June 8, 1998

The skies were darkening as another stroke landed on my back. My body felt like it was on fire. It was going to rain cats and dogs as the weather was suggesting. A few more strokes on my buttocks and legs before my class teacher let me return to my seat. I can’t possibly forget her name as a mark from that day’s beating still sits comfortably on my thigh.

Olumide was the one who lied about me to Ms. Nnaji. He told her he had caught me pretending to pick my pen while peeping at Oyindamola’s panties. She was also flogged for not knowing how to sit like a lady. My school was located in the barracks and she was one of the pretty girls in my class.

Even as kids, we could testify that the bespectacled 8-year-old was stunning. Being the class captain of primary 4A, Olumide never considered me a friend as he always merited a place on my lists of noisemakers. He had a tiny voice but spoke the most. I was therefore not surprised that he despised me. I was however shocked by the blatant lie he told to nail me. That day, I learnt what vengeance meant the cold way.

Like other kids, I was subjected to the compulsory extra lessons which meant we couldn’t leave school till 4:00pm. As soon as the bell rang, I hurriedly squeezed my textbooks into my bag and ran as fast as my lean legs could go. It had begun to drizzle. Our house was just few buildings away from the school. I was home few minutes later. I noticed the sky was bright again and the sun was out with intensity. I marvelled at the sudden change in weather; a lion must have given birth somewhere, I thought.

Ikenna, bia biko,” Mama called on my elder brother. He was a student at a nearby secondary school and he had just gotten home too. She handed him a list of things to buy at Sabo market which was the closest to AN barracks, Yaba where we lived. He was still sporting his school uniform short and his red sports vest when he left for the mini-shopping.

We had a Sharp TV set adjacent to our dining room but it was a rare practice for us to watch TV while we ate. The electricity company almost never gave us light during our dining hours. This particular evening was different. Mama had served me eba and ofe onugbu with two tiny pieces of meat which she had joked was my size. Channels TV was the station I was watching and all I could see was a static picture of Nigeria’s Head of State, General Sani Abacha. The station’s signature tune played in the background. I wondered what his speech would be about this time around. I usually enjoyed how he started his speeches with what had become his trademark line. “Pelow Naijarians” was what he would usually say. We all understood he meant ‘Fellow Nigerians’ but we enjoyed mocking his Hausa accent.

I was beginning to get worried about his picture staying too long on the TV. As I stood up to grab the remote control, my brother rushed into the building like he was being chased by a ritualist, this was the Otokoto era. He asked me about Mama’s whereabouts. “O no n’ime salon,” I responded. Mama had a beauty salon at the backyard where she spent most evenings. Just as Ikenna was about making his way there, she walked into the sitting room. “Abacha is dead,” my brother announced. The hand-dryer Mama was holding dropped on the floor before a deafening silence enveloped the dining area.

“Nwa mu ekwuzina, the walls have ears,” my mother was the first to break the silence. General Sani Abacha was so feared that even in death Mama won’t risk getting into trouble. She had often warned us that the Commander in Chief had spies everywhere. Anytime we spoke about Abacha, we did so in hushed tones.

Eziokwu! I saw people celebrating and shouting ‘Abacha don die, Abiola is our man’,” my brother continued with a determination to prove his point.

Mama immediately grabbed the remote control from me. We learnt he had actually died at about 6:15am and had since been buried according to Muslim rites without an autopsy being conducted. The Provisional Ruling Council had kept it away from the public until about noon.

That night, we all went to bed in shock. As I slid into my duvet that cold Monday, I wondered why a man’s death could evoke such celebration from his countrymen. I was shocked at how the mighty had fallen so badly.

One Comment

  1. I remember that day like it was yesterday.

    I was in primary 3, Command Children school Ojo when it happened. We heard about what had happened on our way home from school. It was all hush-hush while in the barrack, but as soon as we set foot outside the barrack gate, we burst out singing and rejoicing: “Abacha done die, na who kill am? Na ‘anyaya’.”

    Apparently, some students heard Hausa soldiers saying he died of “heart attack”, but between childish ignorance and the Hausa accent they heard “anyaya.”

    The big question amongst us that day was “what is anyaya?” It rained earlier that day and there was an invasion of dragonfly swarms, they were everywhere. We had never experienced such before. Some students started saying it was the dragonflies that killed him. That was how I went the next few years thinking dragonflies are called “anyaya”.

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