"They were my eyes, my friends and companions"
Born blind to a poor rural family in Bassa area in the central Nigerian State of Plateau, Matthew Evi Vigye, 35, faced painful struggles since childhood, but never relented in the quest for a better life.
Unlike many of his disabled peers, Matthew shunned begging, and instead engaged in petty business and peasant farming, while paying his own way through school. His older brother and uncle supported him when they could, but both were killed by Islamists fundamentalists in 2008 and 2017 respectively. Yet, Matthew remained strong and prayerful, becoming one of the most influential youths in his community. When the need came for a leader, the Disabled Association in Jos North asked him, given his passion for social change and resilience.
At the age of 30, he got married to his heart throb, Victoria – a successful businesswoman and diploma holder. They both shared beautiful dreams and a passion for Christ's gospel. Together, they built a house and he started a university degree. Their two kids – Gospel, 4, and Praise, 2, both in school – also enjoyed the best of care. Together, they made a home full of love and happiness, providing a good example to others in the community.
Attacked in their beds
Sunday, 23 May 2021 was a day like any other, with the four having their normal loving moments in their Dong country home near Jos. After church, they shared good memories, but that was to be the last time. At about 9pm, shortly after rumours of planned attacks by Muslim Fulani terrorists circulated on social media, the joy that enveloped the family was cut short.
"My wife had just led me to the toilet behind our house. Since I can't see, I couldn't go alone. When I was done, we went back to the house cracking jokes and having a good time. She left me playing with the kids and went to watch TV in the next room. She was joined by the kids a while later. It wasn't long after my wife said she wanted to go and sleep that I heard gunshots. I can't see but I managed to get to the door and called out to them to come in because it is an armoured door. But before they could make it, Fulani people surrounded them," Matthew recalled.
That night, Matthew's wife and kids were killed. Being sightless, he could not run or save them. He simply hid behind the door, listening to his "best friends" groaning as they succumbed to death, after the thunderous gun blasts of the invaders.
Wife and children were his eyes
"They were my eyes, anywhere I wanted to go, this woman [my wife] would lead me. If I wanted to get something, I would send my kids. I am a student of the University of Jos. Sometimes when I was going to school, they would shout out to me to stay back and spend time with them. When I returned, they would so rejoice to see their father back, but now they are no more," said a tearful Matthew, who questions whether the government cares.
"Is the government hearing us? Is the government listening to us the Irigwe people? This menace has been going on for years with no concrete action. I lost my elder brother to the crisis. I lost my uncle to the crisis. Today my wife and two kids are no more. Where is the government? Irigwe people are killed day after day, and the government is not saying anything. The government has the power to command, to control, to direct, but it's not doing so," Matthew said.
Sixteen people in all were killed on the night of the attack – eight in Dong village and eight in Kwi, in nearby Riyom area. Six others including a Christian policeman were killed in separate attacks over the next 48 hours, forcing Matthew and other survivors to flee their homes.
Before the attacks, the University of Jos was closed due to threats by Boko Haram. Matthew stayed at home for nearly a month, waiting for the threats to be contained and resume school, complete his studies and get a good job to feed his family. But now he is lonely and homeless after the killers, operating with the same motive as Boko Haram, followed him to his safe haven, and stripped him of his peace and joy.