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About two months ago, I was at the Abuja offices of New Telegraph newspaper to hold a meeting with Ike Abonyi, the Deputy Managing Director of the paper. He invited a gentleman I have never met to join us at the meeting – introducing him as Suleiman Bisalla. I was familiar with that name on the mast head of the Daily Trust newspaper where he worked before moving over to New Telegraph. He too was familiar with my by line. Somehow we never met until the meeting of that day.
The meeting was strictly professional, but I remember asking the typical Nigerian question; “are you from Plateau state?” He replied ‘yes’. I wanted to go further to probe if he was from the same family as late General Bisalla, but something restrained me. Every Nigerian of my age is familiar with the tragic story of General Iliya Bisalla. He was the brilliant Nigerian general who fought gallantly on the federal side in Nigeria’s civil war. He survived the war, but never survived the vagaries of Nigerian politics. In 1976, he was tied to the stake by his military colleagues and in the full glare of television cameras shot to death!
I watched that execution in Jos when it was carried on NTA network news and it left a distasteful feeling in me from that date till now. I had no close links with those executed except Joseph Gomwalk who was our governor in Benue Plateau state and was so much in love with my Secondary School in Gboko that anytime he had a big guest in Jos and wanted to show off the quality of secondary schools in his state, he would hit the Jos – Gboko road; a stretch of about 500 kilometres that was in a terrible state of disrepair – just to make sure his guest saw Bristow secondary school. He was a young, tall, handsome, humorous gentleman. He made it possible for many of us from Benue Plateau and other states of the North to attend his alma mater, the University of Ibadan. His execution touched me.
If I could feel so much for a man for whom I had only sentimental feelings, how would members of other executed men like Bisalla feel? For the above reason I never wanted to bring the tragic end of that general into my brief encounter with Suleiman. We were surely going to meet again, I had hoped. In fact, in between our first meeting and his tragic end last Wednesday, we had maintained contact on professional issues. I was, therefore, devastated on the evening of last Wednesday when Ibrahim Mohammed of the Pilot newspaper called to inform me that the man was killed in the bomb attack of the day.
In the beginning, Boko Haram made sense to the extent that they wanted a theocratic state, modelled on the medieval style of Islam. Then the only mode of transportation was donkeys; thieves had their limbs amputated while adulterous men and women were stoned to death. Beginning from Borno, the original home of Islam in Nigeria, they wanted the state government to adopt Sharia as state law. Their dream was to have a state and a country where everybody would be a Muslim. If ever there was a pipe dream, this was it. Still they targeted Christians for elimination.
This thing started very far away but it is getting closer to us all by the day. Bisalla was from a predominantly Christian state – Plateau. On his own, he chose to be a Muslim in a family where others are Christians. Boko Haram should have awarded him a medal for rejecting Christianity and embracing Islam. Blowing him to smithereens in a national bombing campaign that knows no religious or ethnic boundaries makes me believe that the people are insane. Worse still I believe that those who have the constitutional responsibility and the material wherewithal to stop this carnage but have failed are also insane. Nigeria, a country that wastes the likes of Bisalla, to put it mildly, is a mad country.