by Samuel Arua
Monday, April 10, 2017
There were rapid images flashing through the screen of my mind as I dreamt on, it felt so real, as if I was in those images. I could hear gunshots and screams, though I couldn’t make out the words of the people shouting.
Bisola wake up!
Bisola wake up!
I felt someone shaking my shoulder, but the voice seemed to come from somewhere distant in my dreams. It kept calling my name with more urgency till a slap landed on my cheeks that wiped the images out of my eye. There was no room to get angry as I jumped up from the floor where I was lying down and started rubbing my cheeks. The look on Mumsy’s face was that of terror, I had never seen it before. Her hair was disarrayed, eyes reddened with tears, streaks of mud on her wrapper, and to cap it, she somehow had lost a foot of her slippers in whatever must have made her get that disarrayed look.
I didn’t get a chance to ask her the numerous questions that were beginning to form in my mind. We had quarrelled last night, so I was wondering, why wake me up at this time? Why slap me? Did she want to come and start her early morning talk again about how hard life is, and how to keep my purity and all that? All these questions, I didn’t get an opportunity to ask when I heard the gunshot. It felt so real, unlike what I was used to in those American movies. I jumped up in fear and bent my shoulder in a semi-squat as if I was dodging a flying ball over my head. Next came the crash. I’ve never been in a riot before, just the tales and stories I read either from newspapers or saw on the news whenever I had the opportunity to do so. I rushed out to see what was happening, what had crashed, only to be met with a scene I will never forget. I saw a caterpillar mowing down Kehinde’s house, and I remembered that Kehinde’s grandmother was
Next came the crash.
I’ve never been in a riot before, just the tales and stories I read either from newspapers or saw on the news whenever I had the opportunity to do so. I rushed out to see what was happening, what had crashed, only to be met with a scene I will never forget. I saw a caterpillar mowing down Kehinde’s house, and I remembered that Kehinde’s grandmother was paralysed and couldn’t move an inch on her own. I forgot totally about my mother who was beginning to wail behind me at the door. As I made for Kehinde’s house, I felt a hand grip my wrist and draw me back with such a force that I fell down on my butt. I looked up only to find a Police Officer with a mean look on his face, telling me that if I liked my life, I should better run away from that place. I tried to protest and explain that my friend’s family house was the one been crushed, and I wanted to help, he cocked his gun, and with a deadly look on his face, said: “I’ll open fire on you if you no commot from here.” I scrambled on all fours in a hurry to get away from the police officer. My heart was beating faster. All around me, I was hearing cries and shouts, I was wondering what caused this, what had we done wrong. Otodo Gbame has never seen this kind of brutality, and I wondered why now?
As if the police officers got a new order on their walking-talking, they started beating up people who wouldn’t leave their houses. I watched helplessly as two police officers drag Yusuf by the waist (the way they drag a thief) from their house as he tried to stand up to the police officers after they had pushed his father who had a stroke. They didn’t stop there, they went back in, started throwing the few properties they had, outside. My eyes were already teary, the sob choked in my throat, I couldn’t shout, I couldn’t cry. I hadn’t cried since my father died 12years ago, and I wasn’t going to give these fools the benefit of seeing me cry. But my eyes remained teary.
The clouds had gathered already. If you looked up, you could see shades of grey in the sky, amongst the clouds. I didn’t know what to do next, whether to run back to our house, since the policemen and their cohorts hadn’t gotten there yet, or just help someone else; but before I could make up my mind, my decision was already made for me. The houses that hadn’t been bulldozed yet, were been set on fire. It didn’t matter to them if people were inside or not, property or not. I could hear some women lay curses on the policemen, their families, children, wives, even the governor, for letting this happen. Just as I was rushing back home to go pack the few belongings we had, something caught my peripheral vision, four police officers were heading to the makeshift building we used as a school,
Just as I was rushing back home to go pack the few belongings we had, something caught my peripheral vision, four police officers were heading to the makeshift building we used as a school, 10 litre gallons in hand. I stopped dead in my tracks because I was a volunteer teacher there. It was the only thing I could do while waiting for admission. These men started pouring petrol on the makeshift structure, and before I could get there, they had lit it up. I couldn’t hold back the scream, as I shouted. It felt like a hot iron searing through my heart. The last solace I had, the only thing that still made sense to my life, the only thing that I found joy in doing, was going up in flames. As I tried getting closer, one of them pushed me. I fell. He walked up to me, bent over and gave me a sound slap. I choked on my cry. “Are you stupid? Do you think we’re joking here? Come on, will you get out of here?” he shouted at me. I could smell his breath, it reeked of alcohol. My eyes were lit up with stars as I struggled to gain composure. “Oya gerraway you,” the other officer behind him shouted. I managed to get on my feet and start running back to my house. As I turned back, I saw some men in uniform pointing towards the direction of my house; my heart skipped faster, I started shouting “Mama, run
I managed to get on my feet and start running back to my house. As I turned back, I saw some men in uniform pointing towards the direction of my house; my heart skipped faster, I started shouting “Mama, run ooo, run oo.” in fact, I didn’t know what to shout as I tried to run faster. I could feel the heaviness in my calf as I tried to run faster. All around me, people were jumping into canoes. Owning a canoe around my neighbourhood was the only thing that set you apart from been extremely poor, for we all were poor. But at least, each family tried to own at least one canoe. I could see people jumping into their canoes with bundles of cloth wrapped inside a bigger cloth on their heads, or in between their arms. Every other property, forfeited. We had only one boat, though ’twas old and leaking. Mama was already tying up our cloths, and my kid brother, who’s just 14years old, was doing his best to stay composed as the man of the house. I didn’t wait to wonder what was going on in his head. I helped Mama tie the remainder of our clothes inside the biggest bedspread we had, and Tinubu carried it on his head as he made for the canoe.
It was if everyone in Otodo Gbame was running away from an incoming Tsunami, and rushing to the safety of their boats to paddle away to a safe haven, only that this time, we were all running away from the officials of the Lagos State government, the police force and their bulldozers. I saw women carrying their suckling children into the rain, frail grandmothers and grandpas been helped into canoes, I saw people who were bruised in various degrees been helped into canoes, as we all tried paddling away from the shores. My thought went back to Yusuf, what had become of him? Did he make it from the police clutch? We paddled to where other canoes were, just to have a feeling of safety amongst kin, only to discover the worst had happened. I first saw Yusuf’s blue polo, the one he was wearing when he was dragged out of their house. I thought he was just lying down on the boat, till I saw blood stains, as I got closer, I began to make out the words of the men and women around, Yusuf had bled to death, from the cuts and beatings of the police and their fallen house. The rain had begun falling, the scene in front of me was not like anything I’ve ever read, heard or seen.
Now I let go of all the restraint, I screamed…it wasn’t just your normal scream. It was my own way of asking God if there’s a thing called Justice. What would become of us, of these nursing mothers and their babies, in this rain, of these old ones, of each and everyone of us? Will there ever be justice? Haven’t we suffered enough?
NB: This’ just a fiction, a conjured story trying to depict the event that happened in Otodo Gbame, Monday 09-04-2017.
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