THE STORY BEHIND UMARU’S BURDEN

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“Baba Yohana! Baba Yohana!” That was Umaru’s wife, also patting him on the shoulder to wake him up. “I am not sleeping, pensive Umaru answered. He has been staring into the dark night for the past hour. “Baba Yohana; God will show us a way. Please, come in and sleep, She pleaded. It was well past midnight and Umaru was neither sleepy nor desired to sleep. And it has been like that for the past three days.

Thirty-eight year old Umaru is a Boko man but unlike most of this people from that part of North-Western Nigeria, he is a Christian. Umaru knows that the Christians are outnumbered as the Boko people are about 99% Muslims, but they have allowed him be. His early days were filled with persecution though, and stubborn Umaru did not seem to have a limit. His journey began when he questioned the validity of Islam and eventually converted to Christianity. The entire village plotted to kill him. But the agreement was that he could only be killed if he showed up in the public during a gathering. There a mob could kill him. However, if someone could kill him privately there will be no problem with that. But the condition was that such a person must do it alone. For over two years, Umaru walked alone and survived many death traps. Eventually a new Seriki got installed and lifted the death sentence on Umaru. But that did not end his worries.

The Boko people have a tradition that requires a man to give a child to his relatives as a way of fostering family bonds. Umaru had done that with Rahimatu, his first daughter. But of late he could not imagine that his daughter who is fifteen years old now would spend the rest of her life as a Muslim. Umaru’s sleepless nights have been on how to retrieve her. When news of that got out, it was like declaring war. Umaru knew he was in effect defying the whole Boko culture. Taking such a child back is unheard of.  But Umaru was set to change that as far as Rahimatu was concerned.

It was not long after this night, Umaru succeeded. Rahimatu was home. But all were not okay yet. Following Umaru’s plans to take Rahimatu back, his relatives did an overtime to poison Rahimatu’s mind towards Christianity and her biological parents in particular. She rejected their food and every care and love they showed her. On an occasion she ran away when they planned to put her in school. Her uncles had told her that school was another strategy to make her a Christian and thereby set her up to go to hell. When Umaru got her back, they decided not to impose anything on her; a liberty she enjoyed. However, she also observed that all the bad things she had been told about the Christians were not true.

Nonetheless, one question wrecked Rahimatu’s mind and on several occasions would ask her dad, “Why did you abandon me? You left me there. Why?” Sadly, her story is not peculiar. So many children in Boko land are hurting from such disconnections from their families: a tradition Umaru and the few Christians in the land want to see changed.

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