Did you attend school fearing for your life? Did you have a neighbour who wished he had killed you when he had the chance? As members of an ethnic and religious minority, Joke Adetunji and her family were forced to leave their home in northern Nigeria 15 years ago, when the Christians like herself suffered from attacks by Muslims.
By Immanuel Afolabi, Oyo State
When she was young, Jọkẹ Adetunji, an ethnic Yoruba, lived for about eight years with her Christian family in Kano, a northern Nigerian city, populated mostly by Hausa-speaking people who are predominantly Muslims.
Jọkẹ attended school in fear, especially when she was in primary three. At the time, violent events regularly occurred on Fridays – for reasons best known to the perpetrators. Her mother began instructing her children to stay home.
“Some of my schoolmates were killed,” says Joke. “Every Friday they did not allow us to enter the school. They asked, ‘Are you a Christian, Yoruba or Muslim?’”
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One time, Joke’s family barely escaped being lynched. “I can’t really remember what happened precisely. On our way to church we were attacked by some northern Muslims. They asked us why we were going to church. We told them because we were Christians. They were about to bring out their machetes. It was a narrow escape. Another close call was in 2001 or end 2000. That time they raided different houses. Although we were home, they didn’t come to our house,” recalls Joke.
“However, after the raid, when normality was restored and we were fetching water, one of the guys who raided the houses made a statement: “mu manta” — meaning he had forgotten that we were Christian and Yoruba. If he had remembered [at the time of the raid] he would have just come and killed us all!”
Teachers running scared
So why did the Nigerian government and the school authorities not do a better job in protecting the children of Kano back then?
“In life nobody will tell you when problems will come,” says Joke. “Our teachers gave instructions like, ‘Children, don’t leave the school premises’. But later you would see them running. So what’s the point listening to their instructions? There was just no training about how violence could be addressed.”
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Murder in the family
Joke’s parents decided to move the family to Oyo State in the southwest of the country in an attempt to escape the violence. But other members of her extended family stayed in Kano.
This proved to be fatal for her uncle, says Joke. “He was planning to relocate, but before that happened he was attacked at his place of work and shot twice. He owned a shop. He was a pharmacist. When I heard the news I was devastated. I also lost other friends, neighbours and church members.”
Joke says she has tried to reconnect with her friends in the north through the internet, but without success.
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A peaceful state
It has been tasking for her parents to adequately cater to the needs of the family. Her mother, who was a secretary and clerk at a health institution of the federal government, was forced to resign, because she couldn’t get a job transfer. Jọkẹ began as a child to learn how to weave and knit to make extra money for the family.
In spite of the challenges of building a new life in Oyo state, Jọkẹ still prefers it to Kano. She describes Oyo as a “so peaceful” state where “you don’t have to start fidgeting or being scared”.
When she tries to imagine what life would be like back in Kano, Jọkẹ sees herself as “sleeping with one eye closed and the other open – praying ‘Oh God, let morning come, I need to get out of this place!’”