Salisu nestles under a baobab tree which is at the centre of Kagua village, Bize in Borno state, Nigeria. It is a sunless afternoon. The humming wind cruises right about him, and dry leaves touchdown as if betokening the grave and sad atmosphere. Crestfallen and utterly devastated, Salisu ponders on his life which now seems worthless and the calamity that has befallen him. He has lost his whole family in one day- his mother, father, two sisters and a brother. Death has taken them all in a fatal motor accident. It would have been better if he was taken too in the same gruesome manner. This awful soliloquy he repeats to himself.
Many thoughts race through is sombre mind. Suicide is at the top of them. Perhaps, it is the easiest way out of this cruel world where nothing is certain, and things precious always lost. Before he makes up his mind to take his own life, the muezzin of the village mosque from the tower blares out, “Allahuu wakubarr!”(God is a great). It is a call to prayer.
“Perfect time, let me say my last prayers, and set off for the journey to yonder place where my family will be waiting for me”, he snaps.
After the customary prayers, the Imam, Aliyu announces that there will be a session on the deep spiritual themes of life and death. This interests Salisu, and he puts his cowardly suicide idea on hold. The Imam stirs his mind, imagination and thoughts with “truths” from the Quran. He says, “Life is to live as a Jihadist, and death is to live as an infidel”. Redemption for the soul is through Jihad, all other means like zakat is secondary. He goes further by reeling off the pleasures of paradise for those who die “serving” Allah.
The teachings of Aliyu strike Salisu in a most scintillating way. He muses that redemption is what he needs for himself and even for his late family. He believes his own redemption can rescue his family from Shaitan as they were never practising Muslims. He must find redemption and the path to pleasing God.
Salisu, a sixteen year old, one hundred level student of History, the University of Maiduguri, Borno state, Nigeria, drops out of school as it becomes difficult for him to continue owing to the reason that he has no benefactor. More importantly his soul longs for ethereal things now. It seeks redemption. And it wants to please God. The loss of his family has left a great yearning for things spiritual in him.
Life has no meaning to him anymore, and that which is worth living and dying for is what he must pursue. Aliyu seems to bear answers to his questions and knows the path to pleasing God. He will seek close interactions with him and feed his starving soul of sacred truths.
Aliyu’s house, two buildings away from the mosque, becomes Salisu’s haunt. There he meets other boys who have come for similar reasons- finding answers to spiritual truths regarding the essence of life and the path to knowing and pleasing God. They are taught from the Quran and fatwas of Islamic scholars. They learn that as Muslim faithful they must wage Jihads always to appease God and cleanse the land of evil. That is the way to salvation, and the way to nirvana.
The idea of Jihad fascinates Salisu. He does not understand Jihad in real and concrete terms. In his view, Jihad means holy persuasion and converting unbelievers using superior spiritual arguments. Perhaps, Aliyu has never revealed the bare imperatives of Jihad to him. He becomes engrossed with the teachings of Aliyu, and so are the other boys.
Aliyu gets word that government soldiers are on his trail for radicalising Muslim youths. He calls out to his loyal adherents that the infidels are after him, and the time to prove that Allah reigns has come. Salisu wonders why government soldiers are after such a holy and noble man. Maybe, they want him for no offence, but to thank him for setting young minds on the spiritual and righteous path.
Aliyu, Salisu along with other adherents retreat to the far-flung and forgotten Borno forest to meet Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram. Salisu thinks Shekau a spiritual master from whom his knowledge of Islam will be increased and his purpose achieved.
At Osman Camp in the forest, Salisu is thought how to use different weapons. This troubles him as it is a deviation from his original agenda. Aliyu calms his troubled mind him by telling him that it is all in preparation for a Jihad, and that soon the enemies of Allah will be shamed. The enemies of Allah must be wicked invaders then, since it is a fight of flesh and blood, and not of prayer and fasting. He surmises.
On Sunday, 24th December, 2011, Salisu is psyched up and wired up by Shekau for a holy strike at the heart of the infidels. He is on his first Jihadist mission, and there is a heightened sense of things. He has mixed feelings about confronting “those” ruthless invaders- enemies of Allah. He wonders what they look like.
As the truck he is on pulls up behind a church, he is ordered by a superior to get down, get into the church and shoot the worshippers there; they are the infidels, the enemies of Allah. He is alarmed. This cannot be true! He gets into the church. He is petrified. He cannot do it. He is ordered again to shoot the infidels. “They are humans like me, I cannot shoot them”, he answers in trepidation. “Shoot or be shot” his superior thunders back. Salisu as if stricken by a fit, squeezes the trigger and let off a volley of bullets. After the day’s horrendous adventure, he returns to the camp despondent, tearful and remorseful.
Salisu participates albeit unwillingly in other heinous missions. His scruples never left him. It has become a Scylla and Charybdis for him at Boko Haram’s den. It is either he does the evil bidding of Shekau or he is killed. Sympathisers of infidels are infidels themselves. That is the Boko Haram canon. He becomes blood-soaked in guilt.
There is a shout of Allah wakbarr (God is great) at the camp. This time it is not a call to prayer, but a cry of joy for killing innocent, harmless and hapless people. To Salisu, the cry of Allah wakbarr has become a mantra for killing. He does not make sense of it. On his last mission before he finally gives up, he is compelled by threat of death to slit the throats of innocent children who are returning from school. He capitulates, but that becomes his breaking point. He finds a way. Although not an easy one, he deserts. He has shed enough blood to buy redemption and please God if truly Jihad is the way to redemption and pleasing God. There is no redemption, guilt is all there is.
Confused and feeling hopeless, Salisu returns to the baobab tree. This time he is not nestling under it, he is standing like a Trojan. It is crepuscular. The wind is not blowing and dry leaves are not falling. Everything seems to be in a hush. He has searched his soul. There is nothing left. He has been a coward for not taking his own life initially. This time he will not make the same mistake. He will end it!
Salisu called me on April, 30th, 2012. He said it was important, and that he had a package for me. Driven by the uncanny nature of the call, I travelled to Maiduguri on May 1st, 2012. After settling in at a guest house at Bize, I made straight for the Ndanusa home, Salisu’s family house. I called him, but I could not get through to him. I became pensive because I had thought he would be ready to receive me given the fact that I had called him a day earlier to inform him of my coming to Maiduguri. I got to the house, the gates were surprisingly open. I found my way into the living room. I have been there before. I called out for him. But he did not answer. Perplexed now, I made for the boys’ room. I opened the door, alas! Salisu was dangling from a ceiling.
It was very much after his funeral that I was able to get out my grief garment to read a note and a diary he had left for me. It happened that he had been keeping record of all the happenings in his life. In the note, he wrote “If you read this know that I have found redemption. Death has redeemed me”. In his diary, with the bold title, “My Life”, were his story and confessions laced in a fine but teenage narrative of how he ignorantly and helplessly became a member of the dreaded Boko Haram sect. Salisu Ndanusa died an unfortunate Boko Haram militant seeking redemption and the path to knowing and pleasing God.
To Salisu Ndanusa and all the souls taken by Boko Haram. Rest in peace.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and a poet. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org 08167992075
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