HATE AND LOVE ARE BROTHER AND SISTER
I ran into one of my childhood friends in Ile Ife two years ago. He is now a university professor.
We decided to go and get a drink and as we started drinking, we discussed the pleasures of living together in the same house as children for many years.
We all lived together as one family in that house.
He was the son of Baba Alhaji, the landlord.
I lived in the house from the age of seven, until I got my first degree, from 1963 to 1977.
Baba Alhaji was truly a man of God. He bought a piece of land not too far from the house and built a mosque for the neighborhood. He completed a project in front of the mosque to supply the neighborhood with free pipe-borne water.
I couldn’t resist going to the mosque a couple of times to worship as a child.
When his tenants had problems with their rents, Baba Alhaji was sympathetic and helped whenever he could.
One of his tenants’ children, a brilliant young girl who came first in her school exams, gained admission to several good secondary schools, but her parents were too poor to afford the costs of tuition and boarding.
Baba Alhaji supported the family financially until the girl graduated with a university degree in education.
He was not like those men and women of God who build houses of God to enrich themselves as we commonly see today in Nigeria.
For a long time, he did not own a car. He trekked about four kilometers from his house to his shop and back daily. He did some eight kilometers of walking daily.
All that trekking actually gave him a strong body.
At 70, his body was still in excellent shape, but his children, who were all grown up then and had cars of their own came together and gave him the key to a brand new Peugeot 404 station wagon.
He did not refuse the gift and was wiping tears off his face like a baby as he took the key.
My family lived in the house for fourteen years. Finally, my father built his own house and we moved out of Baba Alhaji’s house in 1977.
I moved on in life and forgot about Baba Alhaji and his family.
Then in the summer of 2019, I ran into one of his sons, a professor at Ife, and of course, I asked the obvious question: “How is Baba Alhaji?!!!!”
“Baba joined the ancestors two years ago,” Hussain said. (Real name withheld).
“Ha, baba rere!” I exclaimed. “He was the father of the entire community! I’m sure he is in Alujonna right now. Allah definitely must reward him in heaven for all the good work he did for us.”
“Allah actually demonstrated his love for him right here on earth,” Hussain said.
“Oh certainly,” I said. “He enjoyed great health and all his children have done well.”
“It goes beyond that,” Hussain shared. “I will tell you a story that happened during the Ife-Modakeke civil war in 1997.”
“I already left Nigeria by that time,” I responded.
“I know,” Hussain replied. “Mama told me. This civil war lasted until 2000. You know Akarabata, where we grew up, was one of the hottest battlefronts. Baba Alhaji was still living in the same house. He had renovated it and added the third floor, painted it white, changed lots of things. Moyo, if you saw the house, you wouldn’t believe it was the same Face-Me-I-Face-You building in which we both grew up.”
“Yes,” Hussain. “Anyway, to cut the story short, Baba Alhaji was sleeping in his apartment on the top floor when the warriors got to his house. They were burning every house in Akarabata. But Baba did not leave.”
“Yes,” Hussain continued. “My cousin who was staying with Alhaji said she ran upstairs and woke him up. Alhaji got up and went downstairs and was confronted by the warriors. They immediately doused him with petrol and he was totally soaked from head to toe. They were heartless, these warriors. Nobody knew whether they were from the Ife side, or the Modakeke side. After dousing Alhaji completely with petro, they brought out a box of matches to set Alhaji on fire.
“The man who carried the gallon of petro accidentally spilled the petrol on the matchbox. It became soaking wet. They struck the wet stick on the wet side of the matchbox. The top of the matchstick crumbled. Nothing happened. They tried again with another match stick. Nothing. Then again. No fire. Alhaji did not look bothered. They continued to try the matchstick again, and again, and again.
“And the wet top of the matchstick simply continued to crumble. After about 25 or more tries, somebody ran into the crowd, shouting, ‘Stop, stop, stop, you these mad people! Don’t you see that the person you are trying to kill is Baba Alhaji?’
“The man turned out to be one of the top captains of the soldiers. He delivered a dirty slap to the face of the soldier trying to light the fire. The captain continued to scream, ‘We have been drinking his water for free in this neighborhood for years. My mama told me the water I ever tasted for the first time in my life as a baby was from his water pump! And it was for free!’”
***Photo shows the picture of the house in which I grew up after it was burned.
The entire Akarabata layout, three entire streets, was completed burned down from 1997 to 2000 during the fighting.
All the houses have been abandoned since then and huge trees now grow out of the ruined houses.