Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
Professor Nweze was his usual self. This day, he had chosen the Principle of Federal Character as his punch bag. Bouncing round the stage in his 1960 style coat, he proceeded to describe the idea as the most unprogressive and retrogressive policy under the sun, wondering which sane society would hold such disdain for merit as to gazette it officially. The policy was in his view what was responsible for such phony nomenclature as ‘state quota’, ‘catchment area’, ‘ Educationally disadvantaged states’, which was the reason why we were where we where as a nation.
He was saying so many other things but that was the much I got. More than half of his class, those of us who sat from the center of the class to the rear, who had to strain to pick out what he was saying, were engrossed in our own private discussions. There was a hot new topic which held every body’s attention. The shot out last night had left about seven people dead. There bodies had been deposited at the Medical Center makeshift morgue and echoes of the war could be heard even by the deaf.
We had known of an impending war. The signs had been all over the place. Four tiny wooden coffins with blood marks had surfaced at strategic locations on campus. I had seen the one at the Freedom Square before it was taken away by men of the security unit. It was feast of Ascension and I had walked all the way up school from the Franco Hostels to attend morning Mass at St Peters. I was walking down the road that led to the Library after Mass when I noticed the gathering of people most of them also from Mass as their hair Scarf and Hymn books showed around something in the center of Freedom Square. The coffin sent down cold shivers down my spine. We were still speculating on which group could have dropped this and against whom, when the security men arrived and made a big show of taking it away.
Three others had been similarly discovered at the Green House gate, the route into Odenigwe and behind Ziks Flat Halls. An uneasy calm had descended on the campus. The last time coffins surfaced on campus, a blood bath had followed, one which left over twenty students dead. I was then only a freshman and but for the troubles of taking another JAMB, I wouldn’t have returned to school at the end of the forced vacation the Vice Chancellor had announced to stem the killings. They said it was a retaliatory war, that a particular group was avenging the death at the hands of the other group of some of their members two semesters ago.
But it wasn’t just the concerned cultists that had died. Bullets didn’t posses the intelligence of discerning who it was intended to kill. It only struck down who ever it met in its path. So many innocent students had fallen victims, either hit by stray bullets, struck down on mistaken identity, or killed for being friends or roommates to persons who had already been marked for execution. I had known one such person, Garba the northerner who sold beef suya at the Students Union Building. We had bonded easily because I spoke hausa which I picked up as a student of Federal Government College Kaduna. That fact availed me to such privileges as having quite a generous addition-jara– each time I went to his shop to buy suya.
Garba was at work as usual when the vandals struck. One of the students lurking around the Suya spot had been a target. There was sporadic gunfire and in the ensuing mille, the target got away leaving several injured students and a dead Garba. When it became obvious the ill trained and ill equipped campus security unit couldn’t handle the situation, the Vice chancellor, the bearded one closed down the school, till further notice.
We returned after four months clutching court affidavits of non membership of secret cults. A campus anti-cult squad was set up and a renunciation ceremony was organized during which students came out, publicly declared they were cultists but ready to give it up. They were prayed for by the Chaplain of the Christ Church Chapel, presented with copies of the Bible and told to “go and sin no more”. Even to my inexperienced eyes, this couldn’t be real and it wasn’t long before words started spreading that the whole ceremony was stage managed by the University administration. It was all part of efforts to justify the embezzlement of the juicy amount the Federal Government had released to Universities to fight cultism.
While the Vice chancellor ceased every opportunity to boast about his monumental success in eradicating cultism, the boys were regrouping and re-arming. We all knew it wasn’t going to be long now before the vandals struck again. Of course they were all over campus, though not at war but causing unrest at parties and drinking pubs. They didn’t hide their identity, berets, handkerchiefs, shirts and all. We knew them, the security unit knew them, but no one did any thing about them.
So when these fresh coffins surfaced on campus, I knew we were in for a show down. I was now in my third year and I knew much more about the workings of these boys. I now had a good number as friends, in fact my room mate; Snoop Dog was one of them. He was born Chinedu Aguwa, but had acquired the name Snoop Dog along the line. A rather intelligent young man from a good home, he had once confided in me that the biggest mistake he had ever made in life was joining a cult and had sternly warned me never to contemplate joining one. So why doesn’t he just leave? I had asked.
“Guy, it’s not as easy as it sounds” he had replied puffing out smoke from both his mouth and his nostrils.” You are in, you are in”
The explanation was simple. Any one who attempted dumping a cult became enemy to both his former cult comrades who now see him as a potent threat and members of rival cults who under the protection of his erstwhile cult might have hurt in some way. The wisest option seemed leaving school entirely but even that wasn’t fool proof. People had been traced to their father’s homes and killed there.
Snoop Dog never set out to be a cultist, a party he had attended as a fresher, still eager to catch all the thrills of campus life had turned out to be a compulsory initiation. Many he told me joined in like manner, while some had done so from the weight of peer pressure or an ambition to live large and free on campus. That desired freedom often turned to bondage, one which Snoop Dog wished he could set himself free from.
The night before the latest shot out, Snoop Dog had not slept in the room. He had rushed in like some one being chased in the evening, reached out into the wardrobe, picked something I suspected was a pack of live ammunition and spirited out even before I could ask what was wrong. Seconds later as if to answer my unasked question he had returned to give me privileged information.
“Guy, Campus hot. I no fit crash here. So make I shift small. Tell Ben and Mike them make no body commot after seven oh. It is safer to be indoors” Ben and mike were our other two room mates.
“wetin dey happen?”I had asked in desperation, memories of two years ago flooding back.
“we go yarn later” he had replied rushing out.
That night, we had heard distant gunshots all through the night. No one had slept for a second. The Vice Chancellor had drafted some police men to protect the hostels, so nothing much had happened there. But the war had been grave at Odim gate and Odenigwe, two areas just off campus which were densely populated with students. Before morning, seven corpses were recovered and the war was just beginning.
I joined two other friends after Professor Nwaeze’s class to the School Medical center morgue to also have a look. As a member of the campus journalist union, I needed to have first hand information. Quite a crowd of students and staff had gathered there. You could feel the mourning in the air, with some students openly wailing. I elbowed my way to the front, fighting the fear that had established somewhere in my heart. It had first flashed as a thought which I immediately put off. But then it came again and again and as I walked towards the front of the crowd to have a view of the corpses, I felt my heart beating faster each beat sending streams of chilling fear down to my legs. “ It wasn’t possible”, I kept telling my self. God, it wasn’t possible.
My eyes caught sight of the black shirt the third corpse in the row was wearing, sending flashes of recognition to my brains. I froze. My heart was now racing, my whole body shaking like it would after bathing on a cold harmattan morning. No it couldn’t be, I reassured my self. The next two steps took great effort. Then I had a view of the face, a bit swollen now and stained with blood which had issued from a bullet hole just above the left eye. I took a deep breath to keep my legs from giving away. I could no more wish. It was now all over. Snoop Dog was free at last.
(In Memory of all Nigerian students who found their early deaths by their misguided participation in campus cult activities. May the current crop of students find lessons from your gaffe.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo