By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
The spate of unnerving stories about “evil forests” and “ritual killers” in Ibadan and Abeokuta that Nigerian newspapers have regaled us with over the past few weeks reminded me of my own chillingly close shave with “ritual killers” in Ibadan in 1999.
In February 1999 I was admitted to University of Ibadan’s MA program in Communication Arts. I was then a reporter with the Weekly Trust, which was headquartered in Kaduna. When I received my admission letter in the mail, I told my editor that I would relocate to Ibadan to pursue my MA and asked if I would be allowed to be the paper’s correspondent in Ibadan.
Weekly Trust was barely a year old then and I was one of the paper’s core reporters. As I expected, my editor said my sudden departure would disrupt the paper’s steady progress, so he pleaded with me to defer my admission to the following year. I wasn’t persuaded. I really wanted the MA.
On a Sunday night in March 1999, I set out for Ibadan and arrived there on a Monday morning. I went straight to the University of Ibadan and started my registration. I thought I would be done with it in a day and return to Kaduna the following day, but it turned out that I needed another day—and maybe more—to go through all the protocols of enrollment.
Because I hadn’t slept on the bus the previous night, I was so thoroughly fatigued by the close of day that I could barely keep my eyes open.
I got out of the university campus and asked someone to direct me to a nearby hotel that was moderately priced. I had no success finding one. I was told that I would get one if I went a little further into the city. I did, and found a hotel whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. By the time I found the hotel I was unimaginably dog-tired, and night had fallen.
The hotel “staff” appeared overly nice. But two things conspired to arouse unease in me. First, they didn’t seem to have a standard price for their rooms. They asked how much I was willing to pay, which was and still is unusual. I called a ridiculously low price for their best rooms and thought they would scoff at me for my chutzpah. But they didn’t. They accepted my price without the slightest hesitation. Second, it seemed to me that the staff exchanged suspiciously evil glances of triumphalism when I agreed to stay in the hotel.
But I was too worn-out to care. I just wanted to rest my head and catch some Z’s. About 30 minutes into my sleep, the lights went out in my room. The heat and discomfort that this produced caused me to wake up. Then I sensed a dead and ominous silence in the entire hotel. Before I went to my room, there was music in the hotel’s lounge and scores of men were playing and talking with the boisterousness that is typical of downscale hotels in Nigeria’s south.
Suddenly, my instincts told me I had been lying right in the jaws of death. I had been ensnared by evilly wily ritual murderers. As I was contemplating the way to escape from my room, I heard the barely audible but nonetheless menacing tiptoes of a bunch of men who spoke in hushed, conspiratorial voices. Their voices became more distinct and more audible as they got closer to the door to my room. Then they suddenly stopped.
One of them said in Yoruba that it was the right time to strike. I felt my heart jump into my mouth. Then it sank back to where it came from. Another man said it didn’t seem that I was sufficiently deeply asleep for a successful operation. The third person agreed and said they should return in an hour.
Having been born and raised in the Baatonu-speaking part of Kwara State that nevertheless shares boundaries with Oyo State, I understand enough Yoruba to understand at least 70 percent of a typical conversation in the language. But my potential killers called me Gambari, the Yoruba name for Hausa people. Of course, with a name like Farooq Adamu (I hadn’t started to bear my family name, Kperogi, at the time) and a Kaduna address, it was easy to mistake me for a “Gambari.”
The moment their conspiratorial whispers and steps receded into nothingness, I plotted my escape. I located my small traveling bag in the pitch-dark room, got hold of the scissors I often used to groom my beard and moustache, took out the glass window shutters (or louvers), tore the mosquito net, and escaped unnoticed.
I was shaken to my very roots. I got on a bus and headed straight to the University of Ibadan and located a students’ hostel. I pleaded with a student to let me spend the night in a small room where four other students slept. He graciously obliged me. The following day, I left for Kaduna with the earliest available vehicle traveling to Kaduna.
For many months after the incident, I was deeply traumatized. I still get the sensation of numbing terror each time I recall the incident. My life would have been cruelly snuffed out by some backward, murderous, superstitious psychopaths because an ignorant, pre-scientif culture tells them that a dead human being’s body parts can be used to mysteriously pluck unspeakable wealth from the air.
This all goes back to the point I made in my March 29, 2014 article about the“closing of the Nigerian mind.” As I pointed out in the article, “unthinking obsession with supernaturalism and metaphysical claptrap is Nigeria’s, nay Africa’s, biggest stumbling-block to progress.”