My short story Devil’s Village, which was shortlisted for the Writivism 2015 Short Story Prize, is part of a novel I am working on. The Devil’s Village story actually takes place well into this novel. What follows is the work in progress of Chapter One of that novel.
Western and Central African Allied Territory had been living under uninterrupted martial law for a whole generation. The Committee had designated this a military issue and declared a state of emergency in 2017. Today, 7th August 2039, I was to be executed for the war crimes of espionage, mass murder, conspiracy to commit mass murder, arms trafficking, human trafficking, anarchy and heresy. But let me start from the beginning. Things were not always this way.
I was born 22 years ago, 8th August in a refugee camp near the northern border of the Condemned Zone, in what used to be known as Niger. The illegitimate daughter of a Nigerian refugee and a passing Chinese peacekeeper. I was brought into this world just 3 weeks before the Battle of the Seven Camps, a full month before the War of the Generals. My mother had been surviving in a UN refugee camp just outside of Diffa ever since civil war had dragged Nigeria into the abyss in 2015. A time which soon became known as The Election Year. The incumbent, Godwin Jibunoh, faced with a clear defeat at the polls, decided to have President-elect Mrs. Nkechi Ifenna along with her Vice President-elect assassinated. Ifenna was popularly known as “the woman who brought back our girls”.
Godwin Jibunoh blamed the murder on the Islamist terror group which had ravaged the North East of the country. He nullified the election results, declared a nationwide state of emergency, granting himself interim presidential powers, “pending investigation into reports of widespread presidential electoral fraud”. Nevermind the independent international election observers who declared the 2015 presidential elections as one of the freest and fairest elections ever held in the relatively young history of African democracy. Or at least what the West deemed to be democracy.
Nkechi’s election victory should have been impossible on so many levels. For one thing, she was a woman. Nigeria had never had a female President or Vice President. Not to mention, a female President and Vice President in office during the same administration. Both women were Igbos. Nigerian politics implicitly demanded power rotation along ethnic lines. Two presidential terms would go to the North, with the president being a Northerner and the Vice a Southerner. The next two terms go to the South, with the president being a Southerner and the Vice President a Northerner. And back again. It was nothing short of a miracle to have a completely Southern ticket composed of female candidates win the presidential elections. With the majority of votes coming from the North! Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri and the likes voted overwhelmingly for an Igbo-Igbo presidency!
After the votes had been counted Nkechi was giving her victory speech and Nigeria stood at the crossroads of history. The nation’s eyes squinted cautiously into the misty dawn of national rebirth. Godwin put a bullet between the eyes of hope, burying Nigeria in the process. It was not that Nigerians were not used to corruption, lies and killings. What was different this time was the extent of it. President-elect Ifenna had brokered a peace deal with the Islamists a few months earlier in December 2014. Then President Jibunoh had promised amnesty and the Chibok 300 were released. Development and investment deals were promised to the North East. All to be funded by the multinational oil explorations set to take off in the newly pacified region at the centre of the Islamist stronghold. The general sentiment, especially among the youth and intellectuals, was that Nigeria had barely managed to pull back from the brink. The government’s brutal military campaigns against the North East, the two failed pre-election coups and the Outbreak seemed to herald the doom many had predicted years earlier. Seemingly a very religious people, from church to mosque the notion among Nigerians was that God had finally given Nigeria a second chance.
The riots started the very next morning. The bombings a week later. The riots were the people’s response to the murders, and the bombings Jibunoh’s response to the riots. Barely a week old, the new Nigeria soon disintegrated back into ethnic fragmentation. The political killings continued. Generals and other senior military officers were being executed along with cabinet members and high-level party officials. The Purge was Jibunoh’s attempt at ridding himself of those whom he declared treasonous or disloyal. Two more failed military coups. More dead generals. Two months before the civil war, Jibunoh was on his way to Paris for France’s emergency Africa summit. He was shot dead at the Abuja International airport on June 12, 2015, by members of the third post-election coup. The first successful Nigerian coup d’etat since the Abacha regime of 1993. Some called it Liberation Day, some Assassination Day, others Judgement Day. It didn’t matter. Two months later, after a whopping 15 coups and counter-coups, the looming civil war finally happened. And the national entity known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria ceased to exist.
In 2014, Nigeria officially had an estimated 3.5 million Internally Displaced People. A year later, that number more than quadrupled. My mother, was one of the Chibok 300. She was 12 when she was freed in the December 2014 peace deal. The government’s anti-terror military operations had wiped out her village just a week after her kidnapping in April 2014. Almost all of her family were killed or missing.
There she was, a barely literate, newly freed orphan alone in the world on the eve of what could become Africa’s biggest civil war in history. My mother did what everyone else around her did. She ran. She was nobody. Had nobody, knew nobody. After weeks on the road on foot, in the midst of hundreds of thousands of fleeing Nigerians, she trusted nobody. My mother never spoke much about the Trek, as she called it, but women always suffer the most during war. The deluge of humanitarian catastrophe spilled her into the UN camp outside Diffa, in Niger. At night, my freezing mother would stare at the horizon which glowed with the fires that engulfed her country, while she stood in line at the UN refugee camp’s food distribution centre.