“This is an example of a country that has fallen down; it has collapsed. This house has fallen.”
— Prof Chinua Achebe (quoted in This House Has Fallen, by Karl Maier, London: Penguin, 2000)
In an essay, published a couple of weeks ago, I reported the chilling experience of a hapless man returning from Abuja, by a night bus, to the warmth and comfort of his family in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital. As the ill-fated bus tore through the thick murkiness of the nights and got to somewhere near Lokoja, Kogi State, at about 2.00 am, some men of darkness who had all the while pretended to be fellow passengers took control of the bus, robbed them of all their valuables. As they did this, everybody lay prostrate on the floor of the bus as instructed by them.
About six young girls were in the bus. The men violently pulled them up, forced them to undress and began to rape them. As they took turns on these hapless girls, and raped them with savagery and beastly relish, the girls cried in deep pain. From where he lay, the man said it was impossible to determine how many times each of them had each of the girls. And as some of the girls screamed in pain, they shut them up with murderous threats and blows. They spent longer time on this. In fact, the gang-raping continued amidst the muffled cries of searing pain and anguish from the girls until after five in the morning. All those hours, while this horror and brutish exercise lasted, the vehicle packed by the roadside, on the expressway, undisturbed by anyone! Other vehicles simply sped past.
Then, they ordered everybody to undress, and showed readiness to shoot anyone that resisted. The subdued passengers obeyed with great fear. The ordeal had drained all of them of every strength, will and courage. Girls, boys, old men and old women (which means: parents, children, wards, maids, older relations traveling with younger ones), all pulled off every article of clothing on them, and scampered into the bush as they were ordered, thinking their tormentors would shoot them from behind. Then, the armed men sped off with the vehicle, carrying their clothes, bags and everything with them.
You can then imagine the trauma, humiliation and deep pain of these passengers, about sixty of them, as the otherwise friendly, soothing early morning sun finally drove away the thin cover of receding darkness and advertised the stark reality of their shame before an embarrassed daylight. Try to visualize it: sixty naked human beings, of different ages, emerging from the bush, in broad daylight, to seek help, to reclaim what remains of their battered dignity and personhood. Don’t ask me if any of the women was menstruating! Welcome to Gen. Obasanjo’s Nigeria, the giant jungle of Africa, where there is a determined effort by pretenders to the throne to force civilization to beat a quick retreat!
Well, that incident took place a couple of weeks ago. And since then, dear reader, I have heard several other equally chilling accounts, from people who had undergone the same ordeal, in a country somebody claims to be ruling, and even scheming to tinker with the Constitution to allow him encumber the ground for some more years!
The latest report I got of another instance of this kind of modern savagery left me totally shattered. About two weeks ago, a young, fair, beautiful and bright girl, a 22-year-old medical student from one of Nigeria’s universities, was shown into my office on a very brilliant afternoon. Now, in this particular case, this girl did not board a night bus. Her own ordeal took place in broad daylight!
She had joined a Coaster bus at about 9.00 am in Benin, the Edo State capital to go to Abuja. As the vehicle approached Okene, one young man stood up, approached the driver with a gun, and ordered him to surrender the steering to him. As the driver tried to explain that it was too dangerous to do so since he was on top speed, he simply shot him on the head, shoved him aside, and took over.
As he did so, the vehicle swerved dangerously this way and that way, causing the other passengers to scream in fear. Immediately, his colleagues, four of them, whipped out their guns, and ordered everyone to either keep quiet or be killed. One old man thought they had a conscience he could appeal to: “But we have all been traveling together as friends, why have you suddenly turned against us?” He cried.
That proved to be his last speech on earth. One of the men shot him, and he slumped, and lay still. As the new driver battled to gain control of the vehicle which was going wild on the road, a woman suddenly woke up from sleep, unaware that the vehicle now had a new driver, and that she was at the mercy of some gun-wielding young men. And so, she shouted: “Ha! Driver, you want to kill us? Why are you driving like this?”
That too, sounded like the dying refrain of her own dirge, in fact, her swan song. A cruel shot instantly made her children motherless, and her husband, a widower! And now a stern warning rang out from one of the new lords of the hapless bus: “If you dare open your mouth, and say anything again, then you are dead!” Everyone was gripped with benumbing fear as the journey progressed.
Then, they met a police checkpoint and some glimmer of hope rose in the quiet hearts of the hostages. But, in a flash, the driver simply put out his hand, and gave out some notes to the cops.
“Okay, Area, carry go!” the elated cop shouted.
The policeman did not even bother to look inside the vehicle, as they usually do, even after a driver had “performed.” The new driver was obviously familiar! This happened so fast, that it must have seemed like a dream to the conquered passengers. It then increased the crippling fear inside the vehicle. As they neared Abuja, after a couple of hours, they diverted to a bush path which eventually took them to a cleared ground. By now, the sun had begun to show signs of weariness. They had done every robbery while the vehicle was still cruising on the expressway. According to the girl, another girl that sat beside her, was shot dead for trying to play smart with her money, and her blood splattered on her own body, as she fell heavily on her. In fact, when the shot rang out, so close and dreadful, the girl said she thought she was the one shot, until she opened her eyes, to see she was still on this side of existence. She tried to push the lifeless girl, now leaning heavily on her, with her fresh, red blood running freely, but she was too heavy for her, and she was too benumbed by fear to push too hard. Another man who tried to make a phone call had his belly shattered by angry bullets, and his intestines spilled out!
The young men ordered everyone to disembark and undress, but the passengers hesitated. Initially, they had thought “remove your clothes!” did not also include pulling off their inner wears. But when one man was shot for delaying to remove his underpants, they all, young and old, including one fat, elderly woman, had to hurriedly strip themselves stark nude before the young men. They then lay prostrate, as commanded. The vehicle normally should carry only eighteen passengers, but, you know our way here: it was overloaded. They were about twenty-two or more.
The girl, a born-again Christian, who had sworn to preserve her virginity till she got married had led in prayers as the journey commenced. She had also wanted to preach the gospel to her fellow passengers, but when she noticed that a man nearby also wanted to do so, she deferred to him. So the robbers took to calling her “sister” and the other man, “pastor”. Both of them, incidentally lay near each other, very close to the bush, as four of the men began to select the girls they wanted to take away, while only one kept guard. She was the second they touched, as she lay down, praying silently. But as they dragged her up, and ran their eyes over her nude body, the leader of the gang exclaimed: “Can’t you see, that that woman is pregnant, you want trouble?”
“It is true-o!” exclaimed the other. “My mother once told me that anyone who did anything with a pregnant woman will surely carry a curse. Eeehh, oya, lie back there!”
And with that, he left her and selected another girl. Then, the four went into the bush with “their” girls while one kept guard.
Indeed, this girl was not pregnant. In fact, she was even midway into a four days fasting programme! Her tummy was not in any way big, at least, I looked at her. But then, as we all know, God has a way of shielding His own in an ungoverned jungle like Obasanjo’s Nigeria!
Now pause awhile, and reason with me: why was it necessary for the four men to take the girls into the bush? Merely to rape them? I certainly don’t think so! Why would they have to go that far to do what they could have conveniently done there, considering the risk in leaving only one person to guard the other hostages? Are they too foolish to not have thought that someone might jump at the lone guard? Suicidal, but possible! So, they must have taken that risk because, what they wanted to do was not what they could possibly do before the other hostages without attracting a revolt, even if suicidal.