In 2005, a friend of mine, Hajiya Mariam informed me that her younger brother had been posted to serve in Abia State where I was working then for his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and asked that I help him settle down. After the mandatory orientation camp, I invited him to stay with me in my house in Umuahia temporarily until we find him accommodation and get him settled.
He turned out to be such a nice fellow that there was no need finding him any accommodation again. He would wake up in the morning, wash my car, clean the house and fix breakfast even before I emerge from my bedroom. He was not the best cook in town but for his efforts, you had to gamely eat whatever Shehu serves you. He had a knack for somehow including eggs in whatever he cooks. Rice, Yam, Potatoes, Beans, name it. If Shehu is involved, then eggs are involved!
We were so close that my family adopted him as one of us. Till yesterday, anytime my mum calls to check up on me, she would inquire after Shehu’s welfare.
The Igbos have a proverb that ‘onye akwo na azu anaghi akwo onye ozo’ roughly translated to mean that a person who is being carried on the back does not carry someone else on his back. Shehu effectively broke that myth for even while he was squatting with me, he sought my permission to invite a cousin of his who had also been posted to Umuahia to come and stay with us as she was stranded. I obliged him since we had enough rooms in the house and he invited his cousin, Sekyen Tyoden to live with us until they both finished serving.
Soon, Shehu finished his service and had to leave Umuahia. He soon got a job with the State Security Services in Plateau State and settled down. He kept me updated on his activities. From the time he was to go for the interview to the time he was selected to the time he went for training, I was in the picture. We kept in touch and I remained very fond of him.
Two years ago, he brought a young lady to my house in Umuahia to introduce her to me as his fiancee. My wife and I encouraged them and promised to be at the wedding in Jos. I attended the wedding with my wife, Chika; brother, Shola Arogun and his brother in-law, Paul Jagun. I was made Chairman of the Wedding Reception and it was an opportunity for his larger family to express their appreciation for all what I did for their son and brother and I assured them that he was my brother too so in line with the Igbo proverb that a child does not thank the mother for breastfeeding him as it was her duty, I assured them that they owed me no appreciation for I was only doing my duty to my brother.
On the morning of Monday, May 14, 2013, I got a call from Hajiya Mariam. ‘Uncle Sam’ (as she calls me), ‘They have killed Shehu’! At first, I was speechless as I could not comprehend what she was talking about. Infact, I cut the line. She called back to confirm what I did not want to contemplate. I was driving at the time and had to clear by the roadside to properly understand what she was talking about. Then she poured it all out. Shehu Alliu, a young, vibrant, intelligent, detribalised Nigerian has been cut down in his prime while serving his fatherland! He was one of the security operatives that were ambushed and slaughtered by the Ombatse cult group in Alakyo, Nassarawa State. He had been missing since after the operation. They just managed to identify his body on Sunday, May 13, 2013.
I sometimes marvel at my coldness in certain situations. I rarely cry. I have attended funerals and been in situations where everyone around me is wailing their hearts out but I am amazed at how I am able to remain emotionless in such situations.
On that fateful Monday, May 14, 2013, when Hajiya Mariam broke the news of Shehu’s death to me, by the roadside in the middle of Abuja, I put my head on my steering and my whole body heaved and I was sobbing like a baby for more than five minutes. Hajiya called me back and I couldn’t talk. She sensed I was holding back tears and she was now the one consoling me.
I tried to make sense of it but it just wasn’t making sense. The Igbos say that ‘eburu ozu onye ozo na agafe, odi ka nku’ meaning when a corpse of a stranger is being conveyed, it will look like a log of wood. You only appreciate death when it hits home. I am probably one of the not many who accept death and the inevitability of it which perhaps explains my seeming coldness at funerals. I have no problem with death. What I have a problem with is a system that places little or no value on human life.
We have a serious problem in this country. As an individual, I cannot contemplate the thought of taking a life. It is such an outlandish concept to me that I believe that was why I never became the soldier I always wanted to be.
How did we get to a point in this country where people wake up and without batting an eyelid, they hack a fellow living being to death and sleep soundly afterwards? What sort of country sends its young to be so senselessly slaughtered without the slightest remorse?
Because of Shehu’s death, I have done my research on the Alakyo/Ombatse incidence. It is very glaring that those lives that were lost were completely avoidable. The Commissioner of Police and the Director of State Security in Nassarawa State have questions to answer to families of these slain security operatives as to how they dispatched clueless operatives into a dangerous situation without advanced intelligence by 5:30pm.
Were they in a hurry to justify the incentive provided to them by the Governor to flush out the leader of the cult who had disgraced him by refusing to accede to his request for certain esoteric appurtenances because he was not from the locality and hence was not entitled to have them? What individual and independent intelligence gathering did they engage in to access the situation before dispatching men other than the word of the Governor?
As it stands now, even though on paper, Shehu died in the line of duty, Shehu’s death could have been avoided but for the negligence of his superiors who sat in their offices and dispatched hapless operatives into the Lion’s den without a faint knowledge of what to expect.
The DSS Headquarters said they thought they were dealing with a civil situation hence they were not prepared for the onslaught that was unleashed on their operatives. There. Shehu’s death has just been summarized in bureaucratic semantics. And very glibly too. A mistake of intelligence has been admitted at the highest echelon. But the dead are gone and nobody will pay for the very costly mistake. They have moved on.
On Tuesday, May 15, 2013, Shehu Alliu was buried without ceremonies and fanfare. Just a private family funeral at his family compound in Rayfield, Jos. Who will console his young wife, Doris, who was living apart from him as she was working in Abuja while he was posted to Nassarawa? She hasn’t even had time to enjoy her husband! Who will comfort his parents? Who will comfort my friend Hajiya Mariam? It is well. Eskray, Sleep Well. Shehu, Adieu my adopted brother, God be with you till we meet again.