This story is based on a true event.

Dedicated to the four University of Port-Harcourt students killed in a small community in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria in western Africa

Thief, thief, thief…. It sounded like the screams of a local market woman in one of those Nigerian home videos.

Thief, thief, ole….. Yes, that’s the exact sound. It was that of a woman only it’s not coming from any sound system, neither am I in a theatre; this was real, there was a woman shouting thieves in a manner that calls out the entire community and worst still she was shouting it at me.

Thief, thief, ole, ole….. O my God! What is happening here, I can now hear other voices calling out the neighbourhood and “No” this was not funny, not even in the slightest possible way. I turned to my friends there were four of us, we were not sure what to do, how to react or who to turn to – for we were being called thieves in a community where we best past as strangers and confusion was setting in.

We were all young, youths as they call us. We were all students of the university, all four of us, friends, room-mates and even-though we came here with annoyance trying to retrieve the money Christopher was owing me, even though Christopher who was owing the money had refused  to pay and promised to deal with us if we don’t leave his house. In our youthful exuberance we had tried to prove our manhood and applied force. Even though we had seized his laptop computer and mobile phones with hope to incite an expected reaction, Christopher branding us thieves at the top of his voice was definitely not the expected reaction.

At last with young men jumping out of no-where with long sticks and machetes, we knew there was only one thing to do RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN….

 And so we attempted to run but that was all it was, an attempt, for it was too late. My heart was now beating faster than any festival drums. It was 4:00a.m., what explanation could we possibly give. I remember the plan, I remember it very well and it was not to steal from anybody. I remember Tony saying, “The foolish boy is hiding because he does not want to pay the money, so we would go early in the morning when we are sure he would be at home and if he has no useful thing to tell us, we would seize some of his property until he pays the money.” I was sure we had stuck to the plan but nobody expected Christopher to call us thieves, not when he was the one owing us.

A big slap on my face brought me back to reality; it was followed by another and another and then, the sticks. No one was asking what happened, I was expecting someone to ask what happened. If someone had asked, I would have told them that we were students; I would have told them that we had no guns, but no one was asking; everyone was beating us.

It was Michael’s voice I heard first and then Emeka shouted too. Tony also told them and I joined in, we told them, we told them that we were not thieves. We told them that we were students from the university that we were not thieves but they would not listen, they just would not listen. One of them branded us with another title “Cultist” they called us cultist, thieves, armed-robbery. But where are the arms?

They dragged us to the streets and stripped us naked, all four of us. They flogged us on every part of our body with sticks, big sticks. Some had nails and they hit us with machetes. I screamed at the top of my voice, I screamed but not as loudly as Tony, Michael also screamed and so did Emeka. We screamed till we could scream no more.

I looked up and the mob had tripled, they were dozens, men, women, young and old all calling us thieves with anger in their voices. They threw stones at us, big big stones. They hit us with sticks and flogged us with their machetes, breaking our skins, blood everywhere. All these people, men and women, young and old, none would listen and now we could no longer cry, we could no longer scream, we could not tell them any more that we are not thieves.

We are students, innocent students and most of us, although they knew this – or so I hoped to believe we could no longer tell them that we were human beings, and that was when it struck me. 

I could barely move my body, the pain was unbearable. Where do I start, my head-aches with blood everywhere. My legs felt paralysed but not without pain. My hands were heavy, too heavy to lift, even my fingers felt like it has been slice into many different parts using a razor. I was in pains, I was in pain, I was in so much pains. I tried to look at my friends, I felted guilt – so much guilt, why did I bring them here, and again it struck me.

All I could hear now were voice, voices and many more voices; were they about to let us go? Have they realized on their own that we were student? Have they realized that we were human beings? I tried to listen to listen, they might just say “let them go” I listened if Christopher was still there, if he would tell them. If he would tell them that we were not thieves. Tell them that Tony was going to be an engineer, and that he was bright, so bright. Tell them that Michael waited 4 years before he gained admissions and that he was only in his second year.

Tell them that Emeka only paid his school fee yesterday and that he was the first child and hope of his family. Tell them that my father is late and I was an only son. Please, tell them we are not thieves, tell them we are students, and tell them we are human being.

I listened to the voices, I listen and then I heard something, I heard something and they said it twice and it struck me again that this was my end, this time I was sure for I had them say, “bring fuel and tire”

It felt hot, the liquid they poured on our body, but not as hot as what followed, we screamed at the top of our lungs but I doubt any one heard us.

They did not hear us when we said that we were not thieves.
They did not hear us when we said that we were students.
They did not hear us when we said that we were human beings.
They did not hear us when we had life, how can they hear us now when the life have left us.

I can only hope that even now you would hear – We are all human beings.
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About AdrianPastol Nnochiri


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