No Smoke Without Fire

January 21, 2024


I had a friend called Kabiru, He is from a town in Osun State

We attended a boarding school together between 1995 and 1998, we shared the same bunk for two years

His father lived and worked in both the Ivory Coast and Nigeria, and sold motor-cycle spare parts, his family house was just behind Olode Cinema in the community he lived in

I regarded him as a brother and friend,

I was fifteen when I met him, he was a Muslim and I was a Christian

We had two other close friends, Gbenga and Shina, and four of us did a lot of great things together There is no way I will think of my past without his name coming up one way or the other

The boarding school unsettled me in so many ways

I realised after my first term in a boarding house (I joined them in SS 1) that I needed the freedom of the boarding house for my sanity I was being raised at home by a single mother (My Father was then abroad and had gone incommunicado because of some life challenges he was dealing with at the time)

Things were very tough at home and I was helpless in many ways- I hate being helpless or lacking the power to do what I know needs to be done

I started travelling with Kabir back to his town instead of returning home to my family, his family offered a roof over my head and free food

We were young at the time and adventurous, we used to donate blood once or twice a month at a hospital in that town at 400 Naira per pint

This blood donation money was a big deal to us then

We did it to buy the basic things we needed to survive

Academically, Kabir was a bit challenged

He could neither speak nor write English correctly, even though he had an exquisite handwriting

He had to cheat to pass exams and I must confess that I aided and abetted him in this regard

He would get angry if you didn’t allow him to copy your answers whenever he had a test and could sulk for days or turn violent when we got back to the hostel

He was in my class and we shared the same desk, I was not prone to violence and he was in his community, everybody had to respect their elders and if you called somebody by his name without adding “brother” to it as a sign of respect, you would get a beating or worse, find yourself in a fight with him and his pack or age-grade members

Boys were always fighting for respect

Those of the same age ranking flocked together early so that they could use that to gauge those they must respect and those who must respect them

Kabiru was two years older than me but I was not from his community so I called him by his name, we all did and he didn’t like this, he would often remind us he was older and demand that we respect him but we couldn’t because we met in the boarding school, were in the same class, and didn’t share the same values he grew up with

It was when I went to his town and saw the dynamics of their age grading system that I understood why he was bullying us to call him “Brother” when we were in school

I practically became a blood brother to Kabiru

His father adopted me unofficially because I added value to Kabiru’s life

I spoke good English and Kabiru told his father I helped him with his academics

Kabiru’s father gave me my first Quran and a Muslim name

They even taught me how to pray the Muslim way

Till tomorrow, Kabiru and those I knew those days long ago still address me as Olumide Sowemimo, they disregard the fact that I chose not to bear the name again out of choice and as a statement to the fact that a man can make his own way in life without the benefit or baggage of the past

As I said, I spent most of my holidays with him and we shared the same bunk in school Something strange happened in the year 2002

A club in Kabiru’s town wanted to throw a party, so they invited a “big” musician called Dauda Epo Akara

The man was a local star who sang Awurebe music (A local Yoruba music genre that died with him some years later)

The transporter’s association and the butcher’s associations in the town heard about this all-night party and decided to crash the party

The organizers of the party were a club

The party was done on the street in front of Olode Cinema

The club didn’t want any uninvited guests coming to their party but the transporters decided they must attend, and the butchers also decided they must attend

The party organizers protested

This led to a fight

The party venue became a battleground

Unfortunately, this party was held right on the main street leading to Kabiru’s house

We were attracted to the party because it offered free food and some other things that young men love to indulge in at the time

I was at the party with Kabiru and seven other guys who were members of his age grade namely: Master (Short and had a smiling face), Beta (Told dry jokes and always came up with riddles and also a Kegite who composed many local Kegite songs), Oba (Went into tailoring later), Kamar (Son of the local wood dealer who also worked at the sawmill to raise his daily bread), Alayo (a mathematics genius) Alonzo, (Older than us and smoked weed like a chimney)

When the fight broke out and we saw machetes and charms and local guns being pulled out and used, we ran for our dear lives

All the musical equipment of the musicians and all the lighting equipment were destroyed Ladies who didn’t take a cue to run on time were brutalized

Cyroma, the main musician from that town who was married to over twenty wives and had his office on the topmost floor of Olode Cinema, and his boys were also at the party

These were guys who accepted me as one of their own in those days

They were not elite or even enlightened

Most of them were non-literate

If I told anyone I once fitted into that setting like gloves to a hand, there would be serious doubts

That night, we all ran into Kabiru’s Daddy’s house, locked the door behind us, and while we were yet panting, we started talking about the fight, who got injured, how we escaped, and what was still going on in the streets

Then out of the blue, Kamar, one of us said, “Hey guys, see, this is an opportunity for us to get rid of the Christians in this town. Today is Friday and they are having a vigil. Let us go there, beat the men, and rape the girls Let us teach them a lesson that they will never forget Everybody will think they were victims of the fight going on in the street and we will be able to carry out the will of God”

It was as if he pressed a button in everybody’s head, nobody questioned him or even laughed about it

Everybody in the room agreed with him and they began to pick the weapons they would use Sticks, machetes, bottles etc.

They began to talk about what they would do with what they picked in a typical Yoruba fight fashion, “Mo ma f’ogi mo pastor yen lori” meaning “I will crack the pastor’s head with this stick” “Mo ma fi patepete ada na awon omo soosi yen” “I will use the flat end of the machete to beat the children in the church” Things like that…

I was shocked to the marrow

I was born a Christian and these were the people I had somehow become brothers with

When they were ready to move (I went with them because I didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that I am a Christian so that they don’t kill me)

All the while I was praying (I was not a born-again Christian at the time and I really didn’t care for prayer) but I remembered the Lord on this day of evil and I made a solemn promise that if the Lord would spare my life and the life of those church folks, I would pack my bags and return home to my mother

I also promised that I would be a good boy and stay at home regardless of what the situation was when I got there

I was literally quaking with fear

We got on the street at about 4 AM, the streets were pitch dark and some of the thugs were still fighting and hacking themselves to bits

We got to the church and thankfully the commotion had gotten to them and they had cut short the vigil, the door of the church was firmly locked,

I heaved a sigh of relief

The boys started lamenting that we didn’t move on time

We returned to Kabiru’s house and slept

When it was morning, I woke up and packed my bags

They asked me where I was going and I told them I felt a need to see my mother

They tried very hard to dissuade me from traveling but I stood my ground

I left at about 10 AM and I never looked back

I threw the friendship into the trash can

Kabiru tried reaching out several times after this

We saw each other at the Polytechnic, Ibadan when he gained admission to study Civil Engineering with a fake WAEC result

He left after a few months for Belgium and reached out to me several times from Belgium

He still tries reaching out on Facebook Messenger once in a while

I ignore him and can never see myself as a friend of his again

Recently, one of our secondary schoolmates who live in Ogbomosho reached out to me to help him out with the school fees of his daughter who just gained admission into a federal government college, I did

The friend then called Kabiru and asked him to thank me on his behalf

That was when Kabiru got back on my case on Facebook messenger

I continued to ignore him

I ignored him because I knew him but I had never seen the version of him that came out that fateful day before

That was not my friend

That seemed to me like someone who had been programmed or brainwashed to act in a certain way in the name of religion

If I cannot reason with you, you cannot be my friend

I write this story because I believe religion shouldn’t make us behave in a certain manner

It should make us love our fellow human beings and respect them too We shouldn’t see people as unworthy of love, life, or affection just because they practice a different religion from our own

I have never been in a Christian setting or meeting in my life where any group took up arms in the name of killing Muslims or unbelievers generally

I have seen indigenes rise against cultists in Eruwa

I have seen Christians raise an altar of prayer against political oppression or even territorial oppression but I have never seen a Christian gathering that had a set agenda to foment violence on another religion before in my life

I have never seen Christians killing anyone for blasphemy, for holding or burning a bible, for drawing a picture of Jesus, for entering a church and shouting the name of another religious figure, or for any other reason for that matter

I once went preaching in Lagos, at 5 AM, and those early morning cries and I found myself close to a mosque, they came out intending to harm me and I had to flee for my life (I agree I should have been more mindful of where I am and not go poking the bear. I was young then and naive) I do not write to abuse or condemn; I wrote this to draw our attention as a nation to the belief systems that have been touted as approved by God but which I know has nothing to do with God

We should change this mindset, change the teachings, and embrace tolerance and love

It is not in vain that Apostle Paul asked that we pray to God to deliver us from wicked and unreasonable men who have no faith 2 Thessalonians 3:2



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