After Surviving Treacherous Roads of Nigeria, ‘Pilot’ Flies to Glory

Driver shared in the dangers of reporting persecution.

Emmanuel Atamah. (Morning Star News)

Emmanuel Atamah. (Morning Star News)

JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – I was about to leave for my office one morning in 2008 when a young man approached.

“Good day, sir!” he said. After I returned the greeting, he said, “Sir, please can you employ me as your driver?”

I asked him who had told him I needed a driver. With pleading eyes, he said, “Your former driver who left town asked me to meet you, since he was leaving. He said you’re a good man, and that I should meet you before someone else does.”

After confirming that he had a driver’s license, I leaned on my car and said, “But I have never met you before, and I don’t know who you are, so how do I engage someone I don’t know anything about to work with me?”

“Sir, my name is Emmanuel and I am the son of the late Rev. Atamah, a former pastor of ECWA Church, Tudun Wada, Jos,” he replied.

I told him to meet me there in the evening. Excited about the possibility of securing a job, he quickly left. Having prayed about his request, my wife and I resolved that we should allow him to work with us.

For the next six years, Emmanuel and I traveled to villages that were constantly under attack from Muslim Fulani herdsmen. Emmanuel was there as I entered rooms splashed with the blood of those killed. He was there with me listening to tales of horror as I interviewed survivors. It was not pleasant listening to them share stories about how their relatives were hacked to death. Pregnant women had their stomachs ripped open, and unborn children were murdered. Children had their heads smashed on walls.

We saw blood splattered on the walls of homes. We saw burnt houses and charred church buildings. We visited the mass graves of victims. When Boko Haram began its bombing campaign to put Nigeria under sharia (Islamic law), Emmanuel drove me to dangerous areas, though there were some places that were so risky that I had to go alone.

Emmanuel would be up early in the morning, washing the car, making sure my computers and other working tools were in the car. He also became my work calendar, always reminding me of appointments.

Every morning before we set out on our trips, I would ask Emmanuel to pray, and he obediently did so. I did this because I wanted to impress on his heart and mind that we can overcome all challenges through personal and intimate conversation with God, as Emmanuel’s belief tended to waver.

Whenever we got to a security checkpoint manned by either soldiers or policemen, Emmanuel would be the first to engage them, on several occasions saying, “Morning, sir!” The guards would ask, “Wetin dey for your boot [What’s in the car trunk]?” Emmanuel would respond, “My oga’s [boss’] working equipment, computers, books and clothes.”

“Who be your oga?”

“My oga is a writer, journalist and pastor,” he would say, and as soon as they heard this, they would look at me and say:

“Please, oga, pray for us o, and make you write say we dey do our work well well. [Sir, please pray for us and inform the public that we’re doing our best to do our work].”

I would pray with them and sometimes give them gospel tracts and some money to buy bread.

Emmanuel did not shy away from risk. On one occasion, we had gone to Lafia and were returning to Jos at night. Somewhere between Lafia and Nasarawa Eggon we were told that armed robbers had blocked the road and were robbing travelers. I told Emmanuel that we should return to Lafia, but he objected: “Oga, God will protect us from them. Let’s just go by faith.”

Shocked by his confidence in the face of danger, I told him to shut up. Minutes later, I decided to take his advice and asked him to drive on. As soon as we hit the road, other vehicles that had parked also followed us, and the sight of the large number of vehicles on the road intimidated the robbers; they fled. I marveled that my driver had developed such faith in the face of danger. Deep in me, I suspected God protected us from the robbers in order to confirm the faith of my driver.

On another occasion, we left Lafia at about 8 p.m. to go to Akwanga. Shortly after we passed Nasarawa Eggon, we discovered that a truck had crashed and blocked the road, making it impossible for vehicles on both ends to pass. We waited in vain for hours for the road safety agency to clear the way. As midnight approached, I told Emmanuel to drive back to Lafia.

“Oga, just get into the car, and let me see what I can do,” he said.

Wondering what he wanted to do in an impossible situation, I quietly entered the car. Before I knew it, he was driving along the gutter, in the bush. I was angry that he was taking such a risk, but working with Emmanuel for years had taught me to control myself. I sat in the car without speaking as he drove on. After about half an hour, he maneuvered the car to the Akwanga end of the road, passing vehicles lined up for about three kilometers.

I was astonished when we made it to the other end and got back onto the road, but as we sped on, we noticed another car driving fast behind us. We reached an area known as “Many Have Gone,” as many deadly accidents have occurred there on hilly highway turns and bends. The car overtook us, and then suddenly, around one of the bends, it blocked us.

“These are armed robbers!” I said. Emmanuel did a quick rethink and then drove the car straight at the robbers, forcing them to scamper, and then he banked the car right and left, avoiding crashing into their car by inches, and sped on.

The robbers gave hot chase. Emmanuel kept accelerating until we got to Akwanga town, and I told him to drive straight to the police station. On seeing us drive into the police station, the bandits sped past, and that was how we escaped. We left the car at the police station and trekked to a house in Akwanga to pass the night, before leaving the following morning for Jos.

With Emmanuel driving, “God with us” did indeed seem to be the case. We once went to Azare, Bauchi state, to investigate a bomb attack by Boko Haram, and on our way back we almost crashed into a bridge near Toro at 2 a.m. If the car had plunged into the rocky river below, we would not have survived.

I nicknamed Emmanuel the “pilot” for his dexterity behind the wheel. He exuded confidence while maneuvering the car through impossible situations while I punched away on computer keys or iPad.

His death after a brief illness on Feb. 28 came as a rude shock. He was just 31 years old.

His courage as a driver was unmatched. I had in him, too, a young brother keen to listen and to learn, and it was this capacity that led my wife and I to stop him from driving and instead get him admission into a either a college or a polytechnic. Emmanuel’s admission was being processed when he died.

His death to us as a family was one of many painful things that have happened this year; for one, it came a week after my wife lost her younger brother.

Though sad, we thank God for the fellowship we had with him. What gladdens our hearts is the miracle of God’s saving grace in his life shortly before he died. Testimonies of his last moments from family members clearly indicated Emmanuel recommitted his life to Jesus Christ in his last days.

“The devil has been shamed as Emmanuel confessed Christ before he died,” his older sister told me. “Truly, it was tough, but we thank God that he did it.”

A second sister testified, “Emmanuel, before he died, told us he was already sitting beside our dad in Heaven. He told us not to worry as he would rather be with our dad in Heaven than be here on earth with us.”

While Emmanuel’s death is a painful loss, we are happy that he’s resting in the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Adieu, Emmanuel.

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