By Kelechi Njoku
Trust seems to be a tradition with the 2015 Writivism Short Story Prize shortlist, and, in this wise, Dayo Adewunmi Ntwari steers clear of exoticizing anything. He does not pause his story to explain the employment of drone strikes in Nigeria’s anti-terrorism combat nor does he describe a certain cortical “implant” in painful detail. He is confident in the reader’s intelligence and holds their imagination in high regard.
In Devil’s Village, a squad of foreign mercenaries—the Bravo Teams—have been brought in by the Nigerian government to fight insurgency in the terror-torn zone of the country. Jahida, an arms trafficker, is on a plane with this team and they are to land at a place called Devil’s Village. Devil’s Village is a community with two different stories to its name—the true story, and the told story. The government, clueless about the faces of the terrorists, is feeding the nation tales of Devil’s Village being an insurgent hideout. It also claims that Christian children there are being used by the terrorists as “human shields”. But, in actual fact, Devil’s Village is a refugee camp of survivors of drone strikes launched by said government on their communities. When Jahida learns of the government’s secret plan to destroy Devil’s Village and everyone in it, she is caught between saving the refugees and minding her business.
The story obviously draws from the controversies the Nigerian army has tackled while fighting Boko Haram. Their claims to victory have been challenged repeatedly: when the army says schoolgirls have been rescued, someone from the crowd comes up to say no such thing has happened. Or that it did happen, but not in the way the army has claimed. When a man is shot and identified as Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau, he resurfaces weeks later, in a “latest video”, issuing fresh threats, and clarifying that he was neither arrested nor killed at all. There are subdued reports of young Nigerian men gunned down on “suspicion” of terrorist activity; of villages razed because soldiers felt the terrorists were hiding in them. No questions are asked, no prosecutions made.
Every war comes with its own bouquet of moral and ethical questions. These questions are of strategy and weaponry, as delivered by these lines from Jahida’s head:
There is no place in this world for the lamb, except on the dinner table of the lion. So what if the government decided these children had to die in the name of national security?
Devil’s Village focuses on an aspect of wars on terror that should instruct humanity: the pressure on defenders of the nation to deliver. The anxiousness they feel as they fight to demonstrate that they are, indeed, delivering. And, when care is not taken, such pressure only pushes this war on a global evil towards jungle-grown propaganda watered by the blood of civilian casualties.
You can find Devil’s Village at Munyori Literary Journal and in the anthology Roses for Betty and other Stories.