By Elizabeth Awu Bassey
It was a sunny day while I sat up in my room glancing through the pages of my novel. I was alerted by the beeps on my phone. It was the daydream and nightmare of every prospective corps member; the news of the call up letter and what it would contain. The news of the impending arrival of the call up letters had gone viral, days before. So, people started surfing the internet to know their states of deployment for the one year national service.
My selected states at the point of registration were Oyo, Enugu, Nassarawa and Adamawa, as the best available options I had amidst other unfavourable options. Indeed, I was expecting to be deployed to either Oyo State or Enugu State. Serving in the North was and still is one of the dreads of 90% of prospective corps members (PCMs), even by their families. I had to take another position, from sitting on the bed to kneeling down while I mumbled a prayer, “Dear God, if you send me to Enugu State or Oyo State, I will testify before your people of your goodness to me”.
Hilarious! It was as if my anxious prayer would cause an instantaneous change in the call up letter that had already been computed and forwarded to our various mailboxes. But I was far too anxious to be rational.
I moved on to inputting my details in the NYSC portal to access my call up letter, with all confidence that my prayers were already answered. Mogbe! Lekwanu m nsogbu! Iyammi! Bassey Elizabeth Awu, Batch C, 2019 Call Up Letter. State of deployment – Adamawa! At this point, I shared the grace in fellowship.
Fear chilled, depressed, angry and anxious. These were the floods of emotions that rolled in. I was a box of many feelings, but then, I had to break the news to my family and friends who were already barraging me with their calls. Friends laughed, family mourned and I just kept crying. Overtime, I had to brace up and begin preparing myself for the land of beauty “Adamawa State”, a Northeastern state in Nigeria with its capital in Yola.
In 1991 when Taraba State was carved out from Gongola State, the geographical entity was renamed Adamawa State. The states that bordered the Adamawa Region were the major source of my fears, for example, Borno State. I recalled that in May 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan had declared a state of emergency in Adamawa State alongside its neighboring Borno and Yobe States due to the activities of Boko Haram. Up till now the state still experiences, though seldom and usually spontaneous, a spillover of the major communal crisis prevalent in the Borno territory, example the activities of the Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram insurgency.
I would love to digress a little to share my short experience in the Land of Beauty but back to our discourse. I am sharing my experience during my trip to Adamawa State. Having begun preparations for camp in a space of five days from when I received the letter, I was set for transit on Monday morning, 4th November, 2019, to report the following day. If you travel with an aeroplane (which has an average speed of 560 miles) the distance from Adamawa to Akwa Ibom is 700 kilometres. This air travel distance is equal to 435 miles. The estimated arrival by road from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, is 18 hours from departure time but we experienced a 28-hour distressing trip to Adamawa State (from 12:00 am to 04:00am the following day).
Now at the core of this trip was our heart-failing encounter with the Fulani herdsmen along the Benue hinterland. Before then, we had episodes of life threatening experiences like our first contact with highway robbers. Our driver sped like a bat out of hell to escape the scene. But this is a story for another day.
Back to our chilling encounter with the Fulani herdsmen, and it happened like this: in the course of our journey and sometime into the night, around 1a.m., Our driver noticed flashlights from a distance. Thankfully, he was an experienced driver who had been plying that route for years. So, it was easy for him to identify the danger signs on the road. He began decelerating to have a clear view of the men behind the flashlight. The driver quickly noticed some masked faces with something like pieces of cloth. The only visible part of their faces were their eyes.
There were over ten men standing on the road; four men stood out with their guns and flashlights while others sat in their truck by the side of the road disguised as soldiers, obviously to compel obedience and get our attention. Then our driver announced, “These guys are herdsmen!”
The driver would explain to us later that it was easy to identify their true identities through their masked faces, the type of vehicle used (instead of the regular police vans), and their truck. These revealing that these men were no ordinary police patrol team, but people disguising as such to cause harm.
Prayers started raining from the mouth of every passenger. Christians called on God, Muslims in the bus prayed to Allah too. Everyone started hiding their valuables in strategic places in the bus. I was just seated there in shock but praying silently. Tears rolled down my cheeks, little screams and louder screams brewed up when we heard the first gun shot fired at our vehicle.
My driver seemed to go mad and a very daring one at that. He quickly reversed and began racing back. Bullets rained on our bus but fortunately, none hit the tyres of our car or at anyone through the glass window.
Soon, our pursuers lost sight of us. We found our way to a hidden path where we parked the vehicle and remained until we saw a fuel tanker coming. Immediately it passed, we drove out and followed it closely till we drove past the same spot where we had earlier encountered them.
This time, they were few in number, about three of them standing armed but they failed to spot our bus on time because of the tanker we were following closely.
There was a little bit of silence to recover from our shocking experience and thereafter some persons in the bus burst into songs of praise, while some were seemingly still in utter shock to even mutter a word, even as others made jokes of the experience.
Well, in Nigeria every tough situation turns out to become a joke in the long run. We eventually all arrived at our NYSC Orientation Camp at Damare, Girei Local Government, Adamawa State at 4a.m.
But at the back of our minds was surely the narrow escape we had on our way to the camp.
To God be the glory!