By Chizoba Chukwura
I believe many of us must have been touched or inpired by the article written by Chukwudi Nwokoye, a veteran of United State Marine published in the Nigeriavillagesquare.com and the Daily Champion of the 3rd and 4th of April,2008 titled: “Why We Serve in the United States Military” Here is why we served in the Nigerian Army.
The zeal of patriotism moved many of us to search for a way of lifting up the Nigerian flag either within Nigeria or across the shores of this country.
Precisely in the year 1994, I enlisted into the Nigerian Army as a Recruit in training at the Depot Nigeria Army after rounding up my Diploma Programme at the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu.
The Recruitment Exercise took place at Regina Caeli Recruitment Office of the Nigerian Army, Awka, Anambra State . Very promising young boys and girls featured in the exercise. Naturally I was not of the giant size, shortly 1. 68, so I considered myself lucky to pass the recruitment exercise. The first remarkable lesson I learnt was that one of my friend and colleague from the food producing area of Anambra State had to part his father’s old farming machete and few bottles of Gin to the Warrant Officer, to enable him scale through. Very interesting, we were all relieved after the hectic exercise that saw us successful.
On transit to Zaria, I was aghast to notice that we had to fuel our lorry without payment; the recruitment officer put the sales man at gun point to fuel our vehicle, an action that is detestable to would-be security agents of the Nigerian Federation. Some of us then have been enlisted more than once, for God knows reason.
Our journey to Zaria was interesting as we were in high spirits. The final exercise took place before the commencement of the training proper. While the final exercise was on, to my chagrin, some personnel claimed different tribes, some Igbos denied being Igbo so as to secure a space, some Idomas, Tivs, Ijaws and Hausas became Igbos and almost usurped the spaces meant for South Eastern State while the people selected from the states was sent back home. A particular Local Government, Wase Local Government to be precise, had spaces for three states reserved for them because they had a senior officer who was opportune, but died between 1994 and 1995 air mishap. These particular chosen and anointed recruits also known as 'admit the bearer' were brought last and were trained for just three months with a promise that their main units will finish up their training.
While we were on training, grapevine had it that some of our officers and soldiers were sadistic, I never knew until one day a particular officer had his day of Laodicean policy.
Umoru and I had been close during our recruitment training, he informed me of what they called the ‘magajia’ list, Chief of Army of List, Hamza Al Mustapha’s List, Danjuma’s girlfriend list. These are the owners of Nigeria Army who decide who is to be commissioned and recruited.
The owners of the Army, the so called Nigerian Army.
It was in 1994 and still remains as fresh as the morning dew in my subtle memory, the events of yesterdays.
Having passed the screening exercise and embarked on our rigorous military training that will surely drain out the civil water in us as commonly stressed by the overdue and unpromoted Senior Non commissioned Officers of our beloved country, its now the time for preliminary guard duty period.
Umoru and I with three other recruits were detailed to go on guard at a certain major’s residence. On our arrival, we reported to the major in question. He indeed briefed us and deployed us at strategic points in his house. As soon as we got settled in our various posts, the major left in company of a certain lieutenant to an unknown destination on wheel of his 230 Mercedes Benz.
Excruciating pains of previous days flogging and ear piercing noise of the famous West African mosquitoes kept us company till 1400hrs, soon our baby faced major arrived dead drunk with a young girl of about fifteen years; both were shuffling in stench of alcohol hand in hand.
The major quickly ordered us recruits to file out; we instantly filed out from our hibernation in front of him and his tender damsel. Probably to boast his ego and rank, he started asking us questions one after another, which we dutifully and frightfully answered. After appearing unpleasant with our response, he pointed to Umoru, my poor fellow recruit, and asked him “Have you had sex before”? Umoru responded in affirmative, then the major thundered “so if I commot, you go go sleep with my babe”? By then I was tensed and afraid of what this soap opera will turn into.
Standing agile and at attention, the major ordered his companion, the young lieutenant to give Umoru a good beaten, instantly the lily livered lieutenant descended on poor Umoru and horse whipped him black and blue, thereafter, the major ordered Umoru to climb the window protector in his house and demonstrate how he normally have sex, how callous we are.
Umoru simply obeyed the last order as usual, while on the iron protector, the horse whip kept landing on his bare back, he screamed his life off. Later on, the major was not done yet, he took Umoru to a water tap where he opened the tap to be dropping constantly on poor Umoru skinned shaved head until Umoru finally slumped, he was rushed to the Depot Medical Center, upon arriving the (M R S) the major lied to the attendant that Umoru had an accident.
While the stone age sadism took place, the major’s young maiden was enjoying the spectacle, laughing with great satisfaction, through out that night I felt disgusted with the caliber of our officers. Is that our professionalism, is that our patriotism, I wish I didn’t enlist at the first instance, really I have never seen my poor friend Umoru after the incidence.
I had a very humiliating experience. One day while we were still training, I was made to stand at attention. The then next thing I heard was: “Ok, now tell us how your people made ‘ogbunigwe’ (Biafran-made bomb)”. When I told them that I did not know; I was taunted, made jest of, harassed and maligned. I was made to do 'nwawo jumb'-to jumb like a frog.
Many of us had to hide our academic qualifications. If you have anything above First School Leaving Certificate, you have to hide it, and not declare it; otherwise, you are marked out for molestation. You would be looked at as a potential trouble maker....'all this sabi sabi people.....' This is our Nigerian Army!
Passing out, after the six months training; we were all deployed to our various Units in the Army. My colleagues and I found our way to Zuru in present Kebbi State. One outstanding lesson I learnt, was that I saw Nigeria and its multifaceted problems- tribalism, sadism, greed, covetousness, ruthlessness and neo-colonialism of Nigeria by those that found their way to the corridors of power. They made outstanding and stupendous wealth from our oil, they shared oil prospecting licenses, grabbed lands to themselves and ganged up to trample to death whoever winked and hissed, claiming to love Nigeria more than the foot soldiers and trench men. Nigeria our Nigeria!
Zuru, one of the villages that produced the highest number of generals; the town that is always noted for its ‘gulumo’ tradition- where brothers became generals at same time when other citizens were told that the said ranks were reserved for quarter application. Thank God one of them has been freed from “the dungeon of Obasanjo”. Thanks to the Nigerian judiciary-we are expecting more of such ground wrecking and breaking judgments.
Dongonyaro experience and groundnut gathering, following the deployment of us to our various company, the knowledge of the Berebe, the Nyamiris, the Langtang and what ever name you might call it, I saw officers relating on tribal grounds, soldiers on tribal grounds, Arewas and Jukuns, Idoma and Tivs, Igbos and Ishans.
In as much as our primary duties as soldiers were guards, sentry and other support service, it was embellished with picking and gathering of groundnuts for the Commanding Officer and sometimes the junior officers.
Many of us were converted to house boys, gardeners, babysitters, that is how some “soldiered” and protected the country. I recalled that on a particular occasion a particular soldier was instructed to fetch water for a particular captain who earlier on have instructed all soldiers on parade to stop calling me Charles, reason, his name was Charles too, though I told him, he could as well instruct Prince Charles of Wales to refrain from being called Charles.
To make short work of this episode, Ayeni my friend in other to fill the drum fast, took along his girlfriend to assist in drawing the water. As soon as they emerged at the residence of the officer with the buckets of water, the officer’s wife took the buckets of water they brought and drenched both of them, he ordered the poor girl out, instructing the soldier to start doubling, the housewife became the soldier’s officer and commandment, Nigeria my Nigeria.
In making a clean breast of my entry and exit, the year 1996 approached fast, the Liberian conflict was going on. My unit full of young soldiers between the ages eighteen and thirty- five longed to be a part of the exercise. I recalled while in school in 1994 the disowning of Colonel Dangiwar Umar Abubakar as never been in the Army, the nullification of the first clean, free and fairest democratic election ever held in Nigeria by the then Head and Tail of State, President Ibrahim Babangida, the execution of Tim Onwuatuegwu, the escape of Brigadier General Hillary Njoku, the formation of Organization of African Unity, the Monrovian block role. The random thought of the multiple issues ran through my mind. I dreamt of the day I will play the role Moshe Dayan played to the Israelites to my fatherland Nigeria; but discovered the road to be full of internal squabbles and infighting instead of patriotic issues.
I was given a clean bill to be part of the contingent after escaping the sledge hammer of the Medical Officer who had stated that my blood pressure was on the high side- a decoy to extorting money from me. Thank God the Commanding Officer arrived early enough to save me from that chaos. The Commanding Officer thundered, “if I don’t go to war with such a young man, do you want me to go with old men, put his name on the list let him go and die there”. Indeed, I didn’t die for Nigeria, rather I lived and still living for my country. Thank God that made crooked things straight.
The role of Nigeria in bringing peace to West Africa was very salient and commendable. Our being part of this great task started in 1996, we sculled to Liberia abode Nigeria Naval Ship NNS Hambe. The sail was very smooth and merry, a journey that will lead us into playing with edged tools. It took us seven days to arrive Liberia Freeport in Monrovia. As soon as we ducked, we were still feeling dizzy by the turbulence of the sea travel. There were already several ships at the duck; and I noticed scuffles taking place overboard. Lots of people were struggling to go on board, probably to make a dash for safety via the ship, do I hear aright, some one is drowned, a white man had pushed a boy of sixteen off board, all search to rescue him proved abortive, a soul have been lost in seconds –anarchy written on all faces.
A day after our arrival in Monrovia, we were all deployed at small, no taste Robert International Airport, Harbel and Owens Groove general area, to be precise. I was deployed to the Company Headquarters. On a certain day we were deployed on road block along Harbel –Fire Stone- Robert International Airport Road, this airport was used to serve American interests during the WW II and was said to have the longest tarmac in West Africa. When we mounted the road block, for about four days we agreed that we were not going to collect money from the road users since we were there to keep peace. We didn’t know that we were there primarily for such duties- frivolous as it is. After four days, it was discovered that we were not sending any return via binocular monitoring. We were hurriedly deployed to remote areas. I was dispatched with alacrity to Owens Groove. I heard no exchange of gun shots from any quarters, though some did. Our company performed cordon and search, disarming of the militant elements and conflict resolutions among locals.
Many of the officers dabbled into gold business, stealing Latex from firestone plantations among other shady deals. Those of us, who could not dabble into such, got settled with our companions, the women of Liberia. There I found my heart throb, the story for another day, we philandered.
The journey to Grand Bassa country was a rewarding one, we served there as Iron Gate for about six months. I really had my days at Owens Groove as we operated strictly within our military responsibility with decorum, why we were having sway in Owens Groove, precisely only part of 1997.
While going through fire and water, we went on a certain day to Firestone Basketball Court purposely to clear it, since it has been overgrown with weeds. After that we went to play football with the locals, it was there that news filtered through my shortwave radio starched my potches “I, Corporal Tanba Gborie on behalf of the Revolutionary Forces of Sierra Leone have taken over Government of Sierra Leone”. The voice called on all their brothers in the bush to come out and join them in reclaiming Sierra Leone from plunderers, thieves and entitlements beneficiaries. He spoke in flared Creole.
I was flummoxed and flabbergasted. The news made me make a dash to an officer, a major standing very close to me, when I informed him of the development, he retorted, “its people like you that executes such action, soon some of you will start to act same way, but before then we will get you crushed”. May be the “we”, meant the officers of his type.
The match of the day ended and gradually the news spread all over the world. Fear gripped the entire Manor River Union countries: Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Gambia. Back in our locations, we were individually contemplating what will come out of these left winger action in Sierra Leone . Barely forty-eight hours after the toppling of Dr. Ahmed Tijan Kabba’s government, ECOMOG (ECOWAS Monitoring Group) operations was extended in full scale to Sierra Leone. About two companies of soldiers picked specifically from Nigerian battalion twenty-five were airborne to Sierra Leone. Task was to stabilize the renegade Government of Sierra Leone, a ploy to bring Ahmed Kabba back to power from his hide out in Guinea Conakry, a host of Lansana Country, the man with the standing stick.
Leading the onslaught was the heart strong Brigadier General Maxwell Khobe, the soldier’s soldier. Our mission in Liberia ended abruptly, the movement of “Ojebelu afor no nkwo” started. While we embarked on this mission of which I will not go into details, I discovered that the human spirit was very strong and powerful, though ill equipped for the operation, the task was accomplished, am proud to be part of that exercise. The first time a sitting Military Junta spearheaded the installation back to power of a sacked democratic Government. And the reason? Probably to set a record and to discourage ambitious other ranks from attempting such ill thought. The junta started fighting the junta, the rogues chasing the rogues, that exercise confirmed the maxim, that it takes a thief to catch a thief.
In Sierra Leone , blood flowed; I recall the bombardment of Queen Elizabeth the Water key, the Makeni Town Hall, Tekor Barracks, Magburuaka Airstrip, Cockhill – the Army Headquarters and bizarre strafing along Sankos garage.
It took ECOMOG not more than four months to bring Dr. Ahmed Tijan Kabba back. First he sneaked in, one evening with Nigeria Airforce 12 passenger airplane. Right in my presence, late General Abacha, at the time Nigeria Head of State, gave late General Khobe orders to match to Freetown via satellite telephone; while Kabba stood in his Modingo dress, helpless before the General –power indeed is powerful, that’s why some want to have it as their birth rights.
Who has the Army, has the power. In your country, who has the Army, the people or the clique or gang who robbed the country through the Army; and is using the army to protect the loots, their collaborators inclusive. The operation in Sierra Leone was smooth, the Lungi Garrison collapsed, the government led by Major Johny Paul Koroma. Tekor Barracks collapsed, Benguma Training Base deserted, cockrill – the Army Headquarter ransacked. The officers, rank and file of the Sierra Leone Army crumbled. There was disarray and total confusion, in fact there was total macabre dance in that beloved country. The dust started settling down after President Kabba was officially given a resounding welcome at Lungi International Airport. On that faithful day, the then O A U Secretary General, Ahmed Salim Ahmed was in attendance; the Malian President Alpha Omar Konare, Guinea Lansana Conteh, late Ibrahim Mainasara of Niger, the last visit before his sudden execution by one of his Generals, Deputy President of Liberia, the goggled Nigerian President, General Abacha, who arrived last. It marked the day of homecoming for Sierra Leone. Tijan took over and had his sway from signal hill.
Our hands were full, but I remembered something behind the line, guess what, my wife was in Liberia, precisely at Iron Gate Grand Bassa country.
The thought of her made me to obtain a one week pass that enable me to send her to Nigeria after sorting out with the family according to Bassa Congo traditions. The visit to Liberia from Sierra Leone , though legal, earned me three hours detention at ECOMOG Headquarters. Thanks to the prompt response of ECOMOG authorities in Freetown that gave a flash signal for my prompt release. Thank God, I flew back to Sierra Leone.
Upon arrival my company being led by one of the best and courageous middle rank officers, precisely a Gulumo- Bendenkere from Zuru, though a Moslem, a Hausa man, a northerner, we lived and fought like true Nigerians –no tribal- no religious –no class –or rank classification.
Our primary aim and tasks was to secure our area of responsibility, protect the locals and the key post, Bumbuna Hydro Electric Project. Not a pin was lost until our departure from the Bumbuna –Torkolili- Magburaka general area. I must state here that the military exposed us to major Nigeria problem, basically tribalism, greed, lack of maintenance culture, neo- colonialism, un-productiveness and mediocre leadership. Tribalism was made manifest, when MKO Abiola died. The Yorubas in our company were mourning and some Fulani and Hausa Hybrid soldiers fired shots in the air. When General Abacha died, the Yorubas were jubilant and fired shots in the air. This event took place within the Army of Nigeria in foreign land, what a mess of our patriotism. The Igbos and other minorities were all stupefied. Such situation was what mad militant General Mosquitoe exploited to overrun Lunsar and MakeniGeneral areas with his band of plunderers and looters.
Un-Productiveness, a certain battalion armed their soldiers with shovels and pick axe, abandoning their military duties in search of diamond and gold. It was apocalyptic, the collapse of the said battalion on the onslaught of the ravaging militants across the border of Liberia.
Mediocre leaders, placing the men under a commander that cannot crawl, not to talk of walking, made mincemeat of some of our operations; a situation where soldiers lapped their commanders is not only funny but nauseating. Some of us see themselves as the colonial master since the Britons were gone.
Our mistake, in the bid for us to succeed, blunders were nefariously committed, while the Sierra Leone Armed Forces (S L A) collapsed. Some of them who appeared loyal were hurriedly re-absorbed to cover some gaps at 24 ECOMOG Brigade, Makeni. As soon as the rebels attacked, they abandoned their positions and fled, leaving the Nigerian elements to the mercy of the butchering knives of the rebels, the story will be better told by the Commander of the then 24 ECOMOG Brigade Makeni –Tekor Barracks.
To God be all the glory, gradually peace have started returning to Sierra Leone . As at that time some of us have become neurotic, nostalgic and non- compliance. Our mother unit based at Baunmbu was given orders to move back to Nigeria after three years in foreign mission. Naturally I was still at the wooden Congo house, at Signal Hill, our regular monthly hibernation base. There I got instruction via life Guard Securities, a security outfit made up of Angolans, Zimbabweans and South Africans bearing British Passports hustling for diamonds with collaborations of the Ukrainians, how they plundered our beloved Sierra Leone. I was asked to stand by, I did, and my other comrades in Task force Bumbuna were airborne the next seventy two hours. We flew to Nigeria on the eve of rumors going around that Obasanjo Olusegun Mathew General and president to be was dead. Indeed it was a grapevine going round the town by mischief-makers.
Motherland, here we come! We landed at the local wing of the Lagos airport in the bosom of Charlie One thirty (C130) with only one serviceable engine through Sierra Leone to Nigeria. Our motorcade through Lagos was heart warming; we forgot our pains and difficulties. The Vietnam experience, we threw money to fellow citizens for waving at us, some in Leones, some in ‘liberty’ and some in naira. That day, I shed tears of joy, I celebrated my life out. Though many saw their graves in the bushes and forest of Liberia and Sierra Leone, I lost neither my limb nor my life! By the time we got to our rear Unit, our wives we left with had daughters and sons for us at the rear. That’s part of the blessing, what can one do.
As soon as we settled, we were given passes in batches. I was among the second batch. I recalled that when I got to my hometown, rumors have gone round that I have died, another had it that one of my limb have been amputated. While my bosom friend was sharing his joy about my survival, he remarked “rejoice, you are blessed, while others died, you came home with a wife and a son, rejoice my friend”.
Everyday has its sun. After the expiration of our passes, we returned to the units to face the charges of marrying foreigners. The chief accused was my poor self. Before they could start their left right, left right, turn about, I packed my things and left them, leaving their Army for them. I am still waiting for our Army, the true Nigerian Army where I will feel as equal with the man from Katsina, Zuru, Dadinkwo, Shagari and Belewa, not an Army where it is an anathema for ‘nyamiri’ to hold the key of neither the Armoury nor the flag house.
If money launderers move freely, thieves celebrated, illustrate dangle degree certificates before our faces. If Alam, the Governor General of Niger Delta moved around shoulder high, why should I be afraid, intimidated for a mere reason of marrying a Liberian whose dowry I paid, whose marriage was blessed, yet we left about five local Government population which we owe procreation to in Liberia and Sierra Leone respectively. Men that fathered no child in Nigeria did in Sierra Leone and Liberia , just as Americans did in Vietnam , Korea , Japan , Afghanistan and Iraq. It is high time we start including them in our yearly economic planning and budget. There is no pretence about it.
Compatriots, that was how I enlisted: that's my entry and my exit!