I wrote in this column a few weeks ago about a friend that I had made when I was serving Nigeria as a Youth corps member in Enugu state about 17 years ago.
It was a Facebook post I had written.
My second son and I were going through some of my old pictures when I came across an NYSC picture I did with Aishat Mukaila. It brought back memories of our one year together living at Ogbete while serving at Community Secondary School, Ohebe Dim.
Aishat was a devout Muslim. She wore the complete outfit and only her face and her hands were visible to the public.
Coming from Northern Nigeria that I had lived practically my whole life; I had many reservations about closely associating with Muslims. Living in a place that has seen plenty bloodshed in the name of religion makes you paranoid like that.
When you visit Plateau State, you may think that life as normal has gone on. But you would be very wrong. The incessant clashes, ambushes and killings physically divided the state. Jos North and Jos South as so clearly delineated for all to see. There are Christian settlements and there are Muslim settlements.
A place like Angwan Rogo that was mostly populated by Hausa/Fulani Muslims, had Christians living there. It was close to the university and it was not uncommon for off-campus students to seek accommodation there. I recall walking through Angwan Rogo in those days without feeling any fear.
After the crisis in 2001, this changed. People did not feel safe living in the midst of any area populated with a religion they did not practise.
There was a lot of bitterness as well.
I was an intern at the Geochemical Lab under the ministry of Solid Minerals when the first religious crisis broke out. This was specifically on the 7th of September 2001. It was a diverse place. We were a mixture of all religions and ethnicities. The first day we resumed work after the initial crisis, there was a distrust that hadn’t existed before.
When each side knew of people that had lost their lives, it was hard to see ourselves as one. I remembered wondering if anyone there had participated in killing anyone.
So, it was almost on the heels of this wahala that I went for my youth service. I was looking forward to staying in a place where Christians were a majority. I was tired of war and rumours of war. There was a day in Bukuru when a commotion started by a cow that had gotten loose from a rope triggered a reaction that packed up the whole metropolis within 30 minutes.
People were shouting “An fara.”
Which means “They have started.”
Once you hear that, do not ask questions. Just start running. It turned out to be a false alarm. But my neighbor lost a pregnancy because she ran so hard that something went wrong.
Therefore, coming to live with Aishat Mukaila was not something I looked forward to in the beginning. I had placed all Muslims in a box.
If you read the first article, I describe how we lived together and how she showed me that it was not fair to make assumptions about other people because of their faith.
That Facebook post I did on our life together went viral and in a beautiful turn of events; it caught her husband’s attention. He graciously reunited us via a phone call.
A week ago, Aishat Mukail, now Alhaja Aishat Anifowose and her husband, Alhaji Kewulere Anifowose hosted my husband and I in their home at Abeokuta.
It was emotional and light-hearted at the same time.
There were some tears and plenty of hugs. They surprised us with gifts and even had the words I wrote about Aishat engraved in a plaque and presented to me.
I was stunned by their hospitality and graciousness.
We spoke about tolerance.
Aishat and I are an example of a lot of Nigerians peacefully coexisting here in Nigeria; despite differences in beliefs. But we all know that there are a set of people that have always fuelled divisive thinking; simply for political power or to give a certain religion a false sense of deservedness and superiority. If we all close our ears to people that use religion to cause mayhem; Nigeria would have solved half of its problems.
Religion is never a reason to destroy a nation. We don’t have to be one religion to live together.
But me saying this is like a weak cry that will not be heard.
I am not sure it will make a difference. But our faiths, in actual fact, will thrive if we coexisted.
Hatred will never lead to anything good.
Peace will benefit everyone in Nigeria.