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My relationship with late Boko Haram leader, Muhammad Yusuf – Emeka

Chukwuemaka Emmanuel Ani, alias Emeka, an Igbo man and Christian by faith, was an aide of late Boko Haram leader, Muhammad Yusuf. He was an…

Chukwuemaka Emmanuel Ani, alias Emeka, an Igbo man and Christian by faith, was an aide of late Boko Haram leader, Muhammad Yusuf. He was an attraction in Yusuf’s markas (shrine). Twelve years after Yusuf was killed, an incident which sparked the insurgency in the North East and remotely in other parts of the country, Daily Trust Saturday met Emeka at his school which offers Islamic studies near where Yusuf’s markas once stood.

What was your relationship with the late Yusuf?

He loved me so much. In fact, I found it difficult to believe that he could preach violence, but, somehow he lost his way.

Yusuf, may his soul rest in peace, was a very nice person. He encouraged us to be role models by going to school. He was jovial but didn’t tolerate nonsense. If he saw a girl putting on trousers, he would advise her that it was not good.

One day we were coming back from football training and he saw two men fighting. He stopped and settled the matter.

So, when the Boko Haram crisis erupted, I was surprised that such a thing came from somebody I was trying to emulate, because I was a lover of soccer like him. He loved football very much. Fortunately, I was his ball boy. He played with Succor Star and was an excellent goalkeeper.

What about Shekau?

I was not too close to Shekau because of his strictness, but he was kind to me also. He didn’t play football but he often accompanied Yusuf to the pitch. I was always around them. The two were well-educated, but as time went on they decided to do what they did.

When was the last time you saw Shekau?

Some days after Yusuf was killed when the markas was about to be demolished. It was in the night; he sent for me and told me that it was the last time I would see him and he left.

Did they at any point discourage you aboutWestern education?

None of them ever asked me to stop teaching Western education. Yusuf was well educated; he had a masters and always encouraged me to be a role model.

Was there any move to radicalise you?

None of them did that. But as I earlier said, my friends that joined the group put pressure on me to join them after the death of Yusuf. Before then, when the crisis became hot, Yusuf told me not to go anywhere, assuring me that nothing would happen to me. Then my father was alive and Yusuf assured him that I was a good boy and nothing would happen to me. But after he was killed, pressure started coming upon me to abandon my faith and join them. So, I felt unsafe and fled.

Despite being a Christian you provided this building for Muslim pupils. What made you do that?

These people came to me and said they wanted to use the building to teach Islamic studies. I told them we are all serving one God. So, I said they should go ahead and start the lessons.

They asked me how much they should be paying but I said, “No, go ahead. It’s for the sake of God who gave me the building. Educate them, maybe they will be the ones to help us tomorrow. Today, I have been with them for more than seven years.

But I started facing challenges from my Christian brethren who opposed giving the space to Muslims to establish the Islamiya School. When I ignored their appeals, they started withdrawing their kids from the school. That’s how the school remains like this.

We do normal school lessons and evening lessons, but I stopped the evening lessons to allow the Muslim kids to be educated in the space.

For how long have you been in this area?

I have been in this area for more than 20 years. So, I said, since I don’t have anything to give, and I have the knowledge and experience to impact knowledge on the kids, I now say let’s come together with Malam Bashir and others to help the community. And, I’m getting so much encouragement from the community.

I was told that before relocating to this place your school was neighbouring the markas. Did you leave the place willingly or were you asked to leave?

That place was not my building. I rented it. So, when the crisis began it was vandalised. I, therefore, ran into exile.

What challenges did you face after returning from exile?

When I came back soldiers said they would not allow me to use the school again, saying I might hide Boko Haram members to be making bombs inside the building. They said Igbo people had talent and that they could do anything. I told the soldiers to ask the residents about me and that if they resisted my coming back, I would go.

Some days later, the soldiers invited me and the residents testified that I’m of good character. I restarted the school with eight pupils on 0ctober 13, 2016, and we started Islamiya in 2017.

What is the size of your students now?

Before the introduction of Islamiya I had over 200 students, but when Islamiyya came the Christians withdrew their children and so we now have less than a hundred. And I still maintain N3,500 as school fee. We don’t collect anything apart from that because this area is a rural area within the Maiduguri metropolis.

People here are poor – we know ourselves – most of them are peasant farmers, labourers and other menial workers. So, if you hike the school fee they can’t afford it. That’s why I refused to increase it despite challenges. It’s very difficult operating within this margin, but God knows what we are doing.

Is it a different world being here again after so much trouble?

There is no place like home. I went to different places and I’m back to Maiduguri feeling very safe and more relaxed because everybody here, right from Abbaganaram, State Low Cost to this area, knows me. I’m not praising myself, but I live peacefully with everybody. I’m the kind of person that accommodates people. This is what I do to help the less privileged since I’m not rich.

How do you feel seeing these kids being trained almost free under your roof?

I feel relaxed, happy and relieved, because it’s in me, I love children and anything that has to do with education. And no matter what, I’m happy doing my work.

You lived close to the main insurgents and now are staying with the victims of the crisis. What is the difference?

The easiest way to overcome this crisis is to listen to our religious leaders and forget those that are telling us to do what is not worth doing. When we shun violence and drugs, it makes us think morally and work well. The most important thing is to shun drugs.

Do you think drugs ignited the Boko Haram crisis?

Yes; because once somebody is on drugs the next thing that comes to his mind is violence. This was exactly what happened to many of my friends that were killed in the crisis.

You were once a friend to the insurgents; what kind of people are they?

They are people like us. Sometimes some of them are pushed in because they don’t have work to do and with no good educational background. So, that was why I looked at it and decided that no matter what I would use this place for enlightenment.

Were you born in Maiduguri?

Yes; here in Shehuri North.

Where are your parents now?

My dad, Pedro, is late and I take care of my aged mum. I’m the first son of a family of seven children.

Are you married?

I’m married with two children and my wife is an indigene of Borno State, Marghi by tribe.

What support do you think you can get to improve this place?

The only support I need is financial. The structure is getting old. I single handedly built it. However, I will acknowledge the help of the Islamiyya people, because at times when they saw me doing the work, they did drop a bag of cement or paid for the sand.

As for teachers, we have teachers who are willing to teach the children both Islamic and Western education.

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