BY ISRAEL USULOR
Although, the capture and subsequent slaughter of the ten Federal troops were initially met with ululation all over the town, the days that proceeded proved it was an ill wind that would eventually blow no one any good. Days were pregnant and nights were longer than normal. The City slept with one eye closed. People walked like moving corpses waiting for the funeral. The tiniest of sounds sent residents scampering for safety. Kids had their ears drawn and warned against breaking inflated sachet water leathers which had the same sound like that of a gunshot. A cloak of darkness hung over the whole town as military aircrafts hovered over the skyline and not a few military vehicles were sighted. As it was said, the chickens had come home to roost. Those who should know told people who cared to listen to expect the worse. One of such military analysts was Dufu Yuwa, a retired soldier. Major Yuwa, as he was fondly called attended an emergency meeting convened by Tor Zaka, the paramount ruler of Zaka City, in his palace. The Kur utia, the head of warriors, the king’s cabinet, and other opinion leaders whose voices mattered in the town were all in attendance.
‘Msugh Zaki. I greet Zaki Tor Zaka and my brothers here,’ Major Dufu Yuwa saluted, clearing his throat. This was after Tor Zaka had opened the floor. After everyone had responded, he continued.
‘I must say there is pain in my heart over recent occurrences in our town. Not only are we at war with herders, but there is also a deadlier war ahead. Our people say that rats don’t dance in the cat’s doorway. The Kur utia and his warriors have committed a deadly error,’ he said, directing his gaze at the warlord who sat in the midst of two other top warriors.
‘I am aware of the fact that you sought no clearance from Tor Zaka, neither did you seek military advice before proceeding to slaughter a whopping ten soldiers like chickens. Are you aware that one soldier equals one million people?’ he asked. Pausing briefly, he turned to Tor Zaka who was listening with dignified attention. The Kur utia merely stared at the ceiling painted in beautiful black and white colours. His gaze was permanently fixed on the ceiling fan as it made its endless spins. The room was quiet as Major Yuwa barked his speech with military gusto.
“Zaki,’ he continued. ‘The Kur utia has plunged us into a deadlier situation with grievous consequences,’ he said, wagging his finger accusatively at the man. He unzipped his black briefcase placed beside his seat and produced two copies of newspapers, one the North Central Tides, and the other The Daily Sparrow.
‘Take a look at these,’ he said, passing the newspapers to Tor Zaka.
‘Except urgent steps are taken, the military will stop at nothing until it gets its pound of flesh and that means crushing this city. The palm nut that goes into a mortar won’t leave without a scar.’
Major Yuwa was not known for beating about the bush especially when serious issues are being discussed. That day, he was in his best elements. On the front page of the North Central Tide was the banner headline: Zaka City: Residents Panic as Possible Military Revenge Looms. Also on the front page of The Daily Sparrow comes the headline: Zaka City: Military says it will go after Criminals. It had the rider: Soldiers’ Murder gruesome, Barbaric, says Chief-of-Army Staff.
‘This has become a national issue,’ said Chief Gbeji, who had remained silent all through the meeting but had to speak when he saw the headlines on the newspapers.
‘We agree that the Kur utia has made a mistake. However, I believe we are not here for the blame game. The question is, what do we do?’ He asked rhetorically.
‘I greet Tor Zaka and all that are gathered here’ It was Lawyer Atsen Shoho, reputed as one of the best legal minds in the country who also hailed from Zaka City. Lawyer Shoho has won high-profile cases up to the Supreme Court and has participated in several judicial panels of inquiry. He arrived late to the meeting having traveled all the way from Abuja. Tor Zaka had invited him to offer legal insights on the issue.
‘From my legal perspective,’ he continued after gaining the attention of the gathering. ‘The military has a history of human rights violations and as our people say, the hyena will not change its spots even if it moves to a different forest. My candid opinion is that military invasion is better avoided than experienced. The urgent thing we must do now is to round up the perpetrators of this heinous crime and hand them over to the military authorities for prosecution. As our people say, he who fetched ant-infested faggot must be ready to dine with the lizards. Let them go and pay for the terrible sin they have committed.” Lawyer Shoho was a known user of proverbs.
The room remained silent as the reality of what the lawyer said dawned on everybody present. The silence in the room was like that of a graveyard so that even a drop of a pin would have been loud to the ears. Strangely, the Kurutia also maintained a very loud silence and continued to stare at the ceiling as if the spinning ceiling fan held some solutions to the problem at hand. He never bulged even when Lawyer Shoho suggested he and his men be handed over to military authorities. No one knew what was going on in his mind. This was not surprising. Among the Tivs, a Kurutia was like a mini-god who, having gone through all forms of spiritual fortification, behaved like a spirit-being. He was regarded as the strongest and most important warrior a community could offer, the first among the best eleven, and was only second in rank to the king. If he died in the war, it was regarded as a tragedy and the fall of a Kur utia could be equated with the fall of an entire community. Should a village then freely hand over its chief warrior and his entire warriors for prosecution? Major Dufu Yuwa thought it was the best thing to do in the circumstance. He kept his thoughts to himself since it was time for Tor Zaka to rule on the matter. The King was known to be a man of few words. Many times he used more of actions than words in settling problems in his domain. The murder of the soldiers however had so far proved to be a serious thorn on his flesh. He remembered that he was away to Makurdi on that day when words reached him that ten men in military uniform had been butchered in Zaka City. He had excused himself from the meeting and hurried back home. But the deed had been done. Tor Zaka himself was a soldier who fought in the Biafran Civil War. So the consequences of gruesomely murdering as many as ten soldiers were never lost on him. Yet he had decided to approach the issue with a lot of caution. As it was said, uneasy lay the head that wore the crown.
‘Our people say that the teeth can only bite when they work together and that when cobwebs unite, they can tie up a lion,’ the king started with a measured tone. His words were carefully picked and laced with deep meanings. His lips moved very little as he spoke.
‘I am happy that all of us are united in the quest to protect this land. I have listened carefully to your suggestions and found them useful. But I must say that it requires a lot of carefulness to kill the fly that perches on the scrotum,’ he paused, making sure the import of his words were not lost on his listeners. Everyone had their gazes fixed on the king. Even the Kurutia, the Chief Warrior had removed his gaze from the ceiling fan and directed same at the king.
‘Remember when the herders killed our people and the government did nothing? Remember when we appealed for help, yet no help came? I cannot blame the warriors entirely for killing the soldiers. If they were peace-keepers, they came too late when our land already lay in ruin,’ he lamented. Many in the meeting shook their heads. The King took a bottle of water placed on a stool beside him, opened it, and took a gulp, then continued.
‘Handing over the Kurutia and his warriors to the military is the best thing to do, but should a bird change its feathers because the weather is bad? If we hand them over to the military, who then protect our homes from the herders, who has sworn not to allow us to farm in peace? A man shouldn’t test the depth of a river with both feet. We must trade with caution not to throw away the baby with the bathwater,’ he paused again as he adjusted the sleeves of his overflowing chieftaincy dress.
‘Words have reached me indicating that the North Central Governor is in dialogue with the military. On our side, we do nothing but wait and hope the authorities will see reasons with the governor and know that retaliation has never solved any issue,’ the king concluded. As the king stood to leave for his inner chambers, there were murmurs buried within the endless shouts of Zaaki! Zaaki!.
Read part seven HERE
Israel Usulor is a journalist and short story writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael and [email protected]
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