I was seated in between two policemen in the back seat of the Hilux-truck. Three uniformed men were sitting in the back of the truck together with the corpse while two other JTF men were in the front of the vehicle, one driving and the other in the passenger side. We were moving in a convoy consisting of two cars and ours was the one leading. Now that I’d come to terms with the truth, an unnatural calm settled over me. I knew what needed to be done and I got busy doing it. Phone calls to Abdul’s father and uncle to let them know what was happening, phone calls to some of my guys to help me look for D-2. I tried to keep myself occupied for I did not want to dwell on the thoughts that were threatening to overwhelm me.
“Who was he?” The officer to my right asked me. I briefly told him about Abdul and Halima. Upon learning that the deceased was an officer’s son, who had even served for some time in Maiduguri, the countenance of all the JTF men in the vehicle changed and I could see that this little fact had made the murder take on a new dimension for them. It was not just another random murder on the streets of Maid; it was the murder of one of their own’s son and that made it really personal. They were quite aggravated and I smelled trouble for I knew that they would be looking for an outlet to pour out their pain. The driver became much more reckless, weaving through the streets at breakneck speed while blasting his siren and cursing whoever was unfortunate enough to be in his way. Meanwhile, the other men began to recount their losses in the past few weeks to me, blaming most of it on the civilians. I dared to ask why they felt a lot of the civilians were responsible and they gave me numerous instances of how some civilians connived with the insurgents to aid them by selling out the military men, hiding them and sometimes even employing their services to take care of perceived enemies. I didn’t know what to make of their accusations but it was clear to see that they had a lot of grievances and there was no appeasing them. No wonder a lot of people usually got caught up in the cross fire whenever they unleashed their vengeance on insurgents and suspected civilians alike.
We’d been driving for about 15 minutes and were almost at the hospital when our driver suddenly pulled on his hand-break and brought us to a halt in ‘James-Bond’ fashion.
“Wetin happen now?” asked the guy in the passenger sit beside the driver. I was also a little bit alarmed and was wondering if we had run into an ambush.
“Bros I don spot them. Look there”, He said pointing at a junction across the road. “See those boys repairing the road, where that big pot-hole is? Na them be that!” He added, while simultaneously cocking his gun and putting the car in reverse gear.
“How you know say na them? Make we no go attack innocent civilians o!” asked one of the other policemen.
“It’s them jor!” shouted the one beside me.
“Where have you been ehn? Don’t you know that they have developed a new way of attacking us? Lately they’ve been disguising as all these boys that repair roads for small change from passers-by. They plant bombs while repairing the road. If we leave these ones now trust me, in the next thirty minutes you’lll hear an explosion at this same spot. That’s how they killed those soldiers last week in that area after Gumboru now, I was there when it happened.” said the driver as he expertly used his hand-brake once again to make the truck skid and turn to face the junction. The truck that had been following us had also come to a halt and I could see the policemen in the truck disembarking in acrobatic fashion while cocking their guns at the same time. The soldiers that were at the checkpoints ahead and behind us saw the manoeuvre of our convoy and immediately stopped the flow of traffic as they also readied their weapons and began talking into their radio devices. Within the blink of an eye, the JTF men that had disembarked from our convoy surrounded the boys that had been repairing the road, and started firing warning shots into the air to scare them and warn civilians to keep away. There were about five of them repairing the road and it was clear that we’d caught them unawares. I expected immediate surrender but I was taken aback when two of the boys dropped their diggers and immediately took on their heels, clearly intending to resist arrest. Some soldiers immediately broke up from our group and began pursuit as the boys swiftly headed for residential areas. It was obvious that they were intending to get lost in the crowd of civilians inhabiting these areas. Gunshots suddenly erupted all around and I heard one of the JTF commanders ordering his men to avoid civilian casualties and ensure that they captured the boys alive. The policemen meanwhile began questioning the remaining three while hand-cuffing them when gunshots erupted from somewhere within the residential areas. The JTF looked alarmed and I guessed that it wasn’t friendly fire. The last boy that was yet to be hand-cuffed took advantage of the brief distraction and took to his heels, fleeing in a different direction from the previous two. It was curious to see him flee against all odds, disregarding the warning shots being fired and trying desperately to avoid capture even if it meant his life. It occurred to me that an innocent person would have never fled like that; the gunshots would have been enough to paralyze any normal person with fear. Strangely enough, I was not scared, anxious nor having any sort of emotion at all. Here I was, still sitted in the truck, Abdul in the back and a battle raging on around me and yet, I was unnaturally calm. Ironic, I thought to myself, how only two nights ago, we were having fun in my house, playing games seemingly oblivious to the distant carnage that ceaselessly occurred in town while today, I was caught right in the middle of one of those skirmishes with Abdul dead in the back of a JTF van. It seemed surreal. I kept watching the scene unfolding around me. The first two boys that had fled had managed to get into civilian populated areas and so, I couldn’t see what was happening where they were. There was however rapid gun fire coming from the area they had run into and it was impossible to tell if the soldiers were the ones shooting or if they had come under attack of an insurgent squad. I said a silent prayer for the people in that area and turned to watch the other things going on. The last boy to have fled meanwhile was un-able to run into the residential areas, for he was unlucky to have run in a direction having shops and houses with tall fences and no arterial streets. Thus, he was forced to keep fleeing on foot on the main street while the policemen and soldiers gave chase and manoeuvred to corner him. I spotted the driver of our truck running back to our vehicle, his gun pointed up and firing warning shots into the sky. He jumped in and revved the engine and I realised he was determined to not let his bounty escape. Screeching and skidding, the car performed manoeuvres that I hitherto believed were only possible in movies, and soon caught up with the boy. I was scared our driver was intending to hit or shoot the boy but the boy, with unnatural agility, turned into another street at the last moment and our vehicle sped past him. I feared the worst for I assumed we were going too fast and were going to end up in a ditch that was adjacent to the junction the boy had branched into but our driver calmly and expertly pulled on his hand-brake and performed one of his ‘James-Bond’ manoeuvres again. The car skidded dangerously to the edge of the road and miraculously spun perfectly into the street, avoiding collision with another vehicle by less than an inch. The tires screeched once again and gave chase while I stared mouth agape at the driver. My respect for him had just quadrupled in the space of a few minutes (this is a random fact but I used to do some stunt driving for fun back in my early university days and so I could appreciate the skill of the driver in ways others may not).
Barely 10 seconds later, we caught up with the boy yet again and he ran into a nearby building like a cornered animal holding on desperately to anything that could keep him away from captivity. Our truck parked and the driver jumped out (before the vehicle had even stopped) and ran into the building after the boy. By this time, the frequency of gunshots all around had increased tenfold and I didn’t know if the JTF was being engaged by sect-members or if they (the JTF) were just firing warning shots to keep people at bay. I looked up again to see the building that the boy had run into surrounded by a policeman and two other soldiers. I feared for the innocent people within and hoped that the building was unoccupied. The gate of the compound was ajar and I could partially see what was going on within. The compound seemed to be deserted and I could see the soldiers searching room by room. The boy suddenly jumped out from hiding and attempted to jump a fence but he was taken unawares by two policemen who had anticipated his move and outflanked him in advance. He was caught and this time, there was no letting him go.
He was beaten mercilessly and it took two men to restrain our driver from shooting him at the spot. He seemed to be extra-pissed by the whole affair and I could hear him shouting;
“Make una leave me make I shoot am for here jor. You see the way wey dem kill our boys last week for Gomboru, ehn? Leave me to teach them a lesson here. You are lucky that commander has ordered us to refrain from killing anyone today.” said the driver as the boy was cuffed and bundled into our car. I got a good look at him as they pushed him into the back of the truck, forcing him to lie down beside Abdul’s corpse. His eyes were bloodshot red and he seemed to be no older than twenty-one. His teeth were all stained red with blood and he had bruises all over him. There was an air of defiance about him and even though he was trapped with nowhere to run to, the look in his eyes clearly challenged the JTF men to do their worst. He had this fierce disposition that clearly indicated his desire to kill anyone he could lay his hands on. The other two boys were also brought to our truck and we soon resumed our trip to the hospital amidst joyous salutations from the other JTF men manning the various checkpoints on our route.
We headed for the central command post of the JTF for that sector to drop the captured boys before heading back for the hospital. The last boy to be captured made further feeble attempts to escape and he had to be beaten to the point that he couldn’t walk before we were able to have an eventless journey. The gunshots died down soon after we left the area.
After the skirmish and arrest of those boys, we finally headed to the hospital to drop Abdul. I felt queer when I was asked to fill in the details for the mortuary card for Shizzy and I thought how ironic it was that I was filling out the information for my best friend’s death certificate. It still was hard to accept. Abdul’s uncles met me in the hospital and I left them with one of the officers while we drove to the building where the morgue was located. I helped them carry Abdul into the morgue and afterwards, stood there wondering where Halie was. I didn’t have time to ask that for the JTF were in a hurry to get back to their posts and so, they took me back to their station and took statements from me and followed all the other necessary protocols for de-briefing.
I was about to be discharged when one of the policemen suddenly had the idea of showing me the other guy found with Halie the previous night to see if I could identify him. I personally thought it was pointless for I reasoned that if all the people that had found the corpses and had been questioned (including Umar) had not been able to identify the unknown third person, there was little or no chance of me knowing who it was. I was tired and the fatigue was getting to me for I had been through a lot in the space of a few hours. I however obliged (not that I had a choice anyway) and I found myself heading back to the morgue with one plain clothed officer.
On arrival, we were led into an inner chamber where the corpses were kept in fridges by one of the morticians and I thought how awful and lonely the place looked like. The smell of chemical preservative was heavy in the air to the point of almost choking. Numerous metallic fridges were stacked in rows and columns from the floor reaching to almost the ceiling of the building and across the hall, I could see a small group of Boy Scouts dressed in undertaker clothes coming to claim one of the corpses. The procession was really solemn and the futility of life dawned on me in all its magnitude. I sighed and the officer that accompanied me asked me if I wanted to see Halie. I stilled my mind and nodded, and the mortician strolled to one of the fridges and pulled out the corpse within. Halie looked asleep, dressed in a vest and a fitted trouser; the colour had drained from her skin and clotted blood was all over her. Her throat was… tears came to my eyes and I told the mortician I had seen enough. The officer gently tapped me on the back to reassure me while the mortician closed up and led us to another fridge. He slowly pulled it out and I received the biggest shock of my life yet. Lying fully clothed, a gentle smile on his lips and hands folded on his chest was a face that I had not in any way anticipated. Time seemed to freeze for me and it took a long time for me to recover from the shock… I turned and looked at the officer. He had seen my reaction and realized that I knew the person. I spoke softly to him and said;
‘His name is Yakubu… but we call him D2.’
* * * * * * * * *
The rest of the day unfolded quickly. Learning that the third guy was D2 had greatly unsettled me and the events that occurred afterwards seem like a blur to me now. I remember taking the officers to D2’s apartment, remember running into my mum after leaving the officer at D2’s place for she had come immediately after church into 202/303 Housing Estate to look for me and Abdul. I remember the heart rending wail that went up from her when I told her Abdul was gone. My aunts that had accompanied her had to support her back to her car and I insisted that they carry her back home for I needed to finish settling things with the JTF. I remember going home after everything to meet a million friends, waiting to condole me and to know of the situation update. I remember locking myself up, and shedding no tears at all for my mind had been simply blank – too numb to feel any emotion. I recall Minta (one of Halie’s closest friends) coming over to share in my grief. I remember the sorrow we all felt when A-Maz and Blaq came over later that evening to keep me company for I could not bear to sleep alone in my room.
It’s really sad that I could not attend any of their burials; really sad that Abdul’s parents could not be around for his burial either. It was insisted by his relatives that Abdul’s father, being a military personnel, was bound to be targeted for assassination if he came into Maiduguri for the burial for it was common knowledge that he had lost a son and so everyone, including unknown enemies, would have been keeping an eye out for him. Halie’s mum had collapsed upon receiving the news and had to be hospitalized for about a week. The news of the loss of her only child really shook her up and as such, she was not able to attend the burial too. A series of explosions occurred in the early hours of Monday, 1st of October and as such, all major routes in the city were barricaded by the JTF from dawn till dusk, grounding almost all movement in Maiduguri that day. Abdul was buried in Maiduguri on that day and I was told that his people almost rioted against the JTF forces, for they insisted on burying their dead according to Muslim rights regardless of the security situation in the town. We from the university who’d wished to attend could not however because of the blockades in town. Halima was carried back to Biu, our hometown that Monday and laid to rest. Her convoy had luckily left Maiduguri before the blockades had been put in place by the military. Yakubu (D2) was laid to rest on Wednesday in Maiduguri, which sadly enough, was the day I went on exile. I found myself on the first available flight out of town that day for my parents, and even Abdul’s parents agreed that it was not safe for me to be in Maiduguri any longer since the identity and the motive(s) of the killers were unknown and it was impossible to determine if it was a random act of violence (these kind of random murders have been a common occurrence in Maiduguri) or if our clique of friends had been purposely targeted. As my flight took off, I looked through the window and watched Maiduguri slowly shrink away and I wondered what the future held for me. One thing was certain; life was never going to be the same again…