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News: The life and death of Aliyu Mohammed Hassan - Nigeria

News: The life and death of Aliyu Mohammed Hassan - Nigeria

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A recent picture of Aliyu Mohammed, right, and his best friend, Mohammed Musa [Femke van Zeijil/Al Jazeera]
Remembering the 27-year-old victim of a Boko Haram attack - and the many nameless, faceless Nigerians like him.

 Yola, Nigeria - Thirty-four people  died in a November 17 bomb blast.  It was one of many to target the Nigerian city. As we tally the number of dead from such attacks in Nigeria, we rarely get to hear the individual stories of the victims. Al Jazeera looked up the family, friends and colleagues of one of them - 27-year-old Aliyu Mohammed Hassan.

The first thing people asked when they heard what had happened to Aliyu was: and how is Mohammed? The two best friends lived on the same street in Yola North, in the Nigerian state of Adamawa, and were always seen together.

But on Tuesday, November 17, Mohammed Musa had gone home with a headache after a long day of teaching. He took some pills and went to bed.

Mohammed Musa lived next door to his best friend, Aliyu [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]

The 32-year-old was still asleep when, a little before eight in the evening, a bomb went off in front of a phone repair shop on the busy road that runs parallel to their street.

If not for his headache, Mohammed would surely have accompanied his best friend, who had gone to get the faulty speaker of his phone fixed.

Aliyu had just dropped off his mobile phone when a bomb exploded in the crowd. He didn't survive the blast.

"My headache saved my life," says Mohammed.



A family picture taken about 20 years ago. Aliyu Mohammed is the third boy on the right, his mother is on the far left and his brother Abubakar is on the far right [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]
 The primary school teacher still cannot believe that his best friend won't be waiting for him after work any more.

The night before the blast they had watched a Premier League game together at a neighbourhood viewing centre – although the friends were Real Madrid fans, they didn't mind watching British football when it was on.

Aliyu had teased Mohammed that night when he bought Tom Tom sweets and neglected to offer his friend any. "Am I not your friend?" he had said mockingly. "Are you not supposed to share everything with me?"

The next time Mohammed saw Aliyu, he was dead.

Aliyu Mohammed Hassan was born on Saturday, December 12, 1987. He was the first son of Mohammed Aliyu.

The 65-year-old sits on an orange and blue mat in front of his single-storey family house clutching his son's students' registration record.

Aliyu's father Mohammed holds a recent picture of him taken in the street where the family lives [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]
The faded blue folder has Aliyu's portrait photo stapled to it. In it, he frowns at the camera, as though well aware of the seriousness of his studies. Also in the folder is a copy of the English language certificate he obtained in 2013, which enabled him to start his studies.

The fact that Aliyu was studying English education at Adamawa State Polytechnic was his father's greatest pride. He was the first in the family to go beyond secondary school.

Education for all

The businessman had high hopes for his son. He wanted him to get a degree.

"I was even willing to sell the house to make that possible," he says in Hausa, stroking his silver-white goatee. In fact, he wants all of his nine children, girls and boys alike, to have a proper education.

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Mohammed Aliyu owns a shop at Jimeta Modern Market that sells rice, sugar and other foodstuff. In the 1990s, when business was going well, he could afford to send his children to the Aliyu Mustafa Academy, reputedly Yola's best school.

He drove them to school himself and little Aliyu used to beg his father to let him get behind the wheel. But when the economy suffered the car had to be sold, and Aliyu would never learn to drive. In 2000, he and his siblings were withdrawn from the expensive school and sent to one with lower fees.



The most frustrating period in his son's life, his father thinks, must have been the five years after secondary school, when they could no longer afford to pay for his education.

During that time Aliyu worked at a bakery to make ends meet. It took until 2012 for them to save up enough money to send him to Polytechnic. But he never complained, says his father.

He rarely had to scold his son, he remembers. But when he did, it was usually because he had been sent out on an errand but failed to return for hours. Aliyu liked to socialise and joked with everyone, he explains, and that sometimes made him forget the time.

The 'Malam'

Ishaqu Tahir, the skinny 16-year-old boy who lives across the street, still giggles when he talks about Aliyu. The older polytechnic student used to call the boy "malam", an honorary title usually reserved for a senior, and had nicknames for all the neighbourhood kids.

Tahir remembers how Aliyu came out of his house on the morning of his death carrying a plate of rice and beef. When a friend jokingly asked if the food was for him, Aliyu laughed and handed it over, before going back inside for more.

Aliyu's younger sister Habiba holds the outfit she had made from some cloth her brother gave her as a present [Femke van Zeijl/Al Jazeera]

His generosity is what his younger sister Habiba remembers most about him. At the last Salah festival, the occasion that marks the culmination of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Aliyu came home with a piece of cloth just for her.

The 17-year-old goes inside to get the dress she had made from it.

Aliyu had a way of making you feel special, she says.

Habiba is the daughter of Aliyu's father's second wife, but that didn't make a difference. "He treated me equally, even though I am not his full sister," she says.

Zainab Mohammed, Aliyu's mother, is not at home. She had to travel to Cameroon to visit her sick mother. His stepmother, A'isha, is in her room. Since Aliyu died, she doesn't feel like coming out.

"He was the same to me as to his mother," she says. "He was a son to me."

She sits in the doorway of her bedroom. Every once in a while the breeze lifts up the portière and the curtain brushes her face.



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