‘Let me have everybody’s attention.’ A voice called out over a loudspeaker.
All the Corpers congregated in the quadrangle looking up at the Camp Commandant, a tall, fat man dressed in camouflage fatigues. Bade and Lola stayed at the back where they had a good view of what was going on around them and could still hear the speaker. Looking around, Bade noticed that most of the soldiers were now armed with Ak-47 rifles, the amused expressions they had worn at the exercise grounds that morning seemed to have faded.
‘I’m sure you have all heard about the attack on the secondary school that occurred this morning,’ the commandant began, ‘I’m assuring you that we are perfectly safe here. There’s nothing to make us think that we are being targeted as well…’
‘There’s nothing to make us think we aren’t.’ A male voice interjected from the crowd.
‘There’s no need to panic, the army is on the tail of these fanatics and I’m sure very soon, they’ll be apprehended,’ the commandant continued, ignoring the interruption. ‘We are safe here, these brave men of the Nigerian Army that you see around you are ready to defend these grounds if it is called for. There is nowhere safer to be right now. Let’s just stay calm and carry on with our program here. Dismissed.’ He concluded, handing over the microphone to an aide and leaving the stage.
‘Do you think they believe what they are telling us?’ Lola asked as the crowd dispersed.
‘I’m not sure really,’ Bade replied. ‘But they are right to say that this is probably the safest place to be at the moment.’
‘Yeah, except for the fact that these soldiers are Hausa and Muslims as well, just like the fanatics. Some of them probably even grew up together on these streets. If it comes down to it, would they put their lives on the line for ours? Or would they just stand aside when the fanatics come and later claim they did the best they could?’ Lola asked, a tremor in her voice.
Bade looked down at her, she sounded genuinely scared. ‘I’m sure we’ll be fine if we stick together. Us corpers are a lot more than they are, I hope.
‘And half of us are also either Hausas or Muslims or both. What makes you think they will stand with us, or even worse, they turn on us when the fanatics come?’
Bade shook his head. ‘Don’t think like that. These corpers are just normal people, like us. There’s no need to work yourself up into a fit. Besides, like the Commandant said, there’s nothing to make us think they are coming here.’
‘And like the dissenting voice said, there’s nothing to make us think that they aren’t. Lola countered. Bade rubbed his head in frustration. ‘Just be careful, whatever happens, we stick together.’ He assured her.
They separated, Lola going towards the girls’ dormitories while Bade headed towards his own. His forehead was furrowed in thought as he passed, not wanting to, but still considering the implications of what Lola had said about the ethnic divisions. There was no reason for such bigotry to take root in such an enlightened age, but Bade was also aware that the divisions of race, colour and creed no matter how tiny or infinitesimal were always there, and it only took an ill-timed action to deepen those lines into chasms. When such divisions deepened, rationality goes out the window, and all the things which make man the higher being he is disappear, leaving only a raw, raging animal, who would do violence with no further prompting.
It had happened in Rwanda, it had happened in South Africa, even the Nigerian Civil War had taken its own fair share of casualties based on their tribe. Bade could not just believe that he would see such mindless behaviour in his lifetime. It might only have been his imagination, but it suddenly seemed to him that the patterns had shifted. He was walking through a throng of Corpers when he thought he noticed the change, where people had been gathered in multi-faceted groups before, he now saw the darker-skinned Hausas standing away from the fairer-skinned Igbos, one side predominantly Muslim, the other predominantly Christian. It was like the divisions in American films about prisons where the Blacks always stood separate from the Whites. Both sides seemed to be giving themselves hostile looks, but Bade shook his head, it was probably all just in his head. Not everybody could suddenly start thinking the same way Lola had been thinking. He ignored the fact that that it had occurred to her probably meant it had occurred to others as well. They were suddenly sitting on a powder keg, and all it would need was one lit match for it all to go up in flames.
Bade entered his dormitory. At least there, there was still some semblance of sanity. He nodded to his roommates that he passed, sat down on the lower portion of the bunk which was his, and decided that maybe it was time to finally know some of the people he was sharing a room with. He strolled over to where a group of six had gathered playing cards.
‘Hey guys, can I join?’ He asked.
‘The closest man looked up at him. ‘Sure bro, when this round is done.’ The man said, shifting a little to give him space.
‘My name is Bade.’
The man nodded, his eyes on his cards. ‘Emeka is mine.’ They all went round introducing themselves, asides from Emeka, there was Ahmed, John, Sulaiman, Chris and Tomiwa. Bade smiled to himself, apparently, not everybody was thinking like Lola, at least here were Christians and Muslims playing cards together. Surely, nothing could occur that would make them suddenly feel like killing each other just because they had different religions. There was still hope for them.
When the attack occurred a few days later, Bade was in for a rude awakening.