Here is a short account of my life as a soldier and a father. The first I can boldly attest I was and still am. But for the latter I shall leave to your impartial judgement. To tell if I owed the essence of my existence to either my family or to the country I swore to protect. I wish the clock would take a deep breath in its workings against the lengthiness of my story, so that, I can bring to you a detail of the vagaries myself and many Nigerian soldiers faced in the battle against Boko Haram. It was a battle that fought us on three fronts. The first is the ambitious warfare of greed amongst our political leaders. Such that breeds an avarice that is puffed up with vanity. The second and most overbearing front is the psychological crises of our obligations as fathers to our families. I have always thought that despite our call to a national duty, we had a root, a legacy that must be maintained and a pedigree that must be sustained. The third front is basically our primary assignment. A job we all swore by our lives to get done. And that was facing a set of beings whose death brought them favour from their god. However, the first front I mentioned earlier produced us into trash cans of their political blunders. Therefore, it was difficult fighting a battle that was not a just cause. More so, with the poor welfares we grew on, it was difficult to put your life on the line for a country you know would never defend your family when you are gone. All of the above could form an encyclopaedia of sorrow when broken into details. Nonetheless, as I also wish to bother you less with our personal grieves and predicaments, I shall be concise, straight to the point and leaving out unnecessary explanations of the politics that led us to that path.
It was 4:30am on the breezy morning of the 6th of July, 2011, after a night of fierce exchange of fire. We managed out with barely no ammunitions to survive another heat. And for a moment we had time to talk about optimism. “Hey son of a gun, what are you going to do when this whole thing ends?” Looking up to the skies, Joe coughed twice; not so much in joy, but more with hope written on his face. “I will rebuild my family, have myself a life, yes! I mean a life”. I held my breath for a while and wondering what Joe meant by a life. Did he mean we were not living? Not to sound naive, I restructured the question. “Hey man, you mean marry a new wife?” As if to understand my pranks, Joe chuckled and gasped. “Hey Bro, who on earth doesn’t know this khaki thing means we are alive but dead?” Though rhetorical, the question blew through my ears and forced some unnaturally-brief clarity in my eyes. It forced me to look at Joe with a puzzled but slight gaze, and then at my rifle. Both seemed new to me. For my rifle, it appeared as though I had been holding a carved stick all the while. Looking around, the blurriness from my eyes could tell nothing was familiar. It wasn’t the lonely forest we had trekked for nights that seemed strange, but the scantiness of the humans around. We travelled in ocean-sands to Maba. About hundred fathers, thousand sons, uncles, I can bet even brothers too. Trying to count how many of us were left only formed watery clouds in my eyes, there was no need, because I could not count Joe properly, it trickled down my cheeks so that I thought Joe more than one. But I was wrong, for we were just four still standing in nowhere, with no map, compass nor food. In fact, I will tell it clear! It was hell on earth. Joe’s hand was round my shoulders now, all in tears too. My tears were not if I would see home or not. They were all for my little girl out there, my heartbeat and my all. I hate to say it, “I am a worthless father. A father to a daughter who was never my daughter…” “Incoming…!” Thundered Private Tayo. Falling to the ground, I gleamed to where Tayo’s alarm cautioned us to. Not an image made any meaning to my sight. It wasn’t darkness nor was it hazy. It was a red splash this time. It presented Tayo’s head in two equal halves and swaying his body dancingly to the ground. My eye balls were losing hold of the dam behind them. Joe was in a similar state too as he cried, “Sun of a gun! When you see God, tell him I Loved Ana truly. I was not just there to show it.” Let’s return the favour was his command. I saluted from where I lay and with a lightening outburst, we opened every last flame from hell at the opposite direction. This time, with a fury of patriotism, not just for Nigeria, but for Tayo, the kids at Potuskum, and all the fallen gallantries of the Nigerian Army. Still breathing brimstone, we kept the artillery. “Form a parameter!” came a second command from Joe. How could three men form a barricade became my thoughts at that point. Yet, we advanced forward, still unleashing rage until I noticed Joe’s left arm rise to a shoulder level, in a manner of a plane taking off the ground. For a moment, a pin-drop silence accompanied the cool breeze that travelled that route. I could sense a divine hand to a turbulent sea. He stepped forward, clearing the little bush that sprang in front with the tip of his gun. Suddenly! A shot went out. It sounded so close that I could not tell who it hit. I could however feel some activity within where my right and left ventricles sat, so that, few results ran through my arteries and further to my left arm. This confirmed it wasn’t me. Joe! Joe’s groans answered my confusion. Dragging all that was left of my life, I shot severally at the direction the shot came from and moved back to Joe. He had been shot on the hand. “I got you brother, don’t move it, just stay calm.” I remedied. “Aliyu, give us some cover.” I tore part of my khaki and tied the wounded spot in order to save his spilling blood. “Aliyu keep it low’’ I cautioned again.
The ambush seemed to be over but dawn was gradually closing in on us. We needed to keep moving, moving to nowhere, just to tell the story and say how it became a history. I held Joe with his unwounded arm round my shoulder, and instructed Aliyu to lead the way as we gradually dragged down a hill. Suddenly! Aliyu started down like a mad dog towards something that looked like a stagnant water. It didn’t seem like anything the body would be friendly with when taken. I was wrong, for before I spelt correctly the word health, Aliyu’s head was buried in it already, gulping every liquid that could pass through his throat. I dragged Joe into it too, so that, we drank hungrily, every liquid that could pass down. Shortly, we were forced into a stop, when an alien sound was heard. One that had nothing to do with water. It came clattering, swivelling and ground breaking. Aliyu crouched first, I dragged Joe from behind so that we instinctively dodged behind a cluster of some green leafy plants. The Armoured Tank passed first, but mysteriously went still as if to have vanished. But I knew the Tank couldn’t have gone nowhere. So I whispered to Aliyu to create a cover from his view while I do the same from behind. Joe will do the same from the middle. Heated perspirations ran down my chest, through my trousers and culminating into a flood to my boots. I could hear movements crouch closer. All that was left for me was to say my last prayer. Say finally, I meet what thousands met before me. At this point, I only felt sorry for my daughter. But she has to understand we are all casualties as J. P. Clark would say. My wife too. I wished we never married than unite in a night just to be apart for the rest of our lives. “Father in Heaven, accept my Soul. Amen!” I prayed. I instructed Aliyu to fire on my shot. Pointing forward, I unleashed every weight on the trigger with my eyes closed. Disappointedly, not a faint meow was heard. Apparently, I was out of ammunitions. I grew cold like a hen in the slaughter house. Turning to see Aliyu’s state, he was fully concentrated and ready to pull his trigger on the count of my shot. My shot never came, not even now, for a round iron steel was resting on my neck. Cold shock ran down my spine, I was ready to die but was not sure if I wanted to be shot. Put your weapons down and lift your hands where we can see them. Aliyu turned in shame. His thought perhaps was, “I sold us out to be prisoners of war.” I turned round gradually, with my hands pointing to the skies and anticipating my end. However, as our lives are like leaves on trees, so is every life designed to last till its end. Certainly, that was not the end of mine. I could feel joy pump from within, jostling against my earlier state and up to my neck. It culminated into tears in my eyes. They are Nigerian soldiers. Wake me up from my dreams, on the dogged badge that glued the chest of the soldier pointing a gun at me, I could see a green to the left, a mud soaked white in the middle and another green on the right. That’s my home, I could say it when I saw it with the slightest vision my eyes could afford. Throughout the journey back home, I was lost completely in a wilderness of thoughts, so that, I hardly noticed the motion of the truck. Each thought presenting images of bodies I saw go lifeless. Returning from such an expedition is one that keeps the body shivering till the end of one’s life. The diverse pictures of blood bath could keep one’s vision blur from normal life outside of the front. If not the inhuman nature of how an enemy’s head was chopped off, the pain of watching your brother in arms fall slowly to the ground, is enough to throw you out of your spirit and far away from normalcy. How I survived this war is what my yesterday has to answer. Yes! I could recall vividly how we left the barracks in full flames of chants and morale. About hundred trucks left Mogadishu Cantonment to Maba. I looked from where I was sitting, the few number of trucks that made the convoy back home, soaked my heart in tears anyone would cry at the sight of his entire family in a blazing house. My brain calculated randomly, the number that left the barracks that day and what my eyes were counting. Where are the rest? What happened to their trucks? Did they run out of gas and will somehow catch up with us? Tears drifted their path down my face, each trickle consoling me thus, “death is once!” I tell you! I saw greed massacre millions into shameless bowels of gluttony. I watched vultures reduce to bones, able bodied Friends, brothers, fathers, husbands and lambs. They were burnt into putrifying ashes, trying to quench a burning forest they knew not how it went ablaze. Joe patted me with his hand round my shoulders. “Man, you got to know if we could, no one would have been left behind, and I mean no one.” His voice shivered too, letting free his emotions. “I swear I will cry no more.” He lied. Or perhaps the stripes of liquid cascading down his face were not tears. “Remember the morale that ushered us on this path? I tell you, those who wish to go for war have truly never been there. Yes! They have never had an experience of it.” By now, he was more into it than I was. He bent his face to the iron platform that made the floor of the truck. I placed my right hand round his shoulders too, so that our hands are entangled. The sirens, the helicopters and the noise from the crowd that gathered seemed familiar. We were back to base. No I was back to base. The shimmery ambivalence on their faces was difficult to say who was happy or sad. There he stood in tears of joy and beside him she wallowed in an ocean of sorrow. Such assessments were quite unnecessary. Especially when your family were yet to know on what part of the welcome ceremony they fell. And so I crossed my bag upon my shoulder and stole the once forgotten path that led to my quarters. The grassy plains only stared like a dog who could not recognise its owner. The breeze perhaps was striking.
“Yes darling, am home now I said”. Lowering my bag to the ground, I opened wide my arms with my eyes closed. It was ten years already since I left. When our daughter was only six. I deserved more than a warmth I thought. The way she looked at me gave my tears a strong mandate to betray me. “It’s me darling’’ I cried. As if the words my teary voice pushed to her mind became some very clear source of identification. So that, she fell into my arms like a tree whose roots had given up its grips. She now recognised me. “How have you been?” I stammered. At first, I thought my voice would fail me, but the persistent regurgitation of her cry sank into me, seeking to find explanations to my displaced priority as a father and her husband. “Let’s go inside, I am home now and I promise to leave you no more.” I said. However, she did not let a word out amidst her uncontrollable tears. It was dawning on me that something more purged her tears. “Darling…our daughter, where is she?” I inquired. She only pointed towards the door. It was evident now that all was not well with my baby girl. Like a mad dog, I made straight into the house, turning in different directions at a time. However, I could not practice any further my state. There she was, lying with her face upwards in my haggard and rickety couch. The sight of her tears arrested me into a gentle felon before his prosecutor. My legs submitted to the orders of my heart so that, I fell helplessly beside her. I tried to wipe the strips of tears that now lined down her ears. She over-heard the conversation between her mother and I. “Baby look at daddy, I am home now” I said. Her face was aimed at me directly. All covered in rash and battered by pulse. “Daddy why did you leave me out in the cold with no coat? … Look at what they did to me. I am going to die pretty soon the doctor told mamma. I never had a daddy is what I shall say to God.” Her tears pushed my face to my wife. “What did…Who did this to her?” I roared! Needless as it sounded at a time as that. I should have controlled my anger. For the sake of my family. However, it’s insignificance and emptiness was easily explained by my wife’s refutation. “Don’t you blame it on me John!” she thundered. “You have no right to give orders around here. If you must know, they raped the life out of her and killed her because… she is …!” She bursted out in tears. With this, I became unstable in consciousness and wishing I never recover. Or better still, I should have died in the fronts. Give me life or death, just not the khaki thing anymore. “Daddy you are a soldier and I am a nobody.” Her slow but steady voice stole its way into my heart, my ears had no powers over them. “Alas! That is why they did all that to me, with no you around.” Her voice broke in segments, but her tears was consistent with her heart. “You said you don’t ever want to see your good girl go bad? You said you will be there when I needed you, you will be there when I smiled, you promised to play with me all my life.” She added. “Baby no!” I screamed, as I held her shoulders tight. My incompetence became my guilt and judge. She remembered every bit of thing I said to her. Baby I will always remember the good girl you were. Her head fell sidewise. I could see my life fall along too. What gun did I need to have stopped those eyelids from burying her eye balls? Certainly there was none but for my lone tears.
By Alpha E. Y. 2016 ©