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The Legacy of Bolewa

By Richard Ugbede Ali (Nigeria)


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My first novel explores the themes of love, identity and history and the pitfalls of those three guardians of man. It also seeks to highlight modern Nigerian society and how the young see the Nigeria of their parents including such views as the nature and the necessity of democracy as opposed to benevolent autocracy. Yet, it is essentially a love story of Faruk Ibrahim, a Muslim from the majority Fulani ethnic group and Rahila Pam, a Christian from the minorities and the tensions that form and seek to determine their relationship.

Book 1

Antebellum: Layers of Dust



Having acquired a familiar anticipation of the news, the man found it impossible to concentrate on the little excitements that provided fuel for the nauseatingly numerous tribe of Nigerian pundits. This weariness came from having made the news for so long and having preempted editorials for decades. Colonel Dibarama lived in that settled sphere where nothing important to be read by him on the pages of a newspaper.

Consequently, Ibrahim Dibarama’s thoughts were not the news he had anticipated by days and for which he could spare no time. A half full cup of Turkish coffee lay on the table before him.

Thirteen Killed in Guma: twenty-five wounded in Communal clash”, read the headlines of Thisday newspaper; the Sun, in its characteristically over-embellished cover preferred, NORTH CENTRAL BOILS OVER and in smaller print, “We will chase the Fulani’s to back to Sokoto – Community Leader.” The third sheet of paper on the table was a single A4 sheet containing a printout from the Reuters website:
Crisis erupted again yesterday in Nigeria’s increasingly volatile North Central state and twenty people have been reportedly killed in a communal clash over grazing rights between the Fulani and the Tiv tribesmen of the river Benue trough. Historic tensions have existed between the Fulani and the allied Hausa tribe who dominate the northern part of the country and minority tribes; in the urban areas, it finds expression in cries of political marginalization while the countryside seethes with strain between the pastoralist Fulani and the indigenous farmer’s in what is Africa’s second most fertile river valley. While it is not quite clear what generated the recent clash, it will be recalled that North Central State has become restive over the last decade with communal clashes amongst the southern Zaria people and even in the resort town of Jos.
Also, following the last coup that ushered General Hassan Abba to power nine months ago, the oil producing Delta State which borders the Atlantic has also seen a rise in pirate activities, hijacking and armed assault on oil facilities . . . .

He was a young man again, so fine looking that his hindsight could not reconcile it all to the reality of what he considered to be       his present frailty and his age. But yes, it was he. There, in the picture, 1960. He could not remember the officer, some white Sergeant Major, pinning the pips of a Second Lieutenant of the Nigeria Regiment on his breast. Behind him were his comrades, most of who had just completed the eighteen months officer course. The faces, like his, were young and had the quality of the possible in them. He remembered some of them, especially the ones who died in the decades following the independence. He turned the picture and behind it were the words “Her Majesty’s Nigerian Regiment: Sandhurst, April 1960”.
The second picture was dated eight years later, 1968, a picture of Hassan and he. Behind it was written, in Hassan’s writing, the words “Ibadan: 1968”. That was the day he made Lieutenant Colonel, Hassan already had the red neck pips of a full Colonel. 1968, in the center of the Civil War, in 1968 he had made the wartime rank of light Colonel which was a step above his actual rank of Major.
The Colonel sat alone behind his black mahogany table, his cap placed to his left on one of the newspapers. He wore a light green danshiki and his forearms formed an upturned triangle at the edge of the table and he reflexively twirled an ink pen between the fingers of his left palm. The pictures lay placed in place in an album open in front of him.
He had realized immediately that the Fulani/Tiv troubles would be the opening gambit of Mrs. Pam and her collaborators after the son of Hodio Ardo had come to see him, all the young man had said corroborated the information that Rose Dakyen had gleaned from her surreptitious tour of the North Central.
Yet, the Colonel, in considering the people who were dying was struck not by their deaths but by how much different from Asaba and Bolewa this was. And his thoughts returned to Asaba and the pictures in front of him.
The January 1966 coup had caught him in Lagos and the months before the counter coup were replete with the most angst he and his generation were to ever feel. Like the deluge of an unexpected storm, everything they had begun to believe in had become diffuse into a hundred thousand fragments. Within twenty-four hours, Nzoegwu had put paid to the republicanism of their generation.
He had been a soldier, yet, in those early hours when Sir Balewa was still missing, he prayed more feverently than any priest that the Prime Minister would turn up alive and unharmed. But that proved a sand castle by the shore. Murtala Mohammed was at the Garrison also. In 1966, Ibrahim Dibarama was a captain of the Armor Corps while the older soldier from Kano was a Major and Director of Army Signals. It was horrible what they did to Sir Balewa.
Murtala in the 60’s was a man given to bursts of rash and tempestuous behavior and on the day of the coup, it was he who had enough presence of mind to find out which officers and men had not been in the garrison while the coup was going on. Murtala’s anger was mainly at the killing of officers like Brigadier Maimalari, Colonel Kur Mohamed and Lt. Col James Pam with whom he had been very close.
Confessions were extracted from the absent-during-action soldiers and it was then, for the first time, that Ibrahim, and many of the officers from the North, began to realize the high incidence of military and political casualties and to see that the coup was targeted at the North. The coup had failed in Lagos and soon after, Nzoegwu, with only Kaduna and Kano in his control was talked into surrendering. But by then, anger had begun to seethe in the officers of northern extraction. For some, that anger was predicated on the death of Tafawa Balewa and the aspirations of the merchant classes to which they were allied while for others it was the death of Sardauna Bello who was the son of a sultan, and then, there were those like Murtala who had lost dearly loved friends and saw only more violence as an outlet to their frustration and rage. It was as if that sun, dimmed by the mass abdication of NCNC MP’s in the Western Regional House of Assembly a decade before, had finally set on the possibility of Nigerian unity.
Ibrahim watched the Ironsi regime from Jos where he had been posted and when the counter coup came, he was not surprised. But by then, so much meaning had been lost and the Army was becoming more and more senseless to him. The Civil War, however, came as a surprise. Not a single one of them, all actors in that carnage, could have thought it would come to that. Following Murtala’s bloody overthrow of Ironsi, a killing of Ibo’s that no one could stop began in the North. Gowon was ineffectual and too much in the shadow of his benefactor Murtala who at that time was barely twenty-nine, brash and hot headed as a mustang. If only they had known, Ibrahim Dibarama thought many times in the succeeding years, if only they had known, something, whatever it was, even if it meant forgiving and forgetting the deaths of Balewa and the officers for the sake of expediency, they would have been done it to save the country that needless war.
For indeed, amongst the northern officers, there were two currents; those who were angry because of Balewa specifically, to which he belonged, and those angry because of the anti-arewa color of the January Coup, led by Murtala. Murtala was mad at the loss of men he considered to be fine officers and would have checked himself if he had only been able to peer into the future and see that his counter-coup would lead ultimately to the Civil War and another equally criminal killing of young northern officers in Onitsha trying to steal a field from the mastermind of Hannibal as well as on battlefields elsewhere in the Southeast.
Murtala Mohamed was a hot head in the sixties but the humanity he displayed in the seventies when he became C-in-C after Gowon’s ouster had always been there. Ibrahim, who had known him as a Captain then, believed the man from Kano would have simmered down in the face of such needless loss of even more men and officers.
And then, his own group, the disenchanted idealists inspired by the Prime Minister, they would not have been so angry if they had seen how hard it would be to put the country back together again, the way Balewa had envisaged it, after the War. They would have back pedaled if they had realized they were denying Balewa even the possibility of a united Nigeria, the legacy of it, and they would have cringed to find themselves unfortunate tools in the hands of the Yoruba chief and his ethnicist politics.
But of course, the distinction between the dish of foresight and that of hindsight is the bitter spice of experience; cause and effect are only realized in retrospect when the causes and effects assume the solidity of the real.
He had met Hassan only once during the war years, when that picture was taken, in January 1968 at the Second Army Division Ibadan where he was stationed, Hassan had already seen action during the fall of Enugu, which was then the Biafran capital. Hassan was already had the wartime rank of a full Colonel while Ibrahim had been made Lieutenant Colonel. This was just before the beginning of the long stalemate. It was then Ibrahim Dibarama’s life was to intersect with that of Murtala Mohammed for the second and most determinate time.
He had been sent from the Third Armored Division by his commander to requisition vehicles when Murtala, already a Brigadier with a reputation, commandeered both he and the vehicles he had secured into his newly formed Second Division.
“I remember you, you were at Lagos”, Murtala had said, his cap on the upturned cupboard that served for a table in his makeshift room.
“Yes sir.”
“They tell me you are here to requisition vehicles.”
“Yes sir.”
“Colonel Adekunle, your Divisional commander, is a fine soldier but he is not daring. What do you think?”
“He is a fine commander, Sir”
Murtala smiled.
“Stay here at the 2 Div., we will be moving into the East soon and we will have more use of you and your vehicles than Adekunle would. He can send someone else if he wants to but you and your vehicles now belong to this Division and I am your new commander.”
“Yes sir”
“That’s an order.”
“Yes sir”
“There will be action soon enough”, the brigadier said, a gleam in his eye, “What is your name again?”
“Ibrahim Dibarama, Sir”
“Come over by 1930 hours tomorrow evening, I will be having a meeting with my staff. Otherwise, you are dismissed.”
It had been as simple as that.
By that time, Ojukwu’s shock troops had occupied the Midwest and it was up to the Second Div. and their temperamental Commander to flush the Biafran’s out and earn Murtala the wartime accolade, Monty of the Midwest. Such had been his brilliance as a commander, daring and inspiring and willing to lead a charge himself.
Thinking of it, Hassan Abba became a lot like Murtala, an officer loved by troops and fellow officers alike, a man that many men swore to die for, and many did.
At Onitsha, the Biafran Colonel Hannibal Achuzia, a tough field commander, a civilian genius really, met them and stole the field from Murtala, routing and repelling the over thousand man Second Div. Murtala had thought, against all advise, to take Onitsha via a treacherous river crossing; three times they tried and three times they failed, each time with almost criminal officer casualties. Ibrahim had protested. The river crossing had been against the direct orders of Supreme HQ but such was the commander’s enthusiasm and his soldiers’ loyalty that each time they followed him fearlessly and unto certain death. So fierce had been the Biafran fighting, so scorching the fire that ammunition valued at over a million pounds was left as booty for the plucky Hannibal; it was here, in the battle of Onitsha that the crème of the Northern officer corp. was lost, many by drowning in the Niger under heavy fire by Achuzia’s men. Murtala, Shehu Yar’Adua, Ishola William, Ibrahim Dibarama and few others were what remained of the Second Div. officer corp.
Murtala Mohammed eventually took Onitsha but by then, it was at a price that left Ibrahim Dibarama despairing the needlessness and utter inhumanity of the war; that, with the massacre of civilians at Asaba, carried out by the brigade he commanded and did not command, all took a toll on him and he was transferred back to desk duties in Lagos with a torso draped in medals and a heart full of impotent disheartenment that he had ever betrayed his beliefs by donning a uniform. He remained in Lagos until the war ended.
The Colonel sighed.
The red plastic phone on the desk rang.
It was the Military Governor.
“Good morning sir”
“Good morning, your excellency.”
“Sir, have you seen the reports from Guma?”
“I have.”
“Sir, my instruction from Army Staff was not to interfere, that you are in charge. But, I am in charge of security in the North Central. I am afraid the trouble there will escalate and if it does, we might be unable to contain it. I advice we militarize now.”
“Your advice is noted and I will let the C-in-C know you have so advised me. However, you are not to militarize the Benue. I repeat; you are not to militarize the Benue. Consider that an order from the C-in-C.”
“Yes sir. But sir, I strenuously protest. The civil rights crowd will turn this into a disaster any moment from now.”
“I know that. I will get back to you within the hour.”
The Governor made a sound of anguish and Ibrahim could imagine him in distress in the Government House; he was one of those young hungry types who thrived on political appointments, who knew the hope of another Governorship could be toast if this old retired Colonel made a mess of things. And in a way, the Colonel knew the younger man seethed, for probably never in his career had he taken direct orders from a retired officer before, howbeit well connected or powerful.
“The troops I requested. Are they on location?”
“Yes Sir.”
“Okay, send me the police Commissioner.”
“Yes Sir”
The Colonel dropped the phone back into its cradle.
His mind was no longer on reminiscence of his youth; it was back in the present and to his beloved North Central about to be plunged into darkness and death by Mrs. Pam and her friends. He pressed the intercom.
“Pauline, send me another kettle of coffee and tell Jamilu na’Hauwa to come up”
Well, not if he could help it.
The whole thing would be an anticlimax as dramatic as the carnage had been planned and imagined. He aimed to so shock them all in a way that would put an end to the growth of their ethnicist politics that was ruining the country, at least, for five years if they were lucky.
The key had always been in the North Central and insh’allah he would scotch them all here. 
Ten minutes later, Jamilu na’Hauwa had already left, leaving the Colonel satisfied that everything was in place. Ibrahim Dibarama scrutinized the single sheet of paper the security officer had left behind, the master list milked from the dangerous exposure of Rose Dakyen and pensioners of his like Hodio Ardo. He scanned it and felt pleasure that this would not end badly at all. During the War and after it, during the dismantling of old Bolewa by those two fanatics, he had been a pawn in the game, helpless to change the course of things or even to save the life of his woman, but now, decades later, the table had turned and he had power made supreme by its intangibility.
The red phone rang again, breaking the detour of his thoughts.
“Hello.” The Colonel smiled instinctively at the voice.
“Hello Hassan.”
“Where are you?”
“At the office. How is Abuja?”
“Fine Ibrahim, this issue of the Benue?”
“Yes, I am on it already.”
“What is your sitrep?”
“Stage Bravo. Everything is in place, Hassan. Do not worry, in a few minutes, the Commissioner will be here and we will execute.”
“Are you sure the police can handle this?”
“With the problems in the Niger Delta, it would not do if you are seen as being too militarist. I think the police will do just fine, even though I have had detachments of Mobiles ready just in case.”
“Okay, that is fine. You haven’t been in an operation for a long time, my friend, and I feared you might have lost your strategic mind.”
“What a funny thing to say.” Ibrahim mused and heard the C-in-C chuckle on the other end of the line.
He knew that that was not why General Hassan had called him; definitely not to check up on him though the Military Governor had obviously gotten through to him in a bid to hedge himself.
I will do something about that man later, the Colonel thought; there was still enough of the Army in him to not tolerate constructive insubordination.
“The woman at the center of this, will you be taking her in?”
“I want her taken in.”
“That would not do, Hassan.”
“She is against everything you stand for.”
“And she is to be my in-law, Hassan. What is important is to remove the poison from her fangs; by the end of today she will be just another harmless snake as it concerns my beliefs. She is primarily flawed, Hassan, but that does not mean she is not authentic.”
On the other end of the line, General Hassan Abba looked across the dark wood paneled office, over the two settees facing each other with the low table and the map between them, to the ceiling at the far end of the room at the center of which was a Nigerian coat-of-arms. He stared at it for a couple of seconds and then turned his eyes back to the papers in front of him on the desk.
“Okay, I trust your judgment. Where is Faruk?”
“He is still at Bolewa, I expect him back by the end of the week.”
“And he is not aware of what his love life is costing us?”
“No, he isn’t”, the Colonel chuckled, “he is safe in Bolewa and by the time he returns, he will be safe in Jos also.”
“It’s like Ummi all over again isn’t it? I got you into all this.”
“No, you didn’t. It was a fate I chose for myself and I have not complained about it so don’t give me any sympathy, alright? Besides, it is unseemly for a General to be so touchy.”
“Ha ha! You now remember I am a general, no longer Hassan ko? Well, I have more important things to do here. I am counting on you. These damn oil communities are getting more and more restive. I will see Faruk after he returns to Jos”
“Goodbye, Hassan”
For the second time in thirty minutes, Ibrahim Dibarama placed the handset in its cradle and felt the thrill of a pulse of historical distinction course through him, giving him the inebriating pivot pleasure of moment and destiny created by choice. He looked up to see the Commissioner of Police walk into the office.
“Good morning Colonel.”
“Not exactly a good morning, is it, Mr. Commissioner? Do have a seat and tell me the latest news.”
The Commissioner was a tall, dark-skinned Ibo officer who had the reputation of curbing crime wherever he went, a popular urban hero. The North Central was his third tour, having been Commissioner in the Southwest and North Eastern States. But he was a bit flustered because communal clashes were way beyond of his depth.
“They have burnt a police station. Three of my men are missing. Intelligence says that Jos and Lafia are seething with discontent and could blow up at any time.”
“Our job is to ensure it doesn’t. What do you know about the structure of this conflict?”
The Colonel pushed the piece of paper across the table and the other took it up and scanned it, alarm spreading on his face.
When he looked up, the Colonel’s face was impassive and hard, it was not the face of a man to be asked questions, it was the face of man who gave orders.
Something had snapped; something had changed.
“I assume the officers and men I requested are in place.”
“Yes sir. But this list . . . ”
“Put every one of the people on that list under effective arrest. They are at the very heart of the conspiracy that has stoked this crisis on the Benue.”
“But sir, you have Cabinet Commissioners, Emir’s, Bishops, village heads on this list. Sir, even if this list is trustworthy,” the policeman gulped for such was the intensity of the Colonel’s glare, before continuing “the political implications, these are powerful people.”
“I made that list, Mr. Commissioner, and remember I am in charge of this particular operation. However, like I told someone else within the last hour, I have noted your objections and will forward them to the Inspector General if necessary. You speak of political implications? What implications can be more political than the ones you are witnessing even now in Guma and the one you are auguring in other cities in the North Central? I am not going to ask you how come there are so many guns in Guma or how they got past you; to do so would mean my underestimating the resolve of the collaborators behind this. Political implications? The political implication from this would merely be that they would know that we, including you, have been watching them. When this is over, they will be more quiescent for a while.”
The Commissioner nodded, he was beginning to see the plan of this man. The man had the mental strength of Napoleon. He nodded again.
“You see, Mr. Commissioner, these people, elites who mock the constitution of this country, they do not exist only in the North Central. They are all over the place. It is important, imperative, that they all be convinced that the government, and the integrative forces, is well aware of who they are and all their plans. The North Central will be an example to the South-South and other would be hotspots”
“I understand”
The Commissioner stood up to leave.
“One more thing”, the Colonel said, standing also and looking Commissioner of Police Patrick Chukwuma straight in the eye, “I said ‘effective arrest’; constructively, all these distinguished people are merely being brought under protective custody, you understand?”
The policeman smiled as a disciple, and stretched out his hand to Ibrahim Dibarama.
“I understand precisely.”
“You already have luck in your hands, make the best of it.”
For the third time that morning, Ibrahim Dibarama called his secretary in to his office. She was a smart young girl who must have known that all the officers that had been frequenting the Colonel’s office had something to do with the troubles in Guma. She came in, wearing a gray pantsuit with a white transparent veil over her shoulders.
“I want you to tell the Transport officer that if those trailers of kaolin are not in Lagos by Friday, I will personally make his life miserable after putting him out a job. Then, these letters, have them posted immediately” he added, giving her a sheaf of papers.
“Yes sir, shall I get the car around for you?”
”Yes, have Dul and the others ready to leave in five minutes.”
But the girl hesitated.
“What is it?” the Colonel asked.
“I just wanted to thank you for what you are doing for Guma. I overheard you talking to the Commissioner. My mother is from Guma and she still lives there.”
The Colonel grunted and nodded.
“I am not doing it for thanks but thanks nonetheless. I hope your mother is safe. Before the day runs out, insh’allah, everything will be back to normal.”
Poor girl, he thought, pushing himself further back into the chair.
It was time to leave and it had been a full day; he would have to monitor events from Zinder Ranch and he had no doubt that there would be many people seeking him and courting him by the time the day was done.
The Colonel went over to the large windows and looked down at the finicky street scene beneath him. He remembered an old kanuri proverb his mother had told him, kindness is like throwing a stones, whoever is hit will surely return the compliment. He had known that Pauline was Tiv but had never bothered to find out where exactly she was from; she was efficient enough and had been with him for five years. And now, she too has entered into the circle of his personal history. If there was one thing he could not complain of, it would be of not having an interesting life and that day was as complex as they came.
It was the legacy of Bolewa that there be strife, but it was he, Ibrahim Hamza Dibarama’s legacy to Bolewa that the republic of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s dreams would tarry and overcome ethnicity and religion and a thousand travails.
Then he left the office and headed home to Rose Dakyen and the little spot of earth he had carved out for himself.

It’s going to be a very hot day, Faruk mused, as he parked his car just in front of Miriam Bazza’s house. Fancy the durbar being held on such an inopportune day as this, he did not envy the costumed riders who would be mounted hours on end and he mused at his foresight his refusing the Emir’s request to ride a horse in the name of gidan Dibarama.
A small child with a rotund stomach caked in brown Bolewa dust sat on a stool just outside the main gate of the house, contentedly chewing a long stick of sugarcane. There was something bucolic about it that caused Faruk to laugh, mussing up the child’s hair when he passed by him; perhaps one of Miriam’s numerous cousins. 
The house was built much in the same way as Hajia Astajam’s, with a large concealed courtyard and the living spaces, rooms and zaure’s built around it. The only difference was that the Bazza house had a wider gate, enough for a car to go through and on the other side of the courtyard from the gate was a story building painted in white and a gleaming marbled balcony where Abdulkadir Bazza enjoyed sitting in the evenings when the weather was temperate and the breeze would waft in the sweetness of Wuza Quarters without the dust. Abdulkadir, together with Miriam, his latest wife and her child lived in this house while the other children and relatives took rooms looking into the courtyard. Ever since he had started coming to this house, he kept on noticing how Miriam’s father replicated mannerisms his father exhibited in Jos. With each discovery, he felt the umbilical tug of past lives nourishing his own identity.
“Greetings while you rest”, he greeted Miriam’s father, squatting as was customary.
The older man was sitting on a chair reading a newspaper and overseeing the washing of his maroon red 1996 Honda Civic. He was startled but he smiled when he put the paper down on his laps on seeing who it was.
“Young man, how are you today?”
“I am well though the weather is rather punishing.”
“Yes, it gets that way sometimes. You have come to take Miriam to the durbar?”
“Yes, with your gracious permission.”
“You know, sometime I wonder how come you and I get along so well.”
“Because you know I won’t hurt your daughter and you know I am not the rascally sort?”
“Maybe”, Mallam Bazza said, smiling, “I hear you will be leaving us soon.”
“I have to return to Jos where my new home is, where my father is and where my trade is.”
“Yes, I have been told. But we are happy that you have come at all. And I know you will not forget your first home, where your father and your mother were born.”
“It holds me like an umbilical cord. I cannot forget the kindness of Bolewa, its legacy is in my blood and I will surely return here someday.”
They knew they were talking of Miriam and yet, they were not talking about her because it was not in the place for a man to speak with the male friend of his favorite child, his only daughter, whose heart would be distressed by such a friend’s imminent departure. Nonetheless, this boy, in just three months had given a new maturity to Miriam and had rested some of her father’s fears. Surely he would know how to leave well?
Allah rene. She is inside, you may go in. I will be here.”
But by the time Faruk and Miriam came out of the house ten minutes later, Abdulkadir Bazza had already left his seat even though the boy was still there shining the car.
What use are goodbyes when we shall meet again?
Yet, even Miriam was uncommunicative. She was dressed in a beautiful black gown with a silver colored veil on her head; her hands had just been done with new henna designs. Faruk found a curious fascination with her hands and her wrists, there was a subtle grace about them, slim and nimble; he always remembered the first time he had seen her drawing water from the well at Hajia Astajam’s, it had been the grace of that simple flick of her wrist that had caught his interest.
Now, three months later, she looked like a girl who should be happy yet certain sullenness had fallen upon her as swift as the sudden break of a storm. Only the day before, she had reconciled herself to Faruk’s leaving and even an hour before, she did not think much about it, she had not asked him to come into her life and she knew it was not for her to ask him to stay. But now.
“What is wrong with you,” he asked, “Are you unwell? Why this sullenness?”
“There is nothing wrong with me”, she said, hiding her eyes from him and willing herself not to ruin their last moments together with her tears.
She looked outside the window as they left the houses of Wuza behind and passed the stretches of untenanted land between the quarters of Bolewa on their way to the GRA where the durbar was to be held. They drove past many children and young persons dressed in their finery, mostly caftans and fez caps, also on their way to the GRA Polo Grounds.
Miriam was caught between throes, on the one hand trying to contain her sadness that he would be leaving for his woman in Jos, that though they had shared so much he still belonged to another and on the other her desire to savor the last moments of Faruk in Bolewa. She knew he had passed up the opportunity of riding in the procession that day in order to see it all from the public stands with her, yet, while she was dressing up for him, just when she heard his voice talking to her father, little termites had started gnawing the sinews of the fortitude of her impossible love.
“When are you leaving?”
“Tomorrow”, he said, looking at her.
That was why, of course. If only there was not Rahila Pam. But that was not possible because he would not have even come to the Northeast, for discovery or any other reason, had she not been his lover. Not even for the sake of Miriam Bazza could he imagine if there was no Rahila. He knew intuitively that this girl would always love him and yet, he knew that since he had not hurt her, she would grow past her love and enter into a beautiful life. In a few months, the University will give her a glimpse of life and an excursus in lifestyles; she would grow past her first love but like Ummi al-Qassim and Usman Abdullah, she would not forget her first love. Unlike his mother, however, there would be no long drawn tragedy for Miriam Bazza.
“Are you happy?” he asked her, enveloping the back of her palms in his right palm and squeezing the softness of it lightly.
She looked up at him and he smiled, while keeping his other hand on the wheel. She felt a fluffy lightness in her being and felt the spread of a smile on her lips. Damn you, Faruk Ibrahim, and your questions. Am I happy? Why do you always think of the right questions to ask me? God damn you if I did not love you, if you did not love another.
“I am happy that we have loved each other the last three months. I am a woman and that is why I am sullen, but I am not sad. Yes, Faruk, I am happy.”
“That is the most important thing in the world. When we are happy, we are always good, but when we are good, we are no always happy.”
“Wilde”, she said. He loved Oscar Wilde and always quoted him to her.
“Yes. To be happy is the most important thing in the whole word and even if I have to expiate the happiness I feel in my heart for your love, even if I were to pay a price of the most agonizing torture for it, I will always hide it in my heart, these last three months as the identity of my life. I am happy also.”
And there, in that car, for that moment, Miriam regained her joy again. It was approaching ten a.m. and the sun, typical of Bolewa, had tempered its earlier fury and was now quite tolerable. By the time they parked in the courtyard of Abba’s house, a light breeze had begun to blow.  He parked the car under a tree in the yard and opened the door for the young lady and helped her get down, playing the perfect knight, a courtier in a last performance in her honor.
Together, they mingled with the crowd and headed for the Polo Field, taking in the aura of excitement that suffused the warm swarm of their native land. Faruk wore a three cornered Fulani cap with a crème colored dashiki and the dust was already giving a color of rust to the corners of the fabric.
The enclosed field filled up by the minute and the noise corresponded with the increase but they were not yet so late as not to find their way to the house of an aunty of Abba’s that overlooked the field. Abba’s late uncle had been a stable master at the Polo field and was in charge of the equine stock of the Emir and other worthies of Bolewa. Upon his death, his widow had moved to Bindawa where she lived with her eldest son, visiting Bolewa occasionally. Abba had preferred to go to Maiduguri, no doubt to spend the day womanizing and drinking, but they met his sibling at the house and he led them up to the balcony.
They were just in time for they just got there when the air was rent with a new hullabaloo. From their vantage, they had a fine view of the people’s ecstasy on hearing the thrill of the trumpets, it was just as if a snake had run through a blade of grass, such was the delicate beauty of rippling motion and emotion. It was beautiful, just to watch. But no one could watch, even they from the summated cloister of the balcony were drawn into the rite of the Emir’s course. At the far end of the field, where the main gate was located, there was a greater mass of townspeople and a few minutes later, the first of the Emir’s forerunners arrived on a white horse, rearing wildly up and down, stopping and gallivanting, brandishing a sword rhythmically, shouting at the top of his voice. From where he stood, Faruk could see that this rider was no other than the uncommunicative Fulani boy who had led him to the inner rooms of the palace to see the Emir only a week before.
Already the trumpets could be heard and soon the trumpet blowers followed the wild rider, blowing with all their lungs, their cheeks swelling like hot air balloons with their effort. There was a music beneath their notes, it had an unfathomed language that seemed to seize all who heard it, that stilled the breath and the heartbeat, holding the eyes looking at the yan’ kirarai in their light colored babanriga’s. Then, you breathe and a return to the temporal was achieved and after that, just then, you are again struck with the next spectacle.
This time, it was the sons of the princes of Bolewa mounted on the finest horses Faruk had ever seen. Miriam had fallen silent since the first notes of the yan’ kirarai but she did press her back into him as she stood with her body touching his on that balcony, feeling his every heartbeat, allowing the thrum of it reel through her body, absorbing it with her own softness. And Faruk, caught in the flow of authentic moment, felt and did not feel and as always, he understood everything.
The brothers of the Emir preceded the Emir’s sons and other collaterals of the al-Qassim’s. The nobility wore gleaming white turbans with two tufted ‘ears’ protruding on both sides of it; only they were allowed to wear their turbans in that manner.
Faruk considered that not even he would be allowed to wear a turban in that way for while his mother was al-Qassim, no one in his patrilineolgy - his father, uncle or grandfather, had been an Emir. The horses were splendid, fine Arab’s no doubt prized bloodlines from New York or Buenos Aires.
One could well understand the rage of Ummi al-Qassim’s uncle when her lovers burnt down his stable and how easy it was to take the fatal decision of banishing the two and plunging Bolewa into a fated cataclysm. Each mount was dressed in an armor of finery and the princes rode serenely by, accepting with calm impassivity the acclaim of their people. Faruk watched this from the Balcony, realizing that even if he were to spend the rest of his life here in Bolewa, he would still be learning new idiosyncrasies, new paradoxes even in the common and the ordinary. Where else would one find a durbar where non-Muslims were equal of the field with the Muslims? Here, at the far end of Hausaland, at the intersection of Borno and Adamawa, Bolewa had been able to thrive without knowing the division of faction, complementing the past and the present within what had become a country intent on fragmenting itself.
The frenzy of the crowd reached a crescendo when the Emir arrived the grounds mounted on a sturdy camel, preceded by twelve riders on black horses firing very loud guns into the air, Kpoom, Kpoom, Kpoom!
At the center of the his uncle, the Emir of Bolewa, clad in a silver yellow robe hemmed with gold embroidery over a splendid white caftan and a dazzling white turban on his head. Ramallan al-Qassim wore dark sunglasses to protect his eyes from the sun and the dust and his right arm was raised in salute to his people, guests at his durbar. The every step of the camel, unhurried in its dignity, made its rider seem from so far away like a center of calm amidst the tumult of the crowd. Unconsciously, Faruk raised his arm to the man who could not possibly see him, in solidarity and in gratitude to him for having given him the history of his mother and bequeathing to him the big picture of his own place in the continuum of account.
The Emir was soon seated on the dais to receive the greetings of the noble families of Bolewa and visitors from other Emirates. It was a great sight.
Someone would call;
gidan Waziri Bolewa!”
 A posse of men on splendid mounts, glistening in the noonday sun, would ride out to acclaim the Emir. The center of the field was clear and they would ride out at top speed then suddenly draw rein just in front of the Emir. The family of the late Usman was one of the most prominent in Bolewa, to judge by the number of men it equipped and mounted, no fewer than twenty-five. Then they would disperse just in time for another call of another noble house.
gidan Beri beri Keffi”
gidan Sulubawa Katsina
gidan Sambo Garbossa
gidan Sulubawa Zazzau
gidan Sarkin Sudan”
And each time, a company of men would charge down at full speed and abruptly draw rein just under the dais where the Emir sat on an oriental carpet, surrounded by his courtiers. The Emir, with prayer beads draped around his fingers, would acknowledge them with a wave of his hand. It was already three p.m. when the Emir rose to give his message and benediction before the crowd started to disperse for the afternoon repast after which the real revelry would begin.
Faruk and Miriam found their way back to Abba’s house where the car was parked.
The GRA was the very heart of the town with double carriageways and fine houses. They passed an amusement park full of children and their mother’s.
“Should we go in?”
“Hah”, she said, in mock indignation “I am not a child. But if you want me to take you, you should ask properly.”
“No, kaka, I don’t want to.”
Miriam laughed, “I am not a kaka, either, don’t ruin the my market.”
“I forget you are a merchantman’s daughter.”
“Soon, you will forget me.”
“If it is Allah’s will”
“If you ever forget me, Faruk, I will remind you. Every time.”
“Then I shall save you the effort and not forget.”
They were seated at the back of a restaurant owned by a friend of Faruk’s. Miriam had ordered a full seven course of rice for them and they talked while they ate. There was a large bowl of white rice and then every ten minutes a new sauce would be brought; the trick was to have a little rice with each sauce until the entire seven stews were enjoyed. They were on the third course.
“I am not even sullen anymore.”
“So, what changed?”
“When we were on the balcony, looking at the horses, I realized that I had some of you also. What scared me was that you would leave me with nothing, not your love, not your memories. But when I looked in your eyes, I saw something in them that was mine alone, that you could never share with anyone else. And I realized that I have had many such moments.”
Faruk smiled.
“You have always been stronger than you think.”
“I will go to Maiduguri next year and I will find the limits of this strength you have shown me. It is hard for me, because I am a woman, but I let you go because I cannot keep you against your will.”
“Miriam, right now, you are the most beautiful person I have ever met.”
“Thank you”, she said, and they ate in silence for a long while.
“But tell me, Faruk, because I must know, why parting is so hard?”
“You will find it in your own words by yourself. I don’t need to tell you why.”
“But I want you to. I want to hear it from you.”
Faruk sighed and pushed some more rice into his mouth, chewed it and pushed it all down with a sip of his non-alcoholic malt. Her eyes were so young and so earnest, and she wanted an answer.
“Parting is hard because the heart finds comfort in the expected. Yet dreams often demand that we march out in search of the rare and unexpected. So, our hearts are oftentimes at cross-purposes with our dreams and only deep faith gives us the strength to keep aspiring to the star of our dreams.”
She nodded, and smiled.
It was already getting late and they drove back to Wuza, listening to Faruk’s Brenda Russell CD.
Soon they were just in front of Miriam’s house.
“So, you are leaving tomorrow?”
“I don’t want you to come an see me before you go.”
“I understand, I wont.”
“I want you to write me. A week after you leave, will you do that?”
“I will.”
They were standing under an old guava tree just beside the gate, from where they stood, they could clearly see the soft lights of the house spilling unto the courtyard. It was way past seven p.m. but there was no curfew on such a night as this.
“Okay”, she said, “I want you to go now.”
Faruk nodded, under the soft moonlight. There was no need to prolong their parting and he turned around to leave.
“Faruk, I want you to kiss me.”
Faruk too the steps between them and kissed her on the forehead as he was wont to do, but she shook her head.
“Kiss me like a woman”
And so he kissed Miriam Bazza on the lips that night and she wound her arms around him and wept her tears into her hair and into the fabric of his dashiki. She did not let go for a long time, thus silently weeping, and then she let go of him and her eyes were not weeping anymore, had finished weeping. He spoke not a word, looked her in the eye, rearranging the fallen locks of her hair.
Then he entered the car and drove away.

That night, when he returned to Hajia Astajam’s, he found Abba had been earlier and left a letter for him. It was from Yagana Hussena. Like the earlier letter he had received from Rahila, this one was smeared with patches of caked dirt from as many hands. He turned it over to see the postmark, Anglo Jos; dated a week before. Faruk dropped the letter on his bed and then undressed and had a quick shower, put on a cotton jallabiya and then returned to sit on the edge of his unmade bed.
Dear Faruk,
                I believe you have rediscovered who your mother was and what she lived for, and why she died. But then, I know there are some parts of her story that I alone can tell you. I know you will still have questions to ask but in this letter I shall try to tell you how it was with us before your father came along; I will answer any other questions you have when you return your father and I here in Jos.
The couple of months following the burial of the Waziri were times of dense foreboding, full of portents of what was to come. When you walked through the streets you could see it in the eyes of the people when they glanced away, you could hear it in the rustle of the leaves. Although I heard it said by no one, everyone knew we were steeped in times of tension and when the leaves would have turned, nothing would be as it used to be anymore. But what could anyone do?
In the center of it all was my dearest Beebs. She was the very picture of a fair and frail flower caught up in a storm. Her story is a tragedy of love. She was an innocent young girl caught between the passions of two powerful young men, both unheeding in the mad sincerity of their emotion. And all three of them were submerged in the whirlpool of Fate. None of them really was in control. None of them could save themselves. Not Habib, Usman or Ahmed.
Usman came to see your mother the very night he arrived Bolewa. Of course he had heard the talk of the betrothal to the Ahmed Anwar, yet he came nonetheless. But it was a hopeless cause. I did not want him to see her. It had been so hard for Beebs to get over him and I knew it would not serve if he popped up suddenly out of nowhere.
Doubtless she was in love with Ahmed Anwar but then I knew the embers of Usman’s flame still glowered in her heart. It is like that most times when a woman loves a man for the first time. But what she did that night as to finally douse those embers for good. When Usman left our chambers that night his face was darker than the night sky, his fury and his ego were much vexed. I knew then that much trouble lay ahead.
I remember Ahmed came to see her first thing the next morning. Your mother, who had cried most of the night, refused to see him. He remained outside at the porch until about the afternoon prayers. She could not have known he was still around. When she saw him there still waiting, fresh tears ran down her face.
There was this look set on his face, like the look of a man face to face with his fate, who must call on every fiber of will he has cultivated; to fight for and to keep. It was he who wiped the tears away with the back of his palm.
For a long time I watched them sit out under the partly enclosed porch, saying not a word.
“Ahmed” she replied.
“You know I love you, don’t you?”
She said nothing, only nodding her head.
“Habib, do you still love me?”
“Yes Ahmed, you are the one that I love”
“Alhamdlillah” he said, “don’t cry any more, everything would be all right. There is no problem.”
Soon after that, he left.
Now that I am older and have seen the whole script played out, it strikes me how so far wrong he was.

The ego, and I am sure the heart, of Usman Abdallah al-Wazir could not be comforted. He would not accept that Habib Ummi was his no more. He could not accept his loss and pick up his life. I never understood what it was about Habib that so enamored both of them even to the forts of their own ruin. Usman pestered her day and night. If he was not sending gifts and emissaries, or elsetimes being ubiquitous. Habib tried to ignore him; we tried to talk to him but he was adamant. He said he knew she still loved him.
The way of princes forever defies understanding, or reason for that matter. It was hard. Despite Usman’s taunting and insult, Ahmed Anwar remained throughout something of a model gentleman. He knew he had the girl and chose to give no quarter to his rival’s trouble making. But for how long could that resolve last? Not for long at all.
“Usman is irritating me,” he said
He came to see me one night. Your mother had gone down to Kaduna for a nikah and we sat on the porch outside the courtyard.
He had said it. I did not have anything to say.
He covered his face in his palms and inhaled deeply before looking up at me again. His eyes seemed to have an anger not seen since the time before the Holy Prophet {SAW} brought the light to Arabia. There was something very scary and fearful in those brown eyes. And yet, there was something so very sad in them also.
“I never thought it would get to this, that he would ever be worth the trouble he is causing me. But he has done it! And he is harming what is dearest to my heart . . .
He said in measured words as he paced across the porch
“. . . Ah and I have been patient, hoping his vituperations would cease, but NO! He taunts me with even more impunity. Tell me Hussena, would you stand aside and watch the object of your soul harmed?”
“No Anwar, I would not”
“Aaha! And yet you say I should bid my time?” he shot at me in Arabic, it sounded like a cry, like a deep cry of emotional pain “I cannot stand aside while this imbecile Waziri hurts my honor with such license. He ought to have been quartered long ago. I ought to have had him quartered long ago. He won’t get away with hurting Habib so long as I live.”
I did not say anything. There was nothing to say.
I was witness to the loss of spirit that descended on Beebs and I knew Usman’s hand showed there. Ahmed was the temporal sunshine that made her happy, that made her smile, and now here he was at the end of his tether. Whenever he was not there she withdrew into the dour shell of her earlier sadness. The boy was trying to be with her as much as he could.
He was so charming and reasonable. He had wanted them to elope to Jordan where he had family or even to Europe but Ummi did not allow it. Apart from the question of honor, there had been a number of deaths in the family at about that time and it was not the moment to inflict further loss on her father who had come to love his only daughter so much in his old age. Your uncle, Zubairu, had just died at that time.
“So what are you going to do?”
“I will have him shot in the head”
I gasped. “Are you serious!”
He paused and looked at me.
“By Allah, he has given me enough cause . . . but no, I shall not do that. Not yet. I cannot hold my love in my hand with that imbeciles blood on my hands.” He said.
He left not long after that.
I remained outside for a while. I remember that night was warm as it is in Italy during the summer. Then I saw a comet blazing across the night sky. It was yet another omen. I realize many years later that from that point on, our fate was sealed and nothing could anymore stop the events that were to unfold over the subsequent weeks.
There seemed to be a certain languor in the streets. It clung to you everywhere you went and I could not make believe it wasn’t there. It was an exhausted languor, the sort you might get to feel when you have labored across some Everest and then at the summit you stand and wonder what it was you did it for. It did not really matter whether it was salvation or damnation anymore. Something.
Walking through the busy streets, the aura was perceived emanating everywhere; from the slow clang of church bells, the hagglers in the markets, the voice of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, the soporific chant of almajirai reciting the sunnah of the Prophet. It was an overbearing presence, it was poignant, and it could not be ignored.
. . . . .when the boys returned from their four years banishment they found that much had changed in Bolewa. The Emir who had expelled them was dead and his polo house and stables they had burnt had been rebuilt and restocked. There seemed to be a strange buzz in the air, in just four years the town had grown bigger than the two of them.  And Habib had married your father.
Religion has a way of calming the restless spirit of the hot-blooded young; it does this by suppressing their true feelings, seeking to like some philosophers stone, transmute hellcat rage into tranquility without seeking even to understand the rationale, and effect, of either. And by doing that, what the world sees is something grotesque, an automaton of an abstraction.
So it was that both the Arab and the Waziri did not seem upset at all, both ascribed the affair of Ummi al-Qassim to the will of their Supreme God, to Allah, and to Jesus Christ. So similar were their circumstances that travel had taught them at Qum, Rome and elsewhere to ascribe to Him the things they could not come to terms with, avoiding rational thought and with that the very possibility of conciliation.
Ah but in their hearts, in their hearts, they nursed a pallid bitterness; for religion is merely a Bessemer that can only restrain but cannot dissipate the demon pressure enclosed in a woebegone human heart. It could do nothing to slake the bitterness in their hearts.
Weeks later they met at the annual Durbar held in honor of the Emir’s coronation. Ahmed first saw Usman and went up to say hello. They talked about the foreign years that had passed but did not mention why those years had been. Usman told Ahmed he had been to Iran and Egypt. They sat there a while watching the horsemen play . . . . .but then, there was something bursting out to be said, demanding to be said.
I have wondered many times what the nuance of history would have been if they had not both acquired religion during their exile, would they have forgot about Ummi Qassim? They had chosen religion and their fate was drawing them deeper into its wiles of mischief and death; how easy it was for Ummi your mother to become a symbol of a primal impotence in both, a sacred female, a femme fatale.
“Usman, you know that this affair between us will end up but in death, don’t you?” Ahmed said it as he realized it, blurted it out really, as one might during confession, a revelation, just before the priest turns to go; he said it with an earnestness in his face.
Usman took a deep breath and looked his rival in the eye, reaching out to take a speck of dust from his face with his finger. His rival met him midway.
“In returning to Bolewa we have both sealed the ink of Fate. It is the same with me. Death, Life, it doesn’t matter.”
“The town cannot keep us anymore.”
The boys spoke so reasonably. No voices were raised nor were fists shaken. The others at the polo grounds would never have guessed the consuming heat in any of what they had said.

Usman looked at the polo players on their mounts running around the field, shouting in voices young and lusty “Chukka! Chukka!!”.
For a fleeting moment he realized that he was not much older than the boys there. But no, his life was ruined while theirs remained as yet before them. Would they someday love a woman too? Would they fight for love as the now fought for the Emir’s gold? Ah, but no, something in his soul had shifted so much that most things seemed to him frivolous. He could not bring himself to play polo any more.  And neither could Ahmed Anwar.The vengeant rage within his chest would not allow it. It had to break through; the rage had to be free. Or else it would choke him. And it could kill him. And he would die without his revenge on the imbecile who had lost him the only thing he had ever treasured.
But he thought, what could be more satisfactory than to exact his vengeance from his rival and from those who had dared to laugh at him behind his back? For him, that neither of them had gotten the girl did not matter, indeed it annoyed him the more and made his heart cold and tempestuous as the Atlantic waves he had sailed on.
 He sighed, maybe when all was done he would see Medina again and die in the land of the Prophet. Allah sees everything! Laila illa llaahu, Muhammad rasulallah!
Just a few seats away from Usman, Ahmed sat there staring at the vigorous riders on their thoroughbreds, swinging their sticks and seeing neither.
Usman and Ahmed’s fates were already entwined even then and the same thoughts streamed in similar fashion, in more than matched pious frenzy, in his mind.
It was sure then that Bolewa would burn
That was why they did it
And you know the rest of it now; in their madness for your mother, they bequeathed Bolewa with destruction.
It is said that on the day of the carnage, Usman al-Waziri and Ahmed Anwar were seen distributing arms to their own favored factions, urging them on to neo-jihad and neo-crusade in the midst of that fiery apocalypse. When the ash of Bolewa settled, no one could find either of them. And so it was that their jealousy and ego and love for Habibi Ummi al-Qassim was avenged to the death. A hopeless love that had spewed forth feud and violence.
Your mother died later, much much later.
As for the rivals, shall we say that when the revenge was done and while Bolewa burned, fire came out of their own hearts and consumed them both? The story, any way it is told, ends in death.
That is the legacy of Bolewa but you must remember that you arose out of that legacy and for a while the beauty of your promise kept Beebs alive and well. You lie at the center of it all and yet are the very antithesis of all that happened; it has been your fate. All that happens is fated. You are in love; remember that love is one of the few things that can bend fate for good or ill.

Yagana Hussena Bukar

Faruk put the letter on the bed beside him, his heart a fury of emotions. So this was to be his bridge, his own Rubicon and that very moment was to be his last before the choice, either ways fatal, whether he would cross or not? But, he thought, was it not also fated, whatever it would be, whatever he chose?
Just then a horsefly started buzzing around him, startling him from the draft of his thoughts.
Somehow, this particularly insolent one had gotten into the room while he had been out and now noisily demanded its freedom or its death. Without considering it even for a second, Faruk’s cupped palm lunged into the air and the horsefly fell down on the red carpet he had bought decades earlier from Miriam Bazza. There it lay bereft of dignity, trying to regain itself and realizing in the last feverish buzzle of its wings and too late that its identity had become one with death.

“I hear you are leaving tomorrow?”
“Yes I am”, Faruk replied, sitting for the last time in Hajia Astajam’s kitchen, in her familiar hearth.
“You wont forget us now, would you?”
“I cannot, mara zaine
“You will come back to see us again?”
“I shall. It is Allah’s will that I darken your doorstep with my shadow; when that shall be, I cannot say. But insh’allah, I shall taste of your excellent meals again.”
The plump woman smiled at his fine words.
But even she could not bear to be parted with him. She was going to Maiduguri at first light of dawn, she said, her son was in trouble and she had to get him out. She did not look at him when she produced and gave him a silver locket as a memento and he understood that she too, like Miriam Bazza and the Emir, would be made glad if he could do the one thing he could not; stay.
So he took his leave of her.
                He understood the essence of his love for Rahila Pam and why he could not be content with Miriam, he knew why he would wake up the next day and head out into a new battle, one that had been raging long before his was born, one that had indeed formed his bones. In the center of it all was my dearest Beebs. She was the very picture of a fair and frail flower caught up in a storm. Her story is a tragedy of love. His father had been fighting that battle, between concentrating forces and disintegrating forces for over two decades and presently it was for time him to take up the cause.
His coming to Bolewa had been necessary to arm him with a sense of the ideal and the real, that he might be better able to interpret and judge the enemy he was up against, a fiend that cut asunder for no reason and without reason. He understood, simply, that love could not be a tragedy and that in the arduous test he would subject himself to through the rest of his life, all he would have for him was the belief that no matter what was written, no matter what was fated, he could dare not abdicate his belief in the efficacy of his actions, for good or ill, to impress upon and overcome history and identity to create in that same breath history and identity.
                And love, he knew, was the utmost good.


Continued next week...

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