I looked over at the woman seated across from me. She was so deep in thought that I wondered how I could ever force her focus back on the question I just asked. I didn’t want to push her too much. It is better for her to remember the events as they occurred, than to prompt her memory and come out at the end with a version of accounts I created rather than a version that truly was.
Her gaze was fixed on an indeterminable spot outside the double French-style windows; the young lady sitting in profile by the window was not helping much either. She too seemed lost in her own world. Too deep in thought grappling with the demons that occupy her past to bother about what was going on around the center table.
The sitting room was spacious and tastefully furnished. It was a room befitting of the upscale G.R.A. Ikeja residence where I had been asked to come for my interview with the woman now seated across from me. It was an unprecedented breakthrough in my long search for her.
She had not been easy to track. I had been led down a long trail of fake or dormant addresses for the past two years, piecing together the trail bit by bit; it is what I do. I piece things together. I have been piecing together events that led to a socio-cultural shift amongst a people some years back. The conflict had led to whole-scale movement of people, and a sense of mistrust between the major ethnic and religious entities involved back then. My aim now is to highlight the deeper reasons for the shift, make it a case study for other African states to learn how to deal with similar socio-cultural groups within their geographic entities.
So, I cannot leave without finding the final pieces of the puzzle that culminated in those events many years ago. Events that have assumed great significance since I began researching for this current project for the United Nations Education, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO).
My work as a social anthropologist, working with UNESCO and a number of other international organizations, involved studying the reasons behind various social conflicts in African countries. The Idi Araba riots of February 2002 have somehow come into my consciousness when I read an account of the crisis in an old copy of one of the national newspapers. My interest had been piqued by allusions made by the journalist who wrote the story to “deeper reasons” behind the violence. Those allusions were made severally, but never explained in the article. It was an interesting piece of bone stuck in earth. I had to dig it out, just like any dog would try and dig out such a find. I was consumed with the desire to find out the “deeper reasons”; after all there is no smoke without fire.
The woman looked locked in a space where only her could get herself out of; the young woman continued to seat quietly by the window. Not looking at anywhere else but her clasped hands.
My question yet unanswered.
I thought to myself how deeply they could have been affected. I also wondered to myself who the young lady was. Even after seven years, the effect was still so obviously grave on them. Or maybe I had opened an old wound. A wound they would rather not want to think about. Or talk about for that matter. I knew they were trying to make up their minds, whether to throw me out or give me what I want. I have not been totally truthful when I sought audience with the older woman. In fact, I couldn’t. I had been lucky to even find her in the first instance. Her name had been found in the hospital records of Lagos State University Hospital. It had not been easy, I had scoured thousands upon thousands of files. Thankfully, they were micro-chip files. Thank God the government decided to go digital two years ago. All public records were migrated to micro-films and accessible online.
Now that I have found her, my hope is that she will provide insights which books can’t.
Before now the generally accepted explanation was that it was a religious crisis, sparked by the tension between the mainly Hausa/Fulani population of the area and the youths of other tribes. The finger was pointed at a minor disagreement between a Yoruba youth and an Hausa youth.
However, my work so far had unearthed much more than that cursory explanation. There was so much more to that incident. So much more and I have come right to the center of it all.
This old women seated with me can provide a lot more information than what I have read. The last big pieces of the puzzle that I need to piece together the entire framework of what actually led to the mayhem unleashed on the community all those years ago.
Idi Araba – Ever bustling with life, a haven of a sort for the Hausa community in Lagos is no longer the same. After the violence which claimed over a thousand lives and the loss of property worth millions subsided, the area was cleared and the inhabitants evacuated by the state government.
Now it is the site for a sprawling government low cost housing estate.
The real story resides with this old woman.
The woman turned to me then. Her eyes were sunken, but they were still sharp. They were the eyes of a shrewd woman. Eyes that have seen the good and the bad in life; many times over and over.
“My broda, the matter no easy to talk about. I no even know how to start and where to end am. For many many years we don try forget wetin hapun that day. That day…,” she trailed off again.
For several minutes her thoughts were somewhere else. I decided to wait her out again. I could almost feel the tension that had built up since I asked what I felt was a seemingly innocuous question twenty minutes ago.
“What happened on that day of February 2002?”
It was a simple question. One asked in order to set records straight. But…
“You see ehn,” the woman’s voice brought me back to the present,“we don try put am for our past. No be good thing to talk about. No.” She glanced at the younger woman seated at the window. I sensed the unease in that glance. She was trying to get confirmation whether to continue or not. But she was getting no help from the young lady, who kept on looking at her clasped hands. Not for one moment had she looked up since when I asked my question. Before then she had been amiable enough. But now…who was she anyway?
“Wetin hapun be say we tok say we no go ever talk this thing to another human soul. But many years don pass and I think say e dey necessary make we tok. Maybe we go fit find one pesin wey we no know where im dey. Make I start from the beginning,” she once again glanced at the young lady.
“Hold on a minute madam,” I said and switched on the small Sony walkman recorder. I pressed down the record button.
I motioned to her that she can start.
“Na me bring Baraquat come Lagos. When I need good girl wey go help me for shop, I go her village for Oke Iho, for my sister side and dem tell me say she be hardworking girl. Na so she take come Lagos.
She be good girl, she no disappoint me and she work hard and na why when she don work small, I send am go finish her primary school. For morning she go help me prepare the food before she go school; for evening she go help me for shop.
She face her book well well and pass her primary. She also no lazy like that yeye Sukura. That one na another matter,” she squeezed her face to emphasize her point about Sukura.
“That na why when she pass her primary I send am go secondary school sef. St. Joseph’s not far from our house for Taiwo Street. But you know how young boys and girls be?” She didn’t mean for me to answer; she went on without missing a beat, “na so dem dey chase demselves up and down.”
I looked over at where the young lady was seated. She was no longer looking at her hands. She was looking straight at me. In that gaze that confronted me was the deepest sense of loss, pain and regret I have ever encountered. I shifted my gaze, uncomfortable at the heat that short glance had evoked in my belly.
Who is this woman? My head kept ringing with that question….
“All those yeye boys for school and for park, dem no let my girls rest. I know say Baraquat na good girl, so I no bother about am. Na the other girls I fear for. Make dem no carry belle come meet me for house. But, I no try reach. I no try at all. I forget say boys will always be boys and girls will always be girls.” She paused and clasped her hands over her chest. After a few moments she let out a heavy sigh.
“I begin notice some things when she finish secondary school. Two boys for our park, Adamu and Ifreke, dem two get plenty wahala and most of the wahala na because of Baraquat. I pretend say I no see anything because she be sensible girl. Very sensible. Dem two, Ifreke and Adamu, dem dey fight well well; dem go fight over anything, even small small things like who get right to send small pikin message for park. Park people dey always separate fight. Me, I know say the whole fight figtht na because dem two get eye for Baraquat. But I no worry at all because of say I trust Baraquat. But, one day I notice say she drink water pass how she dey drink before. First I no think am too much, but when she begin drink plenty water regular na im I know. Baraquat don get belle! I dey shock well; I vex o but I say I go ask am first before I go react for bad way. Na why I let am go sell her orange that day;my plan na to talk to am proper for evening. ”
At this point I noticed that the young lady had stood up from her seat and was pacing back and forth behind me. I couldn’t turn around to look at her, I can’t take another look into those eyes. Not yet.
“But, that evening something hapun. Something bad…,” She looked over my shoulder, at the lady standing there. I could almost sense the telepathic message that was sent between the two women.
I heard the shuffling of feet and saw the profile of the young lady as she came around from the back where she had been pacing and walked towards the seat where the older woman sat. She sat down gingerly; slantwise, proper lady-like.
That threw my mind back. I had been thinking this was Baraquat, it was the only explanation my mind could give my head over the question: who is she?
I had learned much about Baraquat since I started this project, and all I have heard so far tells me it can’t be this lady before me. This is not the same orange selling girl. No, not at all. This woman is much more. Sitting before me is a woman who has some class about her.
We sat looking at each other for a while. Her eyes were the strangest brown I have ever seen. And the features of her face were not particularly pretty, but they were soft and comely. It was a face that had known pain; that had weathered lots of raging storm and that came out of it all the much better and resilient. But what pain? What was it about this lady that has a ring of familiarity to it? In our brief exchange of glances, we seemed to have shared more than others have shared in a lifetime.
It was like I was looking right into her…open.
“My name is Baraquat. After all these years, you have come to hear my story?”
I couldn’t speak. I just stared….
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