So today is 9/11. And I’m thinking, why don’t I steal the show?
So no, I’m not going to talk about the tragedy that happened in the states in 2001. I’m going to talk about the tragedy that happened in Nigeria in 2001. 7th September, 2001 to be precise. In Jos, Plateau State. And if you don’t remember, it’s because 9/11 stole the show.
Imagine you get to church and if you are driving, your first stop is a security check point. What are they checking for? Oh, just bombs, explosives, you know, because we are going to church. And when you are all clear, you drive in. And don’t forget to stop at the scanners and metal detectors. And finally, you can sit down and wait for church service to begin. Yes, you wait because you are early to church. Late comers are not admitted in case someone crazy person has been sent on a suicide mission.
If you think this is a bit too much, think again. We all thought we were safe in Jos, Home of Peace and Tourism. I can still sing the PRTV song that hailed the virtues of the state. Jos, where many Christian missions have (had?) their base. Jos, where the weather itself was a pull for Americans and Europeans. But when violence erupted in September 2001, we couldn’t have imagined how things would turn out many years later.
I remember because I was there.
Ironically, I was in church the day the trouble started. It was a weekday evening. There was confusion as to what was really going down. We heard that a lot was happening around the University of Jos. It was bad enough for us to leave in a sort of panic. We walked all the way home, running and jogging in-between, keeping away from the main roads because bands of men in trucks had “invaded” the city.
At home, in the thick of it, our number had jumped from 6 to 20, all camped in fear. Two of our friends’ kids were with us because their parents were trapped at the Jos Airport. Others came because they lived in more volatile areas. There was a curfew, and even if there wasn’t, you would be mad to venture out. I had a new appreciation for the flower garden that time. We ate a stew with hibiscus leaves because our stock of food was running out. My mum is a genius. Thankfully, whoever was in charge of turning off the power had left them on. So literally the one bright thing about that anxious time was that we had uninterrupted electricity for the many days we were holed in (something of a record for NEPA).
It was while waiting for a miracle that we saw 9/11 happen on TV. I thought someone had put on a movie. It didn’t click until much later. And even then, honestly, I tried to empathize but I was too afraid to put things in focus. Because here we were, with killing gangs operating on streets, and people’s lives depending on whether or not they knew how to recite the Lord’s Prayer. If you didn’t know that you didn’t say “In the Name of the Father, Son and mother,” you were in trouble. It all depended on whether the gang was Christian or Muslim.
There were rumours and counter rumours. That the water from Water Board was poisoned. Jos Main Market was “bombed.” That wasn’t a rumour.
Baba Musa, our gate man from Mali, was attacked and left to die. But he lived. Alhaji’s house, opposite ours with the high walls like a castle, was set on fire. I still don’t know what happened to his wives and children. One Big Man in babariga had to be helped over the wall so the military could take him away to safety. Events simply kept escalating and 9/11 did not help. It only made the Mad Muslim agenda bolder. Like someone saying, “Go on brother! Kill them all!” But then in rained! A thunder storm in Jos in September. That dispersed the crowds of angry young men. And days later an armour tank rolled on to our street. Apparently, the house with the ostrich (where we used to fetch water and carry on our heads [the function of the head – as the Ghanaian curriculum would like to say]) was owned by the Deputy Governor of Bauchi state. That helped to calm things somewhat in our area. But the gun shots did not stop. I’d lie awake hearing shots being fired and wonder had it hit something or someone?
And then we had to run. Yes, we did. We’d heard that sometimes they would target and attack strategic people and places. So after a couple of suspicious phone calls where the caller wanted to confirm who lived at No. 4 Dandaura Road, we were in the car to Abuja before you could say “jack”. It was “easy” because everyone had a packed bag, ready for an emergency, ready to leave at the shortest notice. There was even an escape route through the back in case we couldn’t leave by the front gate. The men had gone around to make sure.
After some weeks and a lot of drama (another story for another time), and asking very Important and What is Really Necessary type of questions, we returned.
But Jos has never been the same after that. Northern Nigeria has never been the same. At least, you should have heard of Boko Haram.
Photo: Throwback to Nigeria. It was a fun rendezvous with old friends in Accra!