Short Story: Iwilade by Eniola Abdulroqeeb Arówólò
On the night of 9 July 1999, student groups held a party at Obafemi Awolowo University. The Mirror Online reports: “members of Kegite Club on the campus, Man O’ war members, and various other student leaders — both former and incumbent, gathered at the open ground between Angola and Mozambique Halls.” Later in the night many of the party-goers began occupying the cafeteria of Awolowo Hall whilst others returned to their halls of residence to sleep.
At between 3:00 and 3:30 am (now 10 July 1999) a large number of cultists (reported to be between 22 and 40) of the Black Axe confraternity arrived to carry out a pre-planned assault on the university with the intention of carrying out the murders of several prominent members of the student union. Five students of OAU were killed and eleven injured. [Wikipedia]
I look at the corpse laid on the black skin of the road; the face of the boy still appears fresh and untarnished but numb and snowy like alabaster. His baggy polo shirt is crimsoned with blood that has now coagulated on his chest; they used to call him Rado although his birth name was Ridwan. Rumors and gossips have it that he belonged to an unrecognized cult group, so the death was orchestrated as a reprisal attack for another 200 level Accounting student of Black Axe confraternity who had a physical altercation with him at a restaurant along Awo hall two weeks ago. Every student at the scene laments their sentiments—complaints, curses, fears, and muffled cries from the acquaintances of the deceased. Despair hangs in the air like the acrid stench of a burning rubber, assailing every proximate nostril porous to ruin.
A single uneasy question lingers in my mind: “what is the authority doing about this killing at all?” This is the third or fourth unnatural death we have had so far in Obafemi Awolowo University this semester. Last semester was horrid. Yet the management keeps assuring us spuriously of justice to be meted out and peace on campus. It is usually either a man murdered in cold blood or a lady sexually assaulted and, sometimes, mutilated to death so that the victim won’t divulge the identities of the culprits.
While the mourning continues, Iwilade, a 400-level Law student and General Secretary of the Students’ Union, arrives in a white Toyota pickup truck emblazoned SAFETY AND WORKS on both sides. Along with him are two security officers fully kitted, rifles slung across their necks. I watch in sheer dismay as they heft the heavy body into the vehicle and whoosh off without a single squeak from any of them. In the backseat, from a close distance, I catch a glimpse of Iwilade where he bows his head as an officer drapes his arm around his shoulder, patting it softly.
I stand rooted on the same spot like a plinth in the compact but cozy office of the Dean of Student Affairs, Prof. Fabiyi, as I await his response from the chair where he inspects my bio-data forms for clearance, the frames on his eyes tipped to the bridge of his nose. I am in my final year as a Medical student when anything and everything holds chaos. Behind Professor Fabiyi, framed photographs of President Obasanjo, the Vice Chancellor, and him hang loosely on the cream painted wall. I dissipate minutes peering at the Vice Chancellor’s scattered and chipped teeth bared as a laugh. His receding hairline foresees him going bald soon.
“Ok, here you go. You should go for your clinic clearance too.” I re-concentrate my focus on the papers in his hand as I collect them with a curtsey.
“I will do that right away, sir, as soon as I leave here. How about the…” a rash and brusque arrival of two men interrupts the tranquility of the room. It is Iwilade with another member of the Students Union (SU); their faces carry hell.
“How dare you barge into my office like that—do you not have any manners at all?” Professor Fabiyi thunders. “What exactly is the problem, ehn?”
“I am sorry if I have interrupted anything but we are here to let you know that we are tired. Yes, we are tired and sick of the killings on campus. Everyone in this school lives in absolute danger, and students are grumbling about taking decisive steps as boycotting lectures until we become sure of the fact that this cultism of a thing in this institution stops. Just yesterday, the school records the fourth killing of a final year student this semester alone—last semester saw 6 students killed. And these perpetrators always go scot free without being punished. All we demand is justice, we want everyone who has hands in the death of that boy punished duly,” he says with a vehement stress on “duly” and shambles out of the office. His associate follows in suit, muttering something to him.
I turn to Professor Fabiyi as the door is slammed close, there is ire in his eyes.
“I will take my leave now, sir.” He doesn’t respond. I curtsey and walk out quietly.
Outside, Iwilade stands on a platform across the road of the administrative block with a megaphone; students congregate before him. Racket and murmurs fill the atmosphere, each protesting and venting his views. One of the students yells “we no go gree o” into the air and others follow in unison, the resonance of the defiant song strong and determined. Fear grips me. I know how fast chaos can ensue, and before one bats an eye, the school will pronounce an indefinite closure of academic activities—something I can’t risk to bear in this little time of my final stay in school. It has happened once when I was in 100 level, I recall staying home for almost a year until it was made sure all had quelled into complete peace. So, I pray silently that Iwilade speaks to calm their frayed nerves.
“Look here, my amiable and formidable comrades,” he says finally, “I understand how pained you are about all the things that are happening on campus. It is really a lot to contain, the sorrow is unbearable. So far, in this session, 10 students have been killed while we watch them carried away before us to their respective graves. Yet the perpetrators are never brought to justice despite our incessant complaints lodged to the management. I just got back from the Dean where I had to tell them our plan of boycotting lectures if this is swept under the carpet again. And I promise you that they will take actions very soon. So, I am pleading with you my people now to go to our various dormitories. I believe this will get sorted out soon. Greatest Ife students!”
“Great!!!” they chorus as each deserts the scene murmur by murmur.
Iwilade and other members of the SU enter a white shuttle bus and drive off. The smoke from the exhaust of the vehicle swirls in the air. I hail down a taxi coming from the Theatre Arts department, squeeze myself beside a rotund fair-skinned lady, and shut the door in a quick slam.
“Have you heard about what happened last Saturday at the Angola hall?” Funke shoves me lightly, twiddling the volume knob of the transistor radio on bedside the drawer so that the lyrics of Majek Fashek’s Send Down the Rain come out faint and low.
“You mean this last Saturday, on the 7?” I prop my head up a bit with my hands, my elbows forming a crumpled crease where they are buried on the bed.
“What really happened? Because I was at that new cafeteria around Awo hall to eat Amala but I left early though,” I say, then switch to Pidgin. “I get one course like that of Mr. Ajani wey I commot go attend quick. That man too get wahala.”
“Abi you don follow that your Sewa again. Hmm, boys na scam. Anyway, make I give you the gist—the ting be say dem Iwilade known as Afrika and other SU pipu go catch nine cultists for that boys’ quarters at Awo. Dem talk say they found with them a submachine gun, a local gun, axes and other weapons like that. Make God dey help us for this school.”
“Eh, these Black Axe people, ehn. Na so I hear am for one student wey dey my department say that dem kill one student of Philosophy on Thursday again.”
“That one na all this false rumour people dey carry around. Apart from that student of Engineering wey dem drop his body on the road, they never kill anybody yet. Make God sha dey help us una wey go commot school very soon.” Funke shoots up from the bed, enters the kitchen and returns with a plate of just-cooked noodles with two boiled eggs. The aroma of the food dances around the room.
Starved, I slurp the food rather quickly while Funke fondles with my beards, back and head. I understand the signal she is passing, but I am not in any mood this time for sex. I push the plate to the foot of the reading table stacked with textbooks and novels. “I need to go to class, I get Mrs. Oluchi’s course and she gave us an assignment wey I must hand in as the group leader,” I lie. But she doesn’t fall for it, not because she is smart enough to see through it; the animal of sex inside her is just too rabid now to heed any cautious plea or command. Bit by bit, the animal between my legs begins to emerge and bloom until it betrays the quietness inside me. How shameless, defenseless and unsettled we become at the call of desire.
I turn the music of the radio up until the room is consumed totally by the rhythmical voice of Fashek, our bodies working each other amorously.
I sneeze into my palms as the lady standing before the white-board marker announces the end of PHS 401 tutorial; a blob of mucus slips out of my nose, I pull out the orange-dotted handkerchief inside my breast pocket and clean myself almost immediately before anyone notices this. Squeezing the handkerchief into my nostrils to draw out any slimy water that may be clogging my nose, I watch one of my course mates, Beatrice, embraces the tutor thanking her for the just-completed class. I wish I could do that too now. God knows how much Physics dreads me. I can’t afford to flunk it this time at all. Or else, I will have to wait behind for summer to re-sit the exam while my mates would have passed out of the school already. “Medical course no be joke at all,” I mumble to myself.
While I am at this moment of contemplation, Richard and Jamal amble inside the lecture room all dressed up in their best bib and tucker. They have not been around for the tutorial which means almost nothing to them; they are the only flippant and academically dismissive friends I have in the department. I remember Jamal had 2 carry-over courses last semester; and despite my persistent warning to him to pay for summer exams to make up for those courses, he wouldn’t listen although he had collected the money from his parents. He squandered it. Now, he has to wait another year for the courses. Richard still struggles to maintain credits.
“Bad guys! How far na, where you guys dey go wey you con dress like some rich masquerades?” I tease.
“My guy, we wan reach that side for Awo hall. Dem talk say party dey there, that Tassy wan do birthday and she wan do am big,” Richard says, sitting and re-sitting on the table before me.
“No be that same Tassy wey get big breasts?”
“Yes. Na that Tassy gan gan. You know say her boyfriend na one Yahoo boy for Business Education department,” Jamal stresses, stroking his beards.
“Chai, I suppose dey that side too. But I wan go meet Funke for hostel, she is sick. And nobody dey her side, her roommate don go home.”
“Bad guy, you wan dey lie to us. Just talk am say you wan go do the do again,” Jamal says. Then they both burst into a belly-laugh.
“No be so nau. I swear she dey sick. If na sex, I for don tell you.”
“Anyhow sha. We go comot now, see you later my guy.” We shake hands, almost clapping. I watch as they bounce out of the class.
“No forget say na your side I go dey for exams oo. I no dey read again,” Jamal shout-says from the exit door. I smile.
I glance at my watch; 3:10am. Between nudging Funke to wake up and jamming my hands against my ears to block out the din of gunshots and students, I rush to the door and latch it dragging the reading table behind it. Funke is now fully awake, her pupils dilated at the sound of horror outside. Once, a stampede is heard across the hostel; then two consecutive gunshots follow. Funke tugs me closer to herself, trembling from everywhere. The stifling smell of balm rubbed all over her chokes me. She weighs almost nothing in my hands as if she had been sick for ages. My heart races through a myriad of possibilities: what if they knock at the door? I won’t open it. But what if they break their way inside, shoot me dead, and rape Funke? Fear engulfs me again. For the first time in years, I kneel and plunge into fervent prayers. Funke amens each utterance with plaintive fervor. The shooting continues.
The atmosphere is now at serenity and, from outside, we can hear a distant, loud sound of police siren and footfalls. I part the curtains of the window and peek through, three muscular and well-built men clad in black T-shirts and trousers jog across, their faces hidden by masks. The back of their shirts wields the logo of a pickaxe. One of them holds a hatchet. I draw back the curtains and sit beside Funke, placing my index finger on my lips although she does not say anything.
Students stand shoulder to shoulder in front of Awo hall, hands on their heads in a melancholic manner. They have killed someone again, I think. I lunge forward, through the crowd until I make it to the cynosure of eyes on the ground. It is not just someone that is killed this time around but Iwilade Afrika and other three members of Students’ Union. I hear from two guys leaning against the wall of the residency that the SU president had managed to escape the time of the attack by jumping from the balcony after hearing of gunfire. Another student with a Gucci satchel slung across him confirms the death of another student named Tunde Oke who died at the operating table. Then my mind goes quickly to Jamal and Richard—where could they have been now? Just as I am in the middle of this dilemma, someone taps from behind; Richard.
“Guys, I was just thinking about you. I hope you are both fine.”
The army has already dispersed everyone at the scene and taken away the three bodies. And now, we are at the school park waiting solemnly for the bus to fill up and leave.
“Yes, we are fine oo. Guy, I was so pained when I heard about the death of Afrika and his colleagues. Everyone on campus knows how much this guy has done for this school,” Jamal laments.
“Me too. But wait, how did you guys make it out alive? Because I could remember that you both said you were going to Awo hall for Tassy’s birthday,” I say, budging closer to Jamal to create room inside the bus for a dreadlock-haired boy.
“No be so nau. As soon as we con dey see say time don reach 11pm like this, na so me and Richard went back to my hostel. True, we wan wait for the party to end but I get stomach upset.”
“Na so oo. If no be say Jamal’s stomach dey worry am, we no fit leave the party. I just dey thank God, my guy,” Richard says.
The bus is now filled up. We are en route. A breaking news from the radio confirms the deaths of George Yemi Iwilade “Afrika”, Eviano Ekelemu, Yemi Ajiteru, Tunde Oke, and Ekpede Godfrey who were gunned down in the massacre of Awo hall of residence. “The management has now announced the suspension of any academic activity whatsoever until further notice. And also, the security force is currently in search of the Vice Chancellor who has been nowhere to be found since the time of attack till now,” the voice on the radio says. The driver swerves sharply into a corner and speeds up.
About The Writer
Bio: Eniola Abdulroqeeb Arówólò is a Nigerian writer and a member of the Frontiers Collective His works have appeared—or are forthcoming—in 4faced Liar, Fourth River Review, Rulerless, Perhappened, Kissing Dynamite, Lumiere Review, Temz Review, Afritondo, Better than Starbucks, Rough Cut Press, Brittle Paper, and elsewhere.
Currently, James Baldwin is his most-cherished writer.
Beautiful story, man. Afrika is remembered. Thank you for making this possible & to Afristories.