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This story touched me…I couldn’t sleep without writing it down.

I met a man at a hospital today. His story really touched me and at the end of it, I was filled with mixed ambivalent emotions of happiness and sadness. Although I had alot of patients to see today, I took some considerable amount of time to listen to him as he narrated his ordeal.

He told me he was HIV positive and had not taken his drugs for about a year and you know what that means. He now was down with some serious cough, weight loss and drenching night sweat – the classical trilogy of pulmonary tuberculosis. I listened to his chest with my stethoscope and heard abnormal breath sounds that corroborated my suspicion. Besides all these, he looked really skinny and malnourished. What could have happened to this man? Here is his story.

He is a Tiv man and mason by occupation who resided in Onitsha, Anambra state. One day while returning from work at the outskirts of the town at about 4pm, an army vehicle pulled over and within minutes, he and other pedestrians were arrested and packed into their vehicle, those called Black Maria. This was at a time when the government had deployed the army to conduct an operation dubbed “python dance” against agitators for the secession of South East Nigeria as Biafra.

They were taken to an unknown location and thereafter, just as daylight gave way to darkness at sunset, they set them off again, in a convoy of several Black Maria vans to what seemed to be an endless journey. Finally, after several hours and as the day broke, they arrived an urban settlement which, from the sign boards they saw, found to be Maiduguri, Borno state.

There, the vehicles offloaded them at a police station where they were locked up in small cells. He told me one small cell contained up to 50 people such that there was literally no space to stand. They were kept there with very little food and water in the most dehumanizing of conditions, under which many like him who had ailments that required continuous medications were left to suffer and die very slow and painful deaths. During this period, noone knew their whereabouts, they had no communication with thier families nor the outside world.

It was after staying there for nine months that some activity started taking place. Every night, one cell would be emptied and the occupants taken to “God-knows-where”, never to return again. Night after night,the cells where being emptied one after the other by masked armed men. As this continued, it became common knowledge that those taken away were being summarily executed. That a new DPO had been transfered to the station and wanted to decongest the cells to create room for fresh detainees.

One day, the cell before theirs was evacuated, meaning they were next. The next morning as he pondered over his life and fate, he heard two policemen conversing about something that really didn’t interest him; nothing would interest someone who knows he is going to die in a few hours time. Something, however, struck him – although the two policemen spoke in English, one of them had a Tiv accent.

“Angbian, angbian, angbian”, he called out with the last iota of hope left in him. Angbian means brother in Tiv language. As he yelled relentlessly, the policeman with the accent moved closer to him but rather responded in English obviously so as not to give away their point of affinity.

“I am your brother”, my patient said in Tiv language, “please save me.” The policeman moved closer to the bars and both of them had a short conversation, my patient narrating an abridged version of his story to him. With no time and plenty of eyes watching, the policeman tactically retreated but the deal was already struck.

That night, just moments before the armed men usually come to take people for execution, the policeman sneaked in, opened the cell and took my patient out to the reception of the station, behind the counter. There he sat and watched his cellmates of nine moths, being bundled out for execution. He told me, shivering with tears running down his cheeks that it was his most terrifying moment of his life.

The next morning, at about 5am, the policeman who had saved his life, smuggled him out of the station and gave him some money which he used to leave town and get a vehicle back home to Benue state.

His story really touched me and like I said earlier, evoke mixed feeling of ambivalence in me. On one hand, I was happy for how God saved his life but on the other, was sad for those, who may have been innocent but still lost theirs lives because they didn’t have an “angbian” to save them.

Above all, I was livid about the system that exists in the country where there is no justice or regard for human rights and life. I contemplated getting more details from my patient to follow up on this story and seek justice for those who lost their lives but that will only be an effort in futility and may even endanger my own life.

As I was wondering about what best to do, I just took my pen and documented his case notes, ordered for some investigations to confirm my diagnosis and wished him well. This country will not kill me.

Next patient!

Credit: Usha Anenga

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