SQUASH – Episode 2: The Special Boy And West Africa’s Field Marshal of Bandits

I woke up very early one morning as usual on a mat that could take six kids lying such that our feet touched the rough dry earth. The weather was mostly dry at this time of the year just like every other time of the year in Kano.


My father, Garba called out to Gambo, my mother…I fondly call her Yaya. He requested that she bath me. It was time for him to send me to the islamic school. I could feel Yayas’ heart even though she tried to hide her feelings from me…she was heartbroken and deep down she wished there was another way. What type of religious system seperates children from their parents?


She prepared me and held me in her embrace for some time. Garba barged into her room and took me out of her embrace…Dan Allah, mu je mana!(For God’s sake, lets go!)


I took a deep look at my mother and wondered if I would ever see her again.


I remember when I first came here, I was only four years old. I met children whose ages were between three and twelve. The boys were referred to as Almajiri while the girls were called Almajira.


Malam Musa does not receive a salary so when he is not teaching us the Quran, we are either running errands for the community members or doing the work of almajirai. Many people seeking divine reward and protection gave us Sadaka.


When my first class was done, I waited for my father to come get me, but he never came. I sat at the front of my class, holding on to my wooden tablet the same way I held Yaya, and wept.


Mallam Musa passed by me without taking a glance. He moved in the direction his long beard was pointed. He had trained the grown-up kids in this school so well in the faith that they were loyal and submissive to his every command. Every child understands how the world works from His perspective.


Ina wunie? As I looked up, I saw a Fulani-colored girl staring down at me. I turned my back on her and continued sobbing. My lips were mumbling Yaya in very weird and twisted tones amid the sobs.


She stooped down with me and held my already ink-stained palms.


Yayi(It’s enough). Me sunna n ka? (What is your name?)

I managed to reduce my sobbing and replied to her. Ali.


She went on to tell me her name while she wiped the tears from my eyes. For the first time at the Islamic school, I felt loved and protected.


Fatima was two years older than I was but in the few weeks that followed that day, I developed strong bonds with her. She was my solace and place of happiness.

We were split into groups of three, with the highest-aged child as our captain for each group during our daily community services and begging of alms and food. We never strayed far from each other, and we were always within the proximity of 5 kilometers from the Islamic school. During these outings, I was always separated from Fatima.


A Peuguot 504 drove slowly towards the place I was resting under a tree and as the glass wound down, a middle-aged man motioned to me. I ran towards the car door with a bowl hanging from my neck…I stretched my neck to see into the car properly.


He gave me a warm smile and asked me a question.


Me sunna n ka? (What is your name?)
I replied instantly. Ali!


He patted my cheeks and brought out five mint two hundred naira notes. I was very happy. He went on to tell me that he would be coming every day to visit me here. He also told me to refer to him as Danlami.


Ever since that day, Danlami always checked up on me at that spot and showered me with money. We talked about a lot of things every day. One of those days, he asked me if I would like to become a soldier. I said yes happily and even acted out a soldier shooting an AK 47. Pow… We both laughed while we drank cold Coke.


One morning, He asked me to enter the car, which I did and we drove for a while towards the outskirts of Kano. There were men already waiting for us there. They were armed to the teeth with both military-grade grenades and assault rifles. Some of the men even had Bazookas already loaded.


They looked very organized and in form. Some were on powerful highjack-style bikes while some were on light trucks that resembled Hilux.


They all came out of their vehicles filed out in form and aligned themselves. They were truly amazing in their form. As Danlami stepped out of the 504, they all created a uniform salute. If all these men respect and obey Danlami, It only means one thing…they are his soldiers.


I know Danlami promised to make my dream of becoming a soldier come true but memories of leaving Fatima made me cry. He bent over and asked me, menene(what is it)…I mumbled…Fatima.


He told me that I would only be gone for a few weeks, and when I came back, I would be a soldier, capable of rescuing Fatima from the Islamic school. This made me very happy, and I said; nagwode (Thank you.)


He got back into his car and turned around to leave…I ran towards the car, but he zoomed off and left the wake of the dust on my face.


Kadiri, who was the number one man for the military group that would train me came close to me and said to me…you are a special boy. Our master commanded me to train you myself.

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