A PARAGON OF VIRTUE OR A WOLF IN SHEEP SKIN?
By Ali Diba,
There was so much talk in town about him, his name was on every person’s lips, the story of his generosity, his deep sense of religious conviction has pervaded the town like the rays of the midday sun, he was seen as an epitome of hope and a paragon of virtue in the land where hopelessness and lack of religious senses was the order of the day. Indeed Alhajji Ibrahim* was an oasis to many in his village.
Mrs Halima visited Alhajjis office on Friday and was welcomed by his aide, she walked in and found him seated, “assalam aleykum” she said, he sat there, not looking up, his hands not leaving his chair rest, from a distance he could hear the muezzin making a call for the Muslim’s one o’clock prayer and according to the teaching of his faith, no earthly engagement is encouraged when this call is being made.
Shortly after, he responded ‘wa aleykum salaam” and welcomed her into his office. He called for his aide and asked him to serve the lady some tea, meanwhile a call come through and he excused himself to take it, delving into a very prolonged conversation, which seemed to somehow take control of his emotions, the lady could tell from his body language that the message from the other end was not reassuring. He got carried away and uttered words that he couldn’t have said in public.
With serious frown on his face, he turned his attention to the lady and asked “ what can I do for you” she responded “ Al hajj am a widow as you know, my kids are at home, turned away from school” “ how much do they owe the school” she produced a folded brown letter from the school containing the school’s financial report on her children, he looked at it and said “well I will see what I will do about this, kindly check on with me next week on Friday”, Friday is the Muslim’s weekly Eid and alms giving is highly encouraged. The lady feeling elated, started saying some silent prayer albeit loudly. But before she could leave, her mind felt disturbed. This was due to the phone conversation she was eavesdropping. “Al hajj what was the phone conversation about, you seemed quite disturbed” he looked up and rather surprised “well…. Well, it’s nothing, it was just some little business concern” he responded in a shaky voice, perhaps realizing that the lady had overhead his conversation with the caller. The lady excused herself and thanked him for the opportunity…, the Friday promise and bid him bye. She will obviously come back on the said Friday God- willing she said almost to herself preoccupied by both the relief of the promised help and the conversation she eavesdropped.
On her way home, her mind drifted back to the conversation and tried to make sense of what she had heard, “I’m afraid Alhajj is engaged in some unscrupulous business? Why did he threaten to unleash his power on whoever was on the other end of the phone? Could it be an illegal business? What could be the sources of his wealth?” she wondered aloud. The lady was obviously aware of some stories doing the round in the media, of some traders involved in some fishy cross border business.
Upon reaching home, she narrated to her kids her experience with Alhajj Ibrahim, finding herself at cross road, torn between the urge to establish what the conversation was all about and forgetting the whole thing to concentrate on what help could come her way, but what if the kitty from which her help could come from is from dubious source? Her mind was not at peace, but again here is a situation where her kids are staying at home while other kids are in school learning. Mrs Halima had her moral campus intact despite her overwhelming poverty.
Few days later, the local newspapers and radio were a wash with stories of people missing. A family in Eastleigh organized a press conference and called on the police and the national security intelligence to uncover the mystery of their missing relative, they blamed their disappearance on a business rivalry, upon hearing this, Mrs. Halima’s mind went back in time and the conversation she eavesdropped played in her mind “ No no no, we won’t allow them take this business from us, we’ve invested so much to lose it, you get me, if need be, we will unleash our powers on them” Mrs. Halima found herself contemplating what Al-Hajj meant by this, could they be any connection between this news and the conversation she tapped into the other day? “but Al hajj is a man of high moral values and always prays at the local mosque’s frontline, it’s highly unlikely to imagine he has anything to do with it but again it’s not impossible if the stories and the experience of some years gone by is anything to go by”, Mrs. Halima thought, some people have always used generosity and religion to mask their true character, faith has provided the perfect shield to some individuals whose behavior wouldn’t stand the scrutiny of the society, religiosity was a ploy to deflect public attention from their dirty doings and generosity used as an olive oil to wash off their immoral actions.
Three days after the breaking news, a herder discovered some decomposing body in some thicket in Gurar forest. He raised an alarm and police were called. They positively identified the body as that of the missing person, this caused Mrs. Halima to again go way back in time, many years ago, her husband disappeared in the same manner, only for his body to be recovered some days later. Mrs. Halima said to her son “ this is troubling, I don’t know but it’s like my conscious is pushing me to take an action, what if I report what I overheard the other day to the police?” she added, but her son retorted back “ Mum, that is not right, are you sure you wanna do that?, “you know its someone’s character you are putting on the line” “ yeah I know that, but silence is not an option and after all the police will professionally investigate the matter and if the Alhajj is found innocent, then he will be left scot free” her son enquired further, “ but where will that leave us” Mrs. Halima felt unimpressed by her son and his obvious lack of understanding of the bigger picture, she sat him down and gave him a talk, a talk that centered on her late husband’s unexplained disappearance, the subsequent murder, and what may have probably caused it. He was obviously so young when his dad disappeared without a trace for days and not so much has anybody ever told him about it. His mum being the only bread winner, fending for her three kids had so much on her hands to deeply engage them on such highly emotive subject and besides she wanted them to grow up without harboring any deep resentment for the society, a position which would not have been possible if they had heard of how their dad disappeared and later found murdered.
Mrs. Halima made up her mind and brought to the authority’s attention what she eavesdropped not so long ago so that police could investigate the matter. She gave the police Al Hajji’s contact and left, and within days Alhajji was arrested as the possible mastermind behind the whole saga, after police devoured through his communication.
Alhajji was arraigned in the court of law in a matter of days to answer to the charge of murder alongside other suspect, the case dragged on and took ages before completion, with Alhajji’s family seeking the service of some high end lawyers, riding on their ill-gotten wealth. So much went on and finally he was found guilty and convicted.
Mrs. Halima followed the case throughout the years, fueled by her own experience and longing for justice for her husband, she had this dreams that one day her husband’s killers would be known and made to pay for their crime so that justice is served. So that she could get closure to this sad chapter of her life.
Not so long after the conviction of Al hajj Ibrahim, someone approached Ms. Halima’s family through the council of elders with some troubling confession in the hope that he will be pardoned and possibly be cleansed of his wrong doing through an approach prevalent in NFD called maslaxa system, loosely translated to mean the mediation. It is a system that almost always leads to the pardoning criminals of his wrong doing by way of some compensation, which is aimed at restorative justice. The argument made is that it’s impossible bring the dead back and therefore the victims are asked to take compensation instead. The system worked well in an era gone by when the value system of the NFD communities was a beckon and justice was seen as the its epitome of right. It has however over the years degenerated into a system of might is right, where the weak do not get justice. Rewarding the strong seems to be prevalent.
The wazee implicated Al Hajj Ibrahim in the murder of Ms. Halima’s husband. They told her of how he planned the execution and paid the murderes.
Mrs. Halima couldn’t believe what she heard. Looking back on her journey, everything that used to happen around her started making sense, Alhajji’s generosity towards her family, his concerns and care was after all not genuine but driven by his troubled mind and an attempt to buy his freedom through caring for the family of his victim. She felt bitter but contented in her mind that she has delivered justice for her husband even though delayed.
She looked back and tried to understand why her husband was their target, yet he was just a driver of the company he worked for, only to realize that his uncompromising principles and unwavering values put him at crossroad with those who didn’t like his high moral persuasion and the constant call by him to live their lives as pure as it was humanly possible, a true paragon of virtue he was. His call offended them and hence the need to do away with him before he could spill the beans. He was eliminated
As fate would have it, Alhajji’s family life disintegrated, haunted by the blood of his innocent victims.
Ms. Halima felt a huge burden lifted off her shoulder after the exposé. She must have had sleepless nights trying to piece together possible motivation behind the murder of her husband and who the culprits were.
Ms. Halima was a deeply religious person and took it upon herself to forgive all the people involved in her husband’s murder and even visited Al Hajji in jail. He expressed his remorsefulness and submissively asked for forgiveness, he said “ my sister I have wronged you, am ashamed, it was the worldly pressure, kindly find it in your heart to forgive me” Ms. Halima responded “Alhajji it’s not easy, imagining how close we were as a family, it didn’t cross my mind for once that you were behind it” Alhajji broke down uncontrollably, cursing himself, Ms. Halima tapped him on the shoulder and said to him “Alhajji am at peace with you, my family long forgave you, may the Almighty too forgive you” and she left.
The visit by Ms. Halima proved to be the final nail in Alhajji’s coffin, it tortured his heart, disturbed his mind and drove him into depression.
Alhajji’s life took a turn for the worse, often he was heard talking to himself “I hate myself, what came over me, I’ve betrayed God, and hell will be my permanent abode”.
Alhajji didn’t live long after Halima’s visit, he ended his life by hanging himself, after all, the spirit of his innocent victims couldn’t just allow him the pleasure to live.
* This article is based on a true story and names have been altered to protect identities.
Ali Diba is a socio-political commentator and a resident of Garissa.