Students in Nigerian universities have stories to tell, but hardly anyone to tell them to. For our new weekly series, Aluta and Chill, we are putting the spotlight on these students and their various campus experiences.
Our subject for this week is Ronald*, who left Lagos to study at the University of Nigeria mostly to experience a new environment. He was doing that and having the best time of his life until a cultist attack reminded him of his mortality.
Can you tell me a little about Nsukka?
Nsukka is a small, quiet town. There’s not much to do here. The only thing giving it a facelift is that it’s a student-populated area; that’s pretty much the reason everyone goes there.
Did you know this before you decided to study at UNN?
No. I was born in Lagos and lived there my whole life. I’d never been to Nsukka or Enugu before university. My decision to study at the University of Nigeria was born out of a desire to explore. If I could get an education and use the opportunity to live somewhere new, why shouldn’t I take it?
Chimamanda Adichie’s also Purple Hibiscus played a role. After my first JAMB which didn’t work out, I had a gap year. During that year, I read Purple Hibiscus. There’s a way Chimamanda described Nsukka that made me fall in love with the place. When I got to Nsukka, I found out that the places she described were real, and that added to the allure of the book. Like how can you make something so vivid?
We all stan Chimamanda; one of the best to ever do it. So you packed your bags and made for Nsukka.
I did, man. I wanted Medicine, but I got another course. I didn’t want to stay at home for another year, and I needed to explore Nsukka as soon as I could. Hehe.
Settling in must have been easy for you.
You could say that. For starters, there was new food to try. I also enjoyed the process of blending in. The language was the only major barrier. My Igbo is not the best and everywhere I turned, people were speaking in Igbo. Yes, I got stuck for some time, but I’m good now.
I also didn’t get to visit home as often as I would have liked. During the first semester breaks, I stayed back because there was no point in travelling back to Lagos to spend only ten days. I guess I made good use of that too because it gave me more opportunities to explore other places in the South-East.
Was homesickness the worst thing though?
Hmm. I wish it was. See, I’ve had it good at Nsukka. The past few years have been magical — until about 4 months ago — when everything took a really tough turn.
This sounds serious. What happened?
A cultist attack.
A what now?
I was attacked by cultists. I wasn’t at “the wrong place at the wrong time” or anything. This happened in my room.
Slow down. How?
The day it happened, a friend came to see me from Abuja. He asked me if someone else could come to see him in the room. He said something about a business transaction; I wasn’t paying a lot of attention. I didn’t think I needed to. I just told him they could come as long as they would be leaving the same night. The guy came and left after a while. That was supposed to be the end of it.
But it wasn’t
No, it wasn’t. Later, there was a knock on the door. We didn’t think there was anything to worry about, so we opened it. And there they were; the guy that came to see my friend earlier and three other people. They barged in and pushed us into the room. They warned us not to make any noise if we didn’t want to complicate the situation.
Did they say what they wanted?
No. It was really confusing. I was rooted to a spot in one corner of the room, not sure of what would happen next. These guys had knives and guns.
By a stroke of luck, I guess, my friend dashed past them and ran outside. The element of surprise worked for him, as it was one guy manning the door. Two of them went after him and the remaining two stayed with me. I was really scared at this point because I knew we’d riled them up. I still didn’t know what they wanted. I panicked and started screaming for help. I thought luck would be on my side too, so I managed to run out of the room. It was all chaotic at best. I screamed for help, literally banging on people’s door, but nobody opened up.
Finally, someone did and dragged me into his room and asked me what was going on. I briefed him and he was like, There’s something wrong with this story because cultists hardly target people without cause. Anyway, he hid me in his room, but that only lasted for a few minutes as the cultists were looking everywhere for me. They had my friend already and they briefed people in the lodge about what was going on. Eventually, they found and dragged me down the stairs, questioning me and hitting me everywhere they could. It was terrible.
Did you know what they wanted now?
They were asking me questions about my friend’s sexuality. Apparently, my friend hooked up with the guy that came earlier on a dating app. They were beating us because they believed my friend and I were gay.
My neighbours stood by and watched as everything unfolded without trying to help us. Eventually, the beatings stopped. They ransacked my room, took away my phone, laptop, and most of my clothing. They took my friend with them too.
I couldn’t stay in that house anymore. I packed what I could, moved out and squatted with another friend for some time.
What was that like?
It was terrible. I’d lost almost everything. I was sad and depressed. I missed classes. In fact, I almost deferred the semester. I had this lingering feeling that this was just the first of the attacks, although there hasn’t been any attack since then. Still, I’m always watching my back, suspecting people who stare at me, checking if my door is bolted more than once to ensure it is. This is not a good way to live, literally hanging on to your life, not sure if someone would come out of the shadows and take it.
At some point, I didn’t even care if they attacked anymore. The worst they would do is kill me, and that didn’t seem like a bad thing. Anything just to stop the pain and humiliation that came with it.
Wow. Did you try to involve the police?
Tried that a few days after it happened. I wouldn’t have, actually. But a friend asked me to go somewhere with him. It turned out to be a police station. They sent someone with us to the lodge to investigate. That was when everything got even more complicated.
My neighbours turned the story around and said they met us naked in the room doing all sorts of things with ourselves. That was an opportunity for the policeman to extort me, and he did. He made all sorts of threats and said I needed to pay him if I wanted him to let it go. I paid him some money that night and promised to bring the balance the following week. I knew I had to leave school for a while. I deleted his number and went to Abuja.
Abuja, not Lagos?
I would have to tell my parents the story if I went to Lagos and they would just worry themselves to death. No, I needed to handle it my way.
What about your friend? Is he okay?
I got in contact with him a few days after the attack. He was seriously injured and he said they collected over 200k from him. We both lost a lot; maybe not our lives, but we barely escaped with that too.
This is a lot. How are you living with all this trauma?
To be honest, I’m not sure how I’m pulling through. A lot has changed in me; the littlest things send me into panic these days. I wake up some days disappointed that I’m still alive. There are good days and there are bad ones. The pain is still there, but it’s getting better.
Have you tried talking to anyone about this?
I have. I got tired because none of it helped. There was even this guy from a Human Rights organisation who I was talking to. But he stopped calling me after some time. I’m pretty much alone.
I’m sorry about everything. What about your grades, how badly has this affected them?
I don’t know. I managed to write my exams in the midst of all the craziness, but I don’t think it went well. The results aren’t out yet, so I don’t know. The wait gets overwhelming sometimes, but I’m doing everything I can to stay calm.
Have you made anything out of the whole experience?
I’m not sure I’m supposed to make anything out of it. This is a shitty way to learn a lesson or two. But really, people are trash. They will leave you to your fate when you have a problem. This is one horrible takeaway I’ve held on to.
Has this shifted the way you think about Nsukka?
I can’t let one experience scar me for life. Nsukka is still dear to me. All I want now, though, is to make it out of school in one piece. At the end of it all, I will be fine.
* Due to the sensitive nature of this story, the subject’s name has been changed to protect his identity.
Can’t get enough Aluta and Chill? Check back every Thursday at noon for a new episode. Find other stories in the series here.