This is purely a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
As he lay bleeding in a corn field somewhere on the outskirts of Maiduguri with a bullet lodged in his hip and another in his collarbone, he couldn’t help thinking about how relaxed he was. With a cool breeze whistling through the corn field, the thought of his life flashing before his eyes was the last thing on his mind. Surprisingly, he was calm and his mind was blank. He couldn’t help wondering to himself if all those stories he was told about one’s life flashing before one’s eyes at the point of death were absolute hogwash. Perhaps it didn’t come automatically; one had to make a conscious effort to make it happen. He closed his eyes for a moment and tried to visualize the important moments of his life.
Nope. It wasn’t working. For someone with a highly imaginative mind, that particular trait was failing him when he needed it most. Who knew dying could be such a boring and dreary endeavor? His rush to die had nothing to do with the searing pain which was coursing its way all over his body or the 70 plus virgins his Imam had constantly reminded him would await him upon his death. Something about the blood slowly oozing out of his body, while he wriggled and squirmed in it was unsettling and it made him queasy.
As he lay looking at the sky he tried to make a conscious effort to retrace the steps that had led him to his current situation in life. Perhaps that would take his mind off the sticky blood he was squirming in and may help jumpstart his mind to get the flashes of the life at the point of death he had heard so much about. He closed his eyes and embarked on a journey through his life.
Ahmad had always been the favorite child of his parents, partly because he had his grandfather’s name and he was a spitting image of his father. Despite coming from a wealthy family where he and his siblings never lacked anything, Ahmad always got the best and got away with a lot. He was never scolded for taking his father’s newest cars out to parties, neither was he scolded when he grazed or caused some damage to it. His uncles had always made it a priority to point out to his father about the dangers of spoiling his youngest son and urged him to take a firmer stance with him. No matter how many times he promised to do so, his heart would melt once he started chastising his son for any wrongdoing. So, Ahmad skated through life without worrying about consequences and repercussions.
While his siblings all attended private universities in the country, his father saw it fit to send Ahmad abroad to attend university. This decision split the family with Ahmad’s siblings and uncles all arguing about the dangers of letting him go abroad considering his proclivity for waywardness. Alas, nothing would change his father’s mind. Ahmad and his mother had learnt years ago the proper buttons to push to make his father bend to their will. Off to Dubai he went to attend university. With a bank account filled with dirhams, two large wads of $100 bills and instructions to call immediately he was getting low on funds, it was expected that he wouldn’t need to call to have his account replenished for at least a year and a half if he was prudent in his spending. Unfortunately, prudence was not a word Ahmad was familiar with. Upon his arrival he ditched the school apartment he was assigned and opted for a posh apartment on the highbrow and expensive Sheikh Zayed Road. With such a luxurious apartment, it was only fair he take out a lease on an equally befitting car. Considering how young he was, the sales rep at the Mercedes Benz dealership scoffed when Ahmad pointed to the car of his choice; the 2014 C400 4matic. As he usually did when his social status was challenged, he dropped a wad of $100 dollar bills on the table and asked if they accepted dollars. As he recalled the way the employees at the dealership all ran helter-skelter to satisfy their newest client, he couldn’t help but laugh, which made the pain in his hip a bit worse.
For more than a year after his arrival in Dubai for his studies, Ahmad partied and traveled to some of the countries in the Arabian Gulf partying with individuals from some of the richest families in the Middle East. Despite the fact that his father knew his son wasn’t in school, it didn’t stop him from believing him whenever he told him he was doing well, neither did he fail to send the large funds which catered for his son’s lavish lifestyle. Ahmad’s constant reckless and his father’s weakness in standing up to his son soon led to serious squabbles in the family. When his eldest brother told their father that Ahmad was not constantly attending school and was living a life or reckless abandon, Ahmad’s mother who happened to be the younger wife raised the step-sibling jealousy card as is commonly done in polygamous families. His father blinded by the unwavering love he had for Ahmad sided with his young wife, accused his eldest son of being jealous of Ahmad and told him never to set foot in the family house.
Two years after he had arrived Dubai and was pissing away his education and pocket money, a sudden change came over Ahmad. He called his father and siblings to beg for their forgiveness and promised to change his ways. This was nothing new. Since his high school days he had frequently sought for forgiveness for his many transgressions but would still slide back to his old ways. However, when he came home for the holidays after two years away at school, his unusually calm and composed demeanor got everyone thinking perhaps this change was real. Ahmad arrived wearing a long white jallabiya, trousers that stopped above the ankles and a long bushy beard. ‘Assalama Alaikum’, he said to his brother who had come to get him from the airport. If not for his voice which could not be mistaken for someone else’s, his brother almost blurted out “Where is my brother and what have you done with him?” As for the Islamic greeting, no one had ever heard Ahmad use the Salam to greet anyone. Getting him to pray five times daily was a daily struggle. But here was Ahmad standing before his brother a changed man in apparently all respects.
For weeks after his arrival, Ahmad was the trending topic in the family. No one could believe the sudden change that had come over him. The change wasn’t only restricted to Ahmad, he was constantly preaching to his siblings and parents about living a more islamically acceptable way of life. He was always the first to step into the mosque at the front of the house and was the last to leave. When Ahmad wasn’t in the mosque he was constantly reading the Qur’an. Ahmad’s change restored harmony to the family as he put himself at the forefront of reconciling warring members. It wasn’t till his resumption date drew nearer that everyone suddenly realized there was something wrong with the changes that Ahmad was exhibiting.
When his father asked him when he was returning to school, Ahmad without any hesitation said he was never returning to school. ‘Western education is a cancer; it is all that is wrong with the Muslim society.’ His father almost had a heart attack. He had heard about kids from wealthy families becoming easy targets for radicalization but he never in his wildest dreams imagined he would witness it in his household. Upon enquiring from some of his high school friends along with whom he had attended university in Dubai, it was discovered that Ahmad had been conversing with an Imam from Nigeria on Facebook. It was during these numerous conversations that Ahmad gradually shed his opulent lifestyle and began living a Spartan lifestyle. He would constantly roam around in school preaching to fellow students and telling them to change their erring ways. Only then did Ahmad’s family realize he had been radicalized.
Numerous interventions by family member and Islamic clerics failed to sway Ahmad from his decision not to return to school. To make matters worse, he would constantly accuse his siblings and parents of being infidels for trivial matters such as watching TV or attending dinner. Fearing Ahmad may stray into the hands of Boko Haram or ISIS, it was decided to place him under 24hour guard till his family could figure out what to do with him. Unfortunately, it did not occur to anyone to restrict his access to the internet. So, Ahmad carried on his conversations with the Imam and was receiving daily tips on how to play along with his family’s wishes then make his escape when the time was right.
Months passed as Ahmad’s resolve slowly appeared to soften. Yet his family remained suspicious. Like a high level Guantanamo Bay detainee, he was constantly escorted to and from his room to perform the five daily prayers in the family mosque. One day, his siblings heard a sound they had not heard in a long time; loud blaring music from Ahmad’s room. When the door was opened there he was standing and rapping to an imaginary crowd with his jeans sagging to reveal his boxer shorts. He had even shaved his beard completely. Most families would have seen this action as something not to fuss about but for his parents and siblings, it was exciting as it meant Ahmad had managed to pull himself out of the icy grip of extremism and radicalization. Calls were made to relatives informing them that the old Ahmad they knew was back. With this show of receding to his somewhat moderate former lifestyle, the scope of his movement was relaxed to allow him go out with his brothers but they were instructed to never let him out of their sights.
Soon, everyone felt comfortable enough to view him with minimal suspicion whenever he went out. Alas, they had been fooled. One night as the family settled to have dinner, Ahmad’s absence was noticed. It was thought that he had dozed off. When his mother stepped into his room to find the TV on and what she thought was Ahmad in bed with the covers pulled over his entire body. ‘He must have been up all day watching TV’, she thought. ‘I’ll wake him up later.’
It wasn’t until 10pm when she went back to his room to wake him up that she discovered the large mass under the blanket was not her soon but were pillows laid out to make it look like someone was asleep in bed. With a loud piercing scream, she threw the entire house into a state of pandemonium. When the night guard stepped into the compound and heard the commotion, he suddenly realized that Ahmad sending him to purchase top up phone cards was all a ruse. With trembling hands and quivering lips, he slowly approached and told his employer how he had been fooled into leaving his duty post by Ahmad. It was then that everyone noticed one of the cars in the compound was missing.
As he drove to an auto sales point on the outskirts of Abuja to sell the car for the much needed funds to enable him travel to Maiduguri as well as contribute to the Jihad, he couldn’t help but smirk at how, with the help of the Imam and other brothers at the forefront of the Jihad had escaped from home. When he arrived at the auto sales point, he was nervous as the possibility of the salesmen alerting the police to the sale of such an expensive car by a young adult. He had nothing to fear since he was selling a =N=7,000,000 million at a giveaway price. The buyer was so elated at getting a good deal on such an expensive luxury car, he couldn’t wait to hand over the cash and take possession of the car. He handed the original documents to the buyer, placed the money in a duffel bag he had brought along and started the long journey to Maiduguri.
His parents and siblings were beside themselves with grief and despondency regarding his disappearance. Despite constant assurances by the police that they were leaving no stone unturned to locate and return Ahmad, very little was done as the story was usually the same every day; “we are on top of the situation Sir.” His father felt helpless and guilty over his inability to protect his son. As he sat pondering what he should do or who he should call to seek for assistance, his phone rang. He looked at the screen to see there was no name or number on the display, only the word ‘number withheld’. The voice on the other end was unmistakable. ‘Ahmad, where have you been? You gave me, your mothers and sisters quite a fright. Please come back home, we don’t care about the car, just come back home.’
‘Baba, I called to tell you that I have gone to fight for the cause of Allah. All who want to be admitted into paradise must be prepared to fight in the name of Allah. That is the road to true salvation. If you were not so blinded by the lifestyle of the Western infidels and unbelievers who have brainwashed you, you would send my brothers to join me in the cause as well. I am not coming home. Please tell my mother that I have prepared my mind to be martyred in the cause of Allah and shall not be returning home. May we meet in paradise. Good bye Baba.’ Ahmad’s father was dumbstruck and rooted to the spot he was standing, he tried to blink hard trying to wake himself from what he felt must be a nightmare. That night the entire household was thrown into mourning as it became more evident how lost Ahmad was to the deceptive cause he had pledged himself to.
Ahmad was giddy with excitement as he arrived Maiduguri and made contact with one of many brothers all fighting for the cause. As he was led through the winding backstreets of the Boko Haram stronghold in a neighborhood outside Maiduguri, he marveled at the kind of massive support people were giving to the Jihad. In a large thatched house at the end of a street, he finally came face to face with the charismatic Imam he had been chatting with for so long. Two men stood behind the Imam each wielding an AK-47 rifle. He knelt before the Imam and pledged his undying allegiance to the cause as he had done on numerous occasions when they communicated online. In a reverberating voice, which was perhaps accentuated by the shape and size of the room, the Imam stood and addressed all present. ‘Brothers, today we have in our midst our brother Ahmad who has been very supportive to the Jihad we have embarked on. His family, blinded by the deceptive lifestyle of the Westerners sought to prevent him from joining us. But with the support of Allah, we have been victorious as he has managed to escape from their shackles to be with us today. Please welcome him as one of us and teach him about our ways.’
Everyone present shouted in unison, ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they went round shaking Ahmad’s hand and welcoming him into the fold.
It was by no means easy adjusting to a frugal life. Ahmad who had been used to living in comfort and affluence found the harsh living conditions of the life of a mujahideen shockingly devoid of any form of comfort whatsoever. In his online communications with the Imam, there had always been mention of ‘giving up the comforts and pleasures of this life so as to attain success in the hereafter.’ In his mind he had always thought this meant giving up things like listening to music, watching TV and going out with girls. But having a small piece of date and water for breakfast, lying on just a mat and not bathing for days were things Ahmad had never contemplated as far as giving up comforts and pleasures were concerned.
Numerous times he felt like giving up. Not being one to suck it up, he complained loudly to whoever cared to listen about the damage lying on just a matted floor, eating only a small piece of date for breakfast and the harsh desert wind was doing damage to his skin and health. His newfound brothers gossiped in hushed tones about how this ‘rich kid’ was not cut out for the life of a mujahideen and should be let go. Despite the difficulties, Ahmad was determined to earn the favor of Allah and the Imam by fully adjusting to the harsh life.
As part of their training as new conscripts, they were required to acquire training in basic firearms and guerilla warfare. In this Ahmad excelled brilliantly. Perhaps it had something to do with the numerous hours he had racked up playing Call of Duty on his PlayStation. He impressed the instructor with how consistently he hit the targets and how he was able to shoot targets from a long distance. In the daily evening Qur’an recitation sessions, Ahmad gradually rose from the bottom of the class to the top. He came up with positive affirmations to help him cope with the difficulties of his new life. Every day at dawn when he awoke for the early morning prayers, he would say to himself “this suffering is temporary but Allah’s favor upon me is permanent.”
Every evening after firearms training, the Imam would sit down and preach to all the mujahideen about the need to establish an Islamic Caliphate where the Shari’ah would reign supreme. He admonished them on the need to rid the world of the pestilence caused by the infidels and to rid the world of the infidels themselves. Initially, these hate speeches seemed a bit measured in their tone due to the metaphorical nature the Imam employed in passing across the message but as time went on, they took on a more sinister and literal tone. When he was sure the new conscripts had been fully converted to the new way of life, he began instructing them to kill infidels wherever they found them and to wage a war against the government. Ahmad, whose lessons about Islam back at home were in serious conflict with what he was hearing started having doubts about the dark twist events were taking. But when he looked round at how an entire neighborhood, which formed the Imam’s domain, was filled people all signed up to join in the jihad, he thought “this cannot be wrong. The Imam definitely knows what he is talking about.”
On some nights Ahmad noticed some men of Arab origin came to the neighborhood and met with the Imam. Sometimes they brought huge metal cases, which Ahmad surmised, contained weapons as they looked exactly like the cases used to convey weapons in the movies he had seen back at home. He suspected they must be the ones supplying the jihadi movement with the AK47s and other weapons he and others used for firearms training. As Ahmad became accustomed to his new environment he noticed that this was not just a group of ragtag rebels seeking fame and relevance. There was actually a lot of order to it. It functioned like a well-oiled machine. There were doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects and even Islamic clerics who had all left their old jobs and lives to join the cause. All the aforementioned professions played a role in the functioning of the jihadi movement.
As time went on, members were selected to go on attack and bombing raids at government facilities. The brothers who were killed in the raids were declared martyrs by the Imam who proclaimed they were in paradise with their 72 virgins. He enjoined others to not be afraid to give up their lives for the cause of Allah. His speeches really riled up a lot of individuals to volunteer for attack raids. Soon, the jihadi movement was gaining international attention as they increased their attacks and embarked on a wide radicalization drive which saw the children and relatives of many prominent Nigerians give up their affluent lives to join in the jihad.
Soon, the Imam’s true nature came to the fore; he was a deranged mind out to cause chaos. His preaching became blood soaked tirades of calls for outright violence against anyone be they Muslim or Christian who did not conform with or agree with the group’s ideals. Neighboring villages in the area who had previously thought themselves immune to the group’s activities soon became prey to the deranged minds and ideals of the brainwashed foot soldiers of the jihadi movement. Ahmad was one of those who took part in one of the many raids and as he had memorized the Imam’s instructions of killing as many people as possible to gain entry into paradise, he was vicious during raids. Women, children, the elderly, no one was safe from the wanton violence Ahmad and his brothers in arms unleashed. He found it difficult to tell what had numbed his senses into committing such heinous acts of violence. Perhaps it was the Imam’s preaching or the high doses of cannabis they were given before and after each raid. Whatever it was, it was helping him achieve the ultimate aim of entry into paradise.
Soon the Nigerian government was forced to form a multinational force to curb the activities of the terrorist group. Technical expertise and intelligence were shared between member countries of the multinational force which would undoubtedly ensure success. At dawn the Imam ordered his followers to carry out a raid (what he referred to as The Great Cleansing) on the large town of Galdimari. This was a large fishing town about 230 kilometers from the state capital. Hundreds of mujahideen flooded Hilux trucks with a large cache of firearms all eager to bring God’s judgment to the infidels and their helpers in Galdimari.
They flocked into the town shooting wildly into the air; craving for the opportunity to perform what they felt was a divine duty. Security forces who had received intelligence of the impending attack had launched a battalion to counter the insurgents. Ahmad, high on cannabis and a host of other drugs, rushed towards the first house he saw firing his gun into the house. Others followed suit as someone on a truck mounted an RPG ready to fire it when gunshots started raining down on the mujahideen. Pandemonium broke out among their ranks as they realized they had walked into an ambush. Ahmad who had rushed out farther than others was hit by a bullet in his collarbone. Perhaps it was adrenaline or the effect of the drugs, he was still able to stand on his feet and run for cover. As the mujahideen prepare to turn around and beat a retreat, they realize it was too late; they were flanked on all sides by soldiers. RPGs were fired onto the trucks which erased any chance they had of making any escape. The only option was to hit the cornfield. Ahmad ran backwards into the cornfield while firing his rifle. As he turned round to run, he was hit by another bullet in the hip. He half ran half limped. He got dizzy and almost fell a few times but was able to catch himself. He kept running for what seemed like hours when he collapsed onto the ground, unable to move due to the pain and the blood loss.
He lay there staring at the sky as dark nighttime sky broke apart to make way for daytime. Little by little, the sun rose from the west. He welcomed its warmth as it shed its light on the earth warming everything in its path. As he retraced the steps that had led him to his current predicament up to the present time, he began to think logically for the first time in many months. He began to finally question the Imam and his teachings. He recalled something his Islamic school teacher had told him a long time ago, before he had succumbed to the yoke of radicalization. He had told Ahmad “it is not for us to decide whose religion is right or wrong. If God had wanted us to all to be of one religion, he would have made it so. Live with everyone peacefully, regardless of their religion.”
Suddenly it dawned on him that the Imam’s teachings were not based on the purity of Islam, but were one of the depraved mindset of a mad man. With the growing sense of guilt and contrition he began to feel, he wished for death now more than ever. He would rather die than confront the guilt of all those people he had killed, all those kids he had made orphans. He raised the gun, held it to his temple but was unable to proceed with his intended act. Overwhelmed by grief and remorse, he broke down crying and shouting “Astaghfirullah” (forgive me Allah). In between sobs he heard the sounds of men shouting in the distance. Suddenly he was surrounded by soldiers from the multinational force. “We don catch one here”, one of them shouted. Ahmad was apprehended and taken into custody. He was treated at a military hospital along with other captured mujahideen. As he lay handcuffed to a hospital bed, he looked to his right at the patient in the bed next to his. He looked familiar but Ahmad could not remember where he had seen him before. Then it suddenly dawned on him. It was the Imam.
He called out to him, “Ya Sheikh”. The man cast a forlorn look at Ahmad and says, “Forgive me for deceiving you and others.” Ahmad stared blankly as he was once more flooded with regret. This time it was far more overwhelming as he realized he would spend the rest of his life living with the regrets of his actions for he had succumbed to a great deception.