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
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.
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
Many thoughts race
through his 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
from the tower blares out, “Allahuu
wakubarr!”(God is a great). It is a call to
“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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 of
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.