The Muslim man who risked his life to safe his Christian neighbours

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Reality picture: Election Violence in Northern Nigeria... in whose name?

As the rampaging youth pursued the woman into the street, men dragged their wives and children inside and locked their doors. The rioters finally caught up with the screaming woman and began to beat her; they tore up her clothes and pushed her to the ground.

Then they raised her up again and were dragging her off when a slightly built man in caftan and skull cap approached, shouting at them to stop, his arms flailing. Men looked out from inside their rooms in amazement.

“They said later that they thought I was out of my mind, approaching these boys, all drugged on something, carrying petrol and burning down buildings,” said Adamu Bologi.

Mr. Bologi himself had not thought of the consequences of his action. He dragged the woman away from the boys and took her to a nearby mosque, hiding her by a side entrance through which the Ladan usually enters. Of course, he made sure she took off her shoes first.

When he came out, he saw another harassed woman running with two children, stumbling along the road. Her husband is the pastor of a church, the Conqueror’s House, around the same area where the Christian Corpers Lodge and a church were burnt last Monday in Minna.

Mr Bologi looked around him. There was no one else apart from the rioters in the street.

“It was suddenly like midnight,” he said. “The whole place was so quiet, not even a child could be heard, although it was just about 2pm. The world seemed empty and these boys were in charge.”

He saw smoke from a burning church behind the crying woman on the opposite street; he saw some other miscreants approach; and he saw that soon she would run into them. Mr Bologi ran towards her and took one of the children. He tried to lead her to his house, but she was inconsolable.

“She kept screaming about her husband, saying, ‘They are too many. They are beating him, please help him before they kill him.’ She finally agreed to follow me home after I promised to go for the pastor afterward.”

After he took her home, where another victim he took there earlier was already settled, watching a movie, he went back to check on the pastor but the place was unapproachable. The boys were breaking windows, destroying the building and stealing church equipment. How to approach such a scene?

Mr Bologi said the pastor fought valiantly; there was blood on his hands where he kept blocking the blows from the cutlass wielded by one of the boys as the rest hit him with hockey sticks. The whole place was full of smoke.

“I was alone,” said Mr Bologi. “There was no way I could handle those boys. I had no stick, no knife, nothing.”

Suddenly, someone pointed at him, asking where the woman was and some in the gang began to spread around to look for her.

“So I went back to look after my family and the woman. But when she saw me she started screaming about her husband again, asking me if he was dead already, begging me to help him. So I got out again.”

But by the time he went back, the pastor was no longer there. The boys were still screaming, still stealing, still vandalising but there was nothing he could do. He went past the church searching for the pastor. The streets were deserted save for the urchins, and he was about to return home when he saw a man walking through some kind of haze.

“He had obviously been looking for his family,” said Mr Bologi. “When I approached him, he stood there with bandaged hands, still defiant. ‘Are you the pastor of the burnt church?’ I asked. He said, ‘So what if I am?’ So I told him his family was in my home and that I could take him to them.”

But that took a while because Mr Bologi couldn’t just walk the bleeding pastor to his home – they would be seen. So they devised a way to get to the house by indirection, going sideways, like a crab’s walk.

“When the woman saw her husband, I have never seen such joy,” he said.

There was a police barracks near the place, perhaps 300 metres away. Mr Bologi told the pastor that soon the boys would come to look for him there and he won’t be able to stop them, alone. He had to get them to the barracks; the pastor’s family, and the woman he had ensconced in the mosque. On the way, they heard sirens, a vehicle filled with policemen approached and the motley crew of victims and their surrogate looked up in hope, but the policemen were on their way to the governor’s residence nearby.

When Mr Bologi returned from the barracks, he saw that the boys have all gathered by his house.

“I thought, ‘well, this is it.’ The only thing standing between me and harm was my long dress,” he said.

They were not after him, however.

“There is a building opposite where I stay and the whole people there are Ibos. The boys were attacking the place. They were breaking the windows, television, everything,” he said.

The example to follow

Earlier on, the people had met Mr Bologi to seek permission to move into his compound, but there were too many of them.

“I suggested they all move to the police barracks and I followed them there to scout the road. They had to wait at the junction while I checked if the boys were around,” he said.

When he saw that their rooms were under attack, Mr Bologi again pleaded with the boys to move on, that there was no one there. They ignored him. By this time, his brave efforts and constant imprecations had brought four other men from their homes and they helped in urging the boys to desist.

“That was when this man came running out of his room and they caught him. They began to beat him up but we went closer. We were shouting, ‘don’t kill him, don’t kill him.’ They said they would kill him unless he said, ‘Laila la’ilallah.’

“The man tried, but he couldn’t say the words. I told them this was unIslamic and they got more angry, accusing me of conniving with unbelievers, threatening me.

“It was during this back and forth that one of those wielding a machete went behind and hit the man on the neck, leaving a wide gash as the man crumbled to the floor…”

At this point in his narration, Mr Bologi’s voice crumbled, and he couldn’t go on. His eyes misted over.

“It is not right,” he said. “It is not right to do that to another human being, and no religion I know permits such a thing. No religion says that for no reason you can machete an innocent man.”

I asked Mr Bologi what happened after this.

“I started crying,” he said.

“It was all too much. I saw the blow and for a second, the collar-bones were all white and then the blood started gushing. I became so weak.”

When he rallied, Mr Bologi had attempted to push the man into the Mosque but the boys stopped him. So he dragged the man to his house.

“There was all this blood and my wife wasn’t finding it funny. She said, “What are you doing? You bring some and you take them out and you go and bring others?”

So why did Mr Bologi, a young librarian at the state newspaper house, Newsline, a man without any obvious physical strength stand up to over 30 vicious young men, holding clubs and machetes?

“I kept remembering the prophet, Mohammed,” he said. “He urged us to live our lives in such a way that other people would come to admire our way of life and become Muslims themselves. Is anyone going to become a Muslim with the kind of violence shown by those boys?”

And why did the rioters not learn the same lesson?

“They are mostly boys, you know, without families, without the kind of home training we got. Many of them are twelve, fourteen and fifteen-year-olds.”

Afterward, Mr Bologi and some other neighbours, mostly Muslims, joined hands to put out the fires in the churches and to take all the injured to the hospital. Mr. Bologi still looked exhausted the day after.

“I kept thinking of the prophet,” he said. “One day some men came to kill him and failed. As they fled, the prophet noticed that they were going in the direction of his more militant supporters, Saidi na Ali and such. So, he told them not to go that way, to avoid the route because they might get themselves killed.

He helped them make good their escape. That is my example. That should be our example as Muslims.”

Olu Jacobs, NEXT