Celebrated Chief Imam of Yelwan Nghar Mosque, 83-year-old Abubakar Abdullahi, dared numerous Fulani militia who stormed Nghar village in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State when he shielded over 300 Christians in the mosque and his home. The gunmen had killed over 200 persons in other predominantly Christian villages in the local government in an attack on Saturday, June 23, 2018. The Imam’s bravery has earned him commendations from Nigeria and abroad. Here is an excerpt from his interview.
Where are you originally from and what is your life’s story?
Do you know Akuyam? It is around Missau Local Government Area of Bauchi State, just about eight miles from Missau. I was born there and joined the Arabic school we used to call ‘makarantar allo’ just outside our home. From there we started going to school in other places. I have lived in Potiskum, Nangere, Jajere in Yobe state and my quest for knowledge also took me to around Dukul in Gombe State. There are other places, too, but I cannot remember their names now. But all those were before I got married. When I came to Plateau, my father was already here. That was before the election of NEPU and NPC. In fact, I was here during Sardauna’s election. I came back home with the intention of joining the army to participate in the Nigerian Civil War. I had even signed to join but it wasn’t meant to be. I thought of my father’s age. He was old and I was his eldest son, so I stayed back to take care of him. My father was a miner. He left Akuyem for Plateau to mine tin and he died here. His grave is not far from this house. Right now, I have four remaining and living siblings. I used to have three wives but two died and my first wife is still alive with me. I have over 20 children and about 74 living grand-children.
There are insinuations that you married a Berom woman and that some of your children converted to Christianity, how true is this?
We inter-marry here in Yelwa because we regard ourselves as one with our Christian brothers and sisters. But it is not true that I married a Berom woman, though one of my sons married a Berom woman and I have five grandchildren from them. All my children are Muslims.
In almost 20 years of Plateau’s crises, have you ever had security issues in your community?
No, never. We have been living peacefully for years. We intermarry with our Christian brothers and sisters. Our youths have never had issues with their Christian brothers and they work together. When it comes to our activities they contribute and assist us. Likewise when it comes to theirs, we contribute and participate.
Can you narrate the unfortunate incident of June 23, 2018?
On that Saturday, we had said our Asr prayer and were still in the mosque when we heard what sounded like gunshots from Gindin Akwati (Exland) and a few minutes later, we heard the gunshots coming close to Soi, a village just before the bridge. Before we knew it, it was everywhere around us. We were still in the mosque with a lot of people, so as we saw people running for their lives. We directed them to the mosque and we were going round with my assistant and another man called Gambo. Most of the women were entering the women’s wing of the mosque while a large number of them went to my house. It was then that we saw the attackers, dressed in black and carrying weapons, they hid their faces with masks and when I noticed they were heading towards my house, I ran there and blocked them. In the process, I fell down and they went about attacking people. When I noticed they were heading to the mosque I ran there, too, and blocked them while some of our people who were inside the mosque had locked the doors and used their bodies as shield from inside. God willing, when they noticed how persistent we were, they left us and went away.
How can you describe the condition in which the people lived in your home?
It was cramped. There was no space to lie down. We all found little spaces available to just sit, and if you can lean on the wall that is good. That was how we slept for those five days. Only the little children had little space to lie down. I leaned by the main door. It was like that for all of us for those five days.
How were you able to feed more than 300 people in the house?
We all converged in this house, including all the Muslims in the community and the community leaders. So we all contributed food. But apart from that, I usually store food produce because I am a farmer. When I was strong I used to feed a lot of people and we used to exhaust over 60 bags of grains in a year. Then my father was also alive.
Do you still go to the farm at your age?
If not because you’ve had such a long journey I would have taken you to see my farm so I can harvest a little cocoyam for you to eat. I farm cocoyam and maize. I am not so strong now and my health is failing, but I try my best to go to the farm.
What kind of ailment are you suffering from?
I have never been told that I have high BP recently. Just last week I wasn’t feeling fine and the doctor told me that I have high BP. There was a time I was sick and I stayed in the hospital for a month but he has never told me I have BP until now.
Is something troubling you right now to warrant high BP?
Of course, the fact that our brothers and sisters are not here with us and are in IDP camps is troubling. Some of them have been killed. It worries me every day and I have to live with it. But it is the will of God and He knows best.
Are you not afraid that the media exposure you are getting may put you in danger?
I cannot protect myself; it is only Allah that can protect me. I never thought I would survive the attack itself but God spared my life. I didn’t do what I did because I was stronger or smarter; I did it because God put me in a position to do that at that particular time.
What are some of the challenges facing your community?
We have so many challenges. The road that leads to this community is bad. I’m glad you have seen it for yourself. We also do not have electricity, hospitals and schools. We used to have a primary school and a junior secondary school in Gindin Akwati but since the crisis, our children have been at home. We would appreciate it if government can please restore the homes of our brothers and Christians that were either burnt down or destroyed by the attackers. The attackers did not only destroy properties, they looted first. They evacuated household properties before setting the houses on fire. We need their homes fixed so that they can return and we would also need increased security. If the road were good, it wouldn’t have taken security agents such a long time to arrive during the incident.
Generally what are your thoughts about the killings and insecurity in the country?
I want people to know that God created us to be different. He made some tall, others short; He made some black and others white; and He made us into different religious and ethnic groups. He knows why, so why should someone think he is better than the other? Why should some people feel only they are good and others are bad. He created us to live together, work together and live in peace. It is Allah’s wish but some people are coming up with different ideologies that are wrong and should not be.
First Published in Daily Trust on Saturday, August 18, 2018