It depends on how you look at it. But if for about ten years, many churches, traditional shrines, a beer parlor, hard drug peddlers, and all shades of hustlers could harmoniously co-exist on an expansive rock about half the size of a football field, day and night, it should be that men have found a means of doing the godly and ungodly businesses together.
“It is only you that did not know when Firoro Garden was bubbling like hell here”, said a Bini woman who owned part of the large flat rock, at the end of Firoro Street, Unguwan Boro, a Christian suburb, south of Kaduna metropolis.
This reporter was speaking with the woman under a shade of zinc roofing that connected the tiny apartments she shared with her family of six, as she served him a drink, while the hammering noise of heavy metals chipping off parts of the granite rock kept disturbing the conversation.
“That time, I sold drinks and food of over N100,000 everyday. I doubled that amount on a good day”, she said, as her two-year-old baby (Favour) clogged her movement in the two-room apartment which she and her husband had managed to erect from the “good business.”
“Many DJs were always here, and people had a good time every night till morning”, explained the mother of four.
“As soon as we closed, church people would be waiting. They were paying well to use this place. Prayers started by 6am each day. That was when I caught some sleep”..
“You see that place”, she said, pointing at under a tree where some white garment church members were lost in noisy prayers, “from there down- hill, my husband owns that plot that formed part of Firoro Garden.
“The local chief owns most part of the rock, but he has sold every part of it”.
She continued: “On our plot alone, we have about seven churches. There are some shrines on the rock, but you will think they are churches. People come here with all kinds of problems. It is only a mosque that you cannot see here, because no Muslim lives in Unguwan Boro. I have never seen the home of one since I came here about ten years ago”.
Looking at her three-year-old son who just ran to her from God knows where, she screamed from her seat, “Lucky, what is this? Who designed your face with charcoal like the child of a masquerade?
“Na so dem dey begin make small pikin become winch (witch)”. She started rubbing off the markings from the boy’s chin with the edge of her wrapper.
Then the conversation went on:
“You asked me about the people coming here”, she said, clearing away an empty bottle. “This place, I will not lie to you, many other things happen here. Bad boys hang out here. But they cause no trouble for anyone. Bad girls also come, but no palaver with others using this hill. The problem of everybody here used to be the police, but it has reduced very well.”
She said that part of the reason Firoro Garden had to close shop was because of extortion they faced from the police.
“Now, if I sell two or three bottles of beer, I will sleep well, because there will be no police to ask for anything in the morning, or claiming that we had to come and pay for bail on a man who left here and got into trouble afterwards.”
She narrated, “One day, about three years ago, a show was on, those drinking and dancing were enjoying themselves, those praying outside were serious in prayers. Then the police arrived around 12 mid-night and started shooting into the air. It was in the rainy season, and that river”, referring to a perennial stream that runs down the slope of the rock, “was full that night because it rained heavily in the evening.
“Some of the boys and girls started running and jumping into the river. Those that could not swim got drowned.
“In the morning, two corpses were found inside the shrubs by the bank. The following evening, some fishermen found two more corpses. And some more were found far away from of the river here.
“Following that incident, we had to pay and pay and pay to the police, even though they were the ones that caused the problem. They said they were trying to arrest those who were doing drugs; that was why they fired into the air. “My brother, we decided that it was not worth the business on that level again.
So we closed to this small level, and we are free and can manage our lives like this. But I will never forget that tragedy, because I know some of the boys and girls. Young happy children, just gone like that”. She painted a picture of ‘Paradise Lost’, saying the family opted to remain on the rock only because it owned part of it. But it did not look that way. A stroll round the rock showed that most of it had been carved into not less than 18 churches.
At least three slots, each of the size of a badminton court, had the look of a traditional African shrine, but with no chief priest in sight.
One coach of block fencing delineates each church from the other. Only the Cherubin and Saraphine Church had completed its building at the entrance of the rock.
There were many prayer groups on this Thursday morning on the rock, as if it was not a working day.
“I have a one-week prayer and fasting commitment with my pastor, and I am to pray from morning till I break my fast by seven in the evening. It is more important to me than work for now”, said a primary school teacher who spoke to this reporter on the rock.
But, just about ten metres away, a group of boys sat under a tree resting, with two of them smoking.
When this reporter approached them, their street-wise eyes screened him. He asked them if he could buy “very nice cigarette”.
“Boss, we don’t sell cigarette,” one of them responded coldly. “Okay, I can see that you don’t want me here”, I said, and moved to sit a bit far from them. After about twenty minutes, one of them came up and said, “You must be a new policeman in town”.
“Me?”, I responded. “I am too much to lie to my kid brothers. I am new in this area, but I am not a cop. God forbid! I am not a policeman. Believe me; I just want to feel cool. That is all”.
After appraising me for another five minutes, the boy said, “You would have to come with me” , pointing at another group, whom he said had the best stuff.
But we had to cross a gulf to get to the group and that would take some ten minutes.
“Boss”, the guy said, “ if you want real clean girls to go with the stuff, that is where I come in. I hate smoke!”. He said if I came by 9pm, I would have many stuff to choose from.
“I will tell you the ones that do powder (cocaine) , and the ones that do stone (marijuana), there ones that will give you problems, and those ones that you can even cheat, all for something ‘small’ for your boy”. He was a pimp.
When we reached the group, the boy who has now become some kind of an escort to me greeted them. Then, he and two others moved away to a location behind another tree.
They talked for a few minutes and agreed on the deal for “my stuff.”
“These people that come here to worship are not fanatics. They do their own thing, and we do our own. In fact, some of our girls also join them sometimes to pray before leaving with a man for the night”, my escort said, and we all laughed.
Soon, the stuff was brought wrapped in a piece of paper and I was informed that it was going for N2,000, because it came straight from Kwale in Delta State, and was prepared by a master.
I gave them N3,000 instead of N2,000 without looking at the content, which surprised them.
“You are my kid brothers. If it does not go fine, I will return it and take back my money”, I said.
They all swore on their “honour” and “good reputation.”
Seeing my generosity with cash, they thanked me profusely, asking for my phone number, which I gave out.
When I got into my car, I looked at the small space full of so much mystery.
It had an unbelievable level of tolerance between the godly and the ungodly with the police acting at the spoil sport.