stopped when he saw me, motioned me to sit down and then continued. “Jihad is the holy struggle against good and evil. It is the fight against infidelity and the infidel. The opportunity the almighty Allah has given each of us to prove our fidelity. You are instructed to slit the throats of the infidel when you see him. How would you feel when you stand at the gate of heaven and Allah asks you, “what did you do with the one weapon I gave you, your body?” Will you display the wounds of martyrdom or will you bow your head in shame only to be thrown into the fires of hell?” As he spoke, I felt the tension, hearts beating, fists tightening, faces sulking. He sat down and then shortly after, the man in uniform who then was whispering to Alhaji stood to address us. He shouted, “Allah ku bar”. We responded “Allahu Akbar”. He did these three times and we responded and each time the tempo rose above the previous.
The meeting dispersed at about 8:03pm. Alhaji Usman walked up to me, his face so serious. He told me to follow him. I went with him into the inner room. There the Imam was sitting with three other mujahideen round what I observed was the blueprint of a building, a church building to be precise. He beckoned me to draw closer. I watched as all five men discussed. They studied the blueprint over and over again. Then it became clear to me. They were planning on blowing up the building. I became more scared when I heard the Imam say, “Sunday would be the best.” I looked at the name at the bottom of the drawing. It seemed familiar. “Was that not a church, wouldn’t there be people in there on Sunday?” I thought. By now, their intentions were no more hidden to me. This was war, and I was right in the middle of it, part of the plan so to say. Alhaji Usman told me we would be sleeping over at the mosque that night. I could not hesitate. After all it was already past ten.
The next morning at about 3:15am, I was awoken by the Imam. Alhaji had gone home and I was to make a journey with the Imam and the mujahideen to Suleja. The Imam drove the bus, I sat beside him. At the back were the mujahideen and one other face I could not recognize in the dark and more so because it was masked with a a cloth made from a talisman. At such, only those of us in the car were aware of a fifth traveller. The talisman would protect him from all unwanted eyes. Due to several other delays and visits paid to prominent politicians on our way, we arrived at Suleja around 4pm in the evening and that was when I realised that the unknown face I had travelled with all these while was Shehu. We were welcomed by five men who took us into a room lit by only two torch lights. There Shehu was separated from us into an inner room where only the Imam could enter. I was left with the mujahideen. They watched me closely and hardly said any word neither to me nor to each other. Later we were served kunun gyada and a cupful was taken into the room where Shehu was. After some time, it was returned untouched. I guessed he had refused to drink. The mujahid closest to me looked at me and said “He should be happy that Allah saw him worthy for this one” referring to Shehu.
The next morning, the 10th of July 2011, we left the house where we had passed the night. The Imam drove us again through a narrow path and packed some distance away from a building. He then whispered something to Shehu who was in front with him. Shehu was unusually big that morning. He alighted and walked down to us and said in Hausa, “Brothers, the time has come. May Allah be praised.” He looked straight at me and said “Carry on.” He then made for the building while the Imam drove away. Some time elapsed then we heard a blast, then screams, then noise, then silence. I bowed my head in utter shame, a murderer. The Imam said, “We head back home” then smiled and never said anything throughout the rest of our journey. Satisfied that the mission was accomplished, he sped off. The next morning I woke up still in the mosque and saw the Imam listening to the news from his radio. I heard them talk about the blast from a church at Suleja after which the presenter announced that the University had closed down its campus till further notice citing security concerns. The Imam had made it clear to me that having come thus far with them; I would not be allowed to turn my back anymore. Any attempts to do so would be interpreted as treason and infidelity. I needed not be told what would become of an infidel. I could not run away to my elder sister Aisha. She and her husband saw no use in me. And besides, they would not in any way help me. So later in the day, I went with the Imam to pick the few things I thought I might need.
Days rolled by and we went from place to place doing the one very thing. On 25th August that same year, we arrived at Abuja. There I met with several other disciples like myself. We were not allowed to interact with one another. Three people were selected for this one and they were transported to the venue in a similar bus with the one we came with. There the car for the operation would be waiting for them.
With each passing day, my interest for school diminished and I got more at home with my present life accepting my predicament as the will of Allah. I had not seen you for months now but would not dare ask your father. Even the few times he spoke to me, he only congratulated me for accepting the will of god. “Many youths” he would say, “will never be as courageous as you my son.” But I never stopped thinking about you. I never cared about the fact that it was him, your father who got me into all this. The more we travelled, the more I lost contact with you. It was clear to me now that you would have given all sorts of explanations to why I left and left you in the dark. But I loved you all these while. Time would fail me to express much love as I would have loved to for I must let you know the truth.
We visited Damaturu after our attack at Abuja. It was there that I came face to face with the one who would enchant me and declare me trusted. The initiation process was very brief but full of incantations. He told me I was hence forth worthy to meet Allah at any time I chose to, provided I chose the right cause. I had become a mujahid. At the completion of the Damaturu attack, I was told I would be taken away for training. I will spare you the details of my training because they are not good for a lady’s ears, especially one who has love for the trainee. While we were away, news reached us from Nigeria that eleven of our brothers had been killed by the Nigerian army. There was need for immediate deployment. So I returned home on the 30th of January, 2012 along with other brothers of mine.
Back in Maiduguri, I was reunited with my old family; the Imam and the earlier three mujahideen. We were all glad to see each other. It was there I got to learn of the next point of target. Musa, the eldest of the three mujahideen told me that his time had come. That finally, he would go to claim his seven virgins at the house of Allah. He was the chosen one. The Imam handed over to me a blueprint tagged “Army Headquarters Kd.” I was literally lost for words. The thought of raiding an army headquarter was just something I did not want to think about. Not that I was afraid but I felt, we were biting more than we could chew. Nevertheless, I reserved my feelings to myself. Letting out such discouraging feelings to the rest of the family would be counted infidelity. And for a young mujahid who had risen to high ranks in no time, I would dare not try that. We set off for Kaduna on February 6, 2012. It turned out to be a well accomplished mission. Two brothers well known to me now gone; first it was Shehu at Suleja now Musa in Kaduna. My time, I knew was coming.
Something tragic happened on the 31st of May. I and the Imam had gone to buy food when we received news that there was an on-going attack around home. For us home was far away from where the ordinary people thought it was and when “they” raided a small gathering of our brothers, they went to report to the media that they had looted our hide outs. Five of our brothers alongside an infidel who was kept in our custody were killed. It was another loss. We were visited at night by Alhaji Usman who assured us that only the will of Allah could be done, and only what he permits. The whole camp was filled with pressure. If “they” could get as close to the gathering of the five brothers then it meant they were closing in on us. The next morning, the three of us along with other prominent mujahideen sat down to plan what the Imam called “a series of jihads”. Two of our brothers were sent to Bauchi to carry out what we all agreed to be called “a friendly attack.” Friendly in the sense that not much damage would be caused but only to create awareness that we were still around. People argued and argued that whatever was worth doing was worth doing well. So if there was going to be any strike at all, there should be a proper one. Nevertheless, Bauchi’s mission was successful.
The next places of duty were Kaduna and Plateau. Some of our troops headed to Plateau while myself and the Imam headed for Kaduna along other brothers. We stayed there and planned fervently, a triad hit.
On the night of 16th June, I was summoned by the Imam. He looked at me very sadly and rubbed my head. I felt his rigid coarse palms on my newly shaved skull. Then he stroked my beards and asked in the calmest voice possible “has Allah not been good to you son?” I muttered a solemn but hazy “he has”, fully aware of what I felt was coming yet scared of the sudden reality. Then he looked down and said “go, prepare yourself. Your hour is come.” I left him not knowing how I felt.
Back in my room, I did not say the usual prayer that was the custom before going on divine duty. I picked my pen and pad and began. I had to write you because it was necessary. Each one of those moments I spent with the group, I spent for you with the hope that at the end of it all, I might have no difficulty asking for your hand in marriage having proven strong to your father but….here is where I end. All I have left are the scattered shots of the times we shared together, in memory. I hope I don’t misplace them on my way to heaven. It should suffice me to say that throughout my stay with the Imam, I failed to accept the correlation between the holy jihad and the struggle against western education. Please let the world know I did not die fighting against Western education. I died trying to please your father, for you. Mine is a different story altogether. Please kindly extend my last remarks to Abdul my roommate and tell him not to travel home to Mubi, at least not in the first week of October. I love you Ramat.
Steven Kator Iorfa