Violence and rigging during elections in Nigeria have continued to discourage voters from exercising their civic responsibility. Daniel Usman paid the supreme price for wanting to vote, and be part of a democratic system.
Ripples Nigeria’s Patrick Egwu visited late Daniel’s family, and community to capture their pains over the demise of the young man who dreamt of a better Nigeria
When Daniel Usman left his home in Anyigba, Kogi state to go and vote during the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 23, he had thought he would return back to his family.
He never did – he was killed by stray bullets when unknown gunmen suspected to be political thugs invaded his polling unit and opened fire. It was his first time voting in an election and obviously his last. He was 19 and had just gotten admission to study at the university.
At 7:25 a.m on a sweltering morning, Daniel, had left home for his polling unit where he was meant to vote. Ad-hoc staff from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) arrived late and started arranging their stuff to get voters accredited before voting.
The INEC ad-hoc staff asked the voters to queue up for accreditation and voting. Daniel joined in. After waiting for more than 20 minutes in the queue with the electoral staff yet to start, he decided to find a shade nearby and wait because the early morning sun had just began to rise.
Ten minutes later, an unidentified car drove in at the polling unit. The occupants in the car, who were armed, alighted and started shooting sporadically. In an attempt to run to safety, he was hit by the gunmen’s bullets – on the head, neck and thoracic regions. Another woman at the polling unit was hit by a bullet in the hand but she was taken to the hospital and is in stable condition.
Unfortunately, Daniel died on the spot and so did his dreams for a better Nigeria – a country he loved so much.
“Vote and not fight. Respect yourself and stay out of trouble. God bless Nigeria,” read one of the last Facebook posts he made on February 22 at 9:41 p.m. before he went out to vote the next day. Another one read “Saturday is here again. Friends and family, be wise. No politician is worth dying for. If you die, Nigeria moves on and life goes on. Stay sharp folks.”
Sadly, Nigeria moves on after his death. The gunmen are still at large. No justice, arrests or attempts to arrest the gunmen have been made.
Alongside my guide, I travelled to Anyigba – a fast growing city south of Lokoja, the state capital which is just less than two-hour’s drive away to speak with his family. An untarred road sandwiched between the Kogi State University and students’ residential area leads to his family home.
“We all woke up in the morning on that day and after our morning devotion, I and his dad started preparing to go and cast our vote,” Lydia Usman, 48, Daniel’s mother says while holding back tears. “After we had finished preparing and had breakfast, Daniel called me from the bathroom and said ‘mama, I am going out to vote.’ I asked him, are you sure? He said yes. I told my husband that Daniel said he wants to go and vote and my husband said that he is free because he is a citizen of this country, so he is free to go and vote and that was the end of the discussion,” she recalls, looking downcast, her voice muffled.
“I left for my polling unit to cast my own vote and his dad also went to his own polling unit to vote.”
A visibly traumatized Lydia was the first family member to arrive the scene where her son was killed by the gunmen. Her elder son, Josiah, 23, had called her to inform her of what had happened.
“When I arrived there, he was lying on the ground and people were around. The security men were there when I came. They were the ones that helped us to move the corpse to the hospital for autopsy and then to the morgue,” she told me.
“A day before his death, we went to pray in the church. We were meant to have night vigil but because of the election, we started around 4pm so we could finish on time. Daniel was the one who covered the prayers. When we came home, I encouraged them especially those who are above 18 to go and vote because people said it would be a free and fair elections,” Allan Ochala Usman
Like Daniel’s mother, Allan, 54, recalled how he got knowledge of his son’s death: “His elder brother started calling me, asking, ‘where is our brother? We have seen his pictures online. What happened to our brother? They said he is lying down and he has been shot,” Allan recalls.
“I left immediately with my friend in his car. When I got there, I saw some young men and I heard them saying ‘this could be the father.’ So they told me they have taken him to Grimard hospital. When I got there, I asked the morgue attendant to bring him out for me. They did, I looked at him and saw places where they shot him. I said to myself that God knows the best and told them to take him back.”
On February 25, in a somber atmosphere, Daniel was laid to rest in his village amidst tears and wailings. His country failed him alongside thousands of others who have died in similar fashion.
Dreams cut short
On February 7, Daniel was offered provisional admission at the Federal University, Lokoja to study Physics. A letter from the university which was signed by registrar, Omoayena Duro-Bello read in part “I wish to inform you that you have been offered provisional admission as indicated above, subject to the following conditions…”
Daniel was really excited when he received the good news. He had high hopes for the future of his dreams and couldn’t wait to set forth in achieving them. He paid his acceptance fees and was set to commence registration after the elections were over.
Precisely on the night before he died, he had arranged his books and packed his stuff to go to school after the elections.
“He just got the admission and this is the letter,” Daniel’s father said showing me the letter of admission from the school.
“We have even paid for his acceptance fees and he is getting ready to resume school. These are the receipts for the payment of the acceptance and few other documents. We are already set for school.”
Daniel’s father led me to his room and showed me a box containing different textbooks Daniel had packed in preparation to go to school. Among the lot are physics and mathematics textbooks, neatly placed by the side of his bed. Some days back, a friend who is ahead of Daniel in the same University brought him his academic materials and handouts to help him cope when he resumes.
“He was planning to go back to school if not because of the ASUU strike. He would have been in school by now until God decided to take him from us,” Lydia says.
“He has always been a bright child. He made excellent results when he wrote his senior school examination. At first, he wanted to study Medicine at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife but he was not offered admission. So we asked him to write JAMB again. He did and was offered admission at the Federal University in Lokoja’.
“He was very intelligent,” Allan continued. “When he finished primary school, he made a write up one day and somebody showed me and said ‘if somebody in primary school can write like this, what will happen when he enters the university?”
“At Bedrock International School where he had his secondary school education, they kept one write up he made and the principal showed me when I visited the school. He does motivational write-ups.On Sunday, more than 30 of his friends and classmates gathered and came here. They said that Daniel was not even their mates; that he was a teacher and a role model in their midst. The very day Daniel died, he posted something on Facebook to Nigerians urging them to be careful during the elections.”
The week he was to commence his registration at the university, was the same week he was laid to rest. When his father told his siblings that he would use Daniel’s school fees to prepare for his burial ceremony, they all broke down in tears.
“When I told the siblings the other day that I reserved some money for Daniel’s admission so I am going to use it to buy his coffin for burial, they all broke down, unable to hold themselves. That was another serious trouble here that everybody was unstable. He was to resume after the elections. Daniel is somebody who would like to help us and his siblings. I am a farmer and he is always there to help”.
Lydia offers: “I used to call him soldier because of the way he behaves. He is an action man who loves being where things are happening. If you are employing him as a worker, he is not the type that will come and stay idle. He would want to come and do all the work at his side. He is a very active boy always wanting to do something”.
‘Huge vacuum created in our hearts’
The death of Daniel has left his parents, siblings, friends and others who have come to know him traumatized. His friends described him as not just their friend, but their ‘mentor and teacher’ whom they look up to for inspiration and motivation.
“It’s a great loss that no mother wishes to experience,” Lydia tells me. “I have a computer business and he was the one helping me to run it. He was so close to me that he finds it difficult to move away from me. And he has tried his best to help me one way or the other in home chores and so many things. He is so dear to our heart and losing him is like creating a big vacuum that can’t be filled. We are trusting God to help us fill that vacuum.”
“I once lost a boy at the age of 7 months and the memory is still there even today, talk more of somebody who is 19, almost 20,” Allan says.
“He had high expectations of what he wants to become in life. The most painful part of it is that we all slept with him together. He was not sick; he ate that morning and even reserved his own food which he would eat when he returns after casting his vote. He is well disciplined and committed to whatever he does and he has made some indelible marks while he was here. He cooks for his siblings, even the elder ones. So it hurts that this has happened. People who ordinarily didn’t know Daniel but heard the story are feeling hurt, talk more of us his family.”
Daniel’s elder brother, Josiah remains inconsolable. He said, “It is still not believable and I even cried this morning when I remembered him. I can’t imagine my brother lying on the ground. That was not my plan after graduation because we did family thanksgiving together and were looking forward to a brighter tomorrow,” he says, nodding his head intermittently.
On the day of Daniel’s death, Josiah received a phone call at 11a.m. from a friend who informed him of the incident when he saw pictures on Facebook.
“A friend of mine called me on phone and said ‘do you have a younger brother who went to vote? He said somebody called Daniel has been shot. I immediately called Daniel’s phone but another person picked the phone and told me that he had been shot and the police would not allow them carry his corpse.
“I was helpless and felt like disappearing because I was in Lokoja when I was informed. That was when I called my mom and told her,” Josiah explains.
“I will miss him so much because he is the one helping them at home and when he is around, the younger ones don’t misbehave. Puberty met him early in life and many people think he is older than I am because he looks more mature. He is the grand commander of the house and is well disciplined. He doesn’t go out much unless when he wants to go and watch a football game. He doesn’t like injustice or that you are maltreating somebody because he will always be there to help.”
Goodluck, 9, and Happiness, 11, Daniel’s younger siblings whom he has shared wonderful memories with, say they will miss his presence in the home.
“He is very kind and good. I will miss him because he plays with us,” Goodluck tells me in a low voice, while squeezing his cloth.
“I was heartbroken and very angry at the same time because of the way he died,” Peace Idakwoji Iyeoma, Daniel’s best friend and former classmate in secondary school who saw him two weeks before his death, says.
“It was unbelievable because I never expected it. The last time we saw, we discussed about school and when he would be resuming. He is just perfect in everything, both academically. He is very intelligent and always at the top.”
Iyeoma tells me she remembers his voice the most. “He speaks in a unique way. He was my seat mate in school and I still remember his voice. Everything has always been the both of us.”
At his church, the Chapel of Restoration in Anyigba where he is a leading member of the media unit, Daniel was known for his godliness, selflessness and dedication to duty assigned to him even under little supervision.
“It brings goose pimples to my body whenever I want to answer that question,” Agbana Olubunmi Fumilayo, head of his media unit in church said when asked to comment on Daniel’s personality.
“You can single handedly leave him and he will do everything perfectly all by himself under little or no supervision. He will handle the projector and camera and later do the video editing. He is dedicated and committed in whatever he does. He obeys and keeps to instruction.”
For the love of God, Daniel can do anything to openly show his love for God, Funmilayo says. “He was interested in God and worships him openly. Even as a child in the children ministry, he would often recite bible and memorize verses. You would not find him among unruly people or friends. He is a lover of God and did not hide it. He openly rebukes people on things that were ungodly.”
Killings elsewhere, no justice
Apart from Daniel who was killed for trying to exercise his constitutional civic duty, some other people who had gone out to vote on that day were also caught up in the cross fire. Unfortunately, no arrests have been made and justice seems denied to the victims and their bereaved families.
In Ebonyi, two people were reported killed, while more than 10 were injured as a result of electoral violence during the elections.
In Rivers state, 15 people were reportedly killed following clashes between security forces. A young mother of two, Ibisiki Amachree, who served as an ad-hoc staff during the election was killed by a stray bullet when she was returning home. In a heart wrenching pictures circulating online, the husband of the deceased was seen weeping close to the bullet-ridden corpse of his wife.
Many, who escaped death, have been left with life-threatening injuries and scars which will remain an unforgettable memory of the elections.
The killings and violence were one of the highlights and series of violent events that marred the general elections across the country – something Daniel strongly preached against in his Facebook posts.
Shortly after the killing of Daniel at the polling unit where he had gone to vote, protests broke out. Voters – both old and young who had come out to vote were hurt and pained by his killing. The atmosphere was tense and restive until normalcy retuned with security presence.
“People who were there to vote protested, destroyed and burnt down INEC materials,” Daniel’s father explains. “Everybody was annoyed and even when I came and they saw me, they become angrier. If they had their way, they would have fought off the gunmen if not for the guns they were holding. So it hurts.”
During the church service at his interment, a senatorial aspirant in the state, Victor Adoji and others not related to Daniel or his family in any way, who had heard about the tragic story came to the church to sympathize and mourn with them.
“People that came to the church were many. He was known especially in the church. He doesn’t like staying idle. He likes working. Whenever I remember him, I still cry. There are some things about him that I will remember and I will feel sad and pained,” he says.
When reached for comments on the killing of Daniel and attempts to arrest the gunmen, the Kogi state police spokesperson, William Ovye Aya said they are still on the trail of the gunmen.
“The commissioner ordered an immediate investigation when the killing happened,” Aya says. “So we are still trailing the gunmen who carried out the attacks and they will face justice when they are caught.”
Asked if the police has been in contact with the family of Daniel since the incident happened, without giving a direct response, Aya said: “It was the police that brought his corpse to the hospital. So we are on it.”
For Daniel’s father, the government has failed his family. “They promised us to come and vote that nothing will happen to us, that everything will be free and fair and this happened to my son – a young boy who came out to vote and he was killed even when he was sending out a message of peace and love to everyone who will be voting during the elections,” he said.
“Where is our society going to? Why are people being terrified? Should we be intimidated because we want to cast our votes? Where is democracy? Which one are we operating?” he queries.
“He would have been 20 years old by August 14 and he had great ambitions in life and wanted to make us proud,” Lydia says, leaning back on a couch in the sitting room. “I thought he would return after casting his vote but he is not here anymore.”
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