• Friday, June 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

What kind of country is this?

leadership in Nigeria

Ours is a great country – a land of heroes and heroines going way back to the mist of antiquity. Nigeria can be a land of scintillating joy. But it can also be a cruel and murderous place; a land where Lucifer and his infernal legions are alive and doing rather well. I have learned from experience that if you have a good heart and clean hands, the system has a way of singling you out for persecution or even worse. If you joined the secret cults and have a mind to do-in your rivals, all the gates to fortune will open up for you.

The early years of my career were at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) where I had the opportunity of working with senior ranking officers of our armed forces, police and security services. I can testify that some of them are among the finest Nigerians you will ever come across – brilliant, honourable and patriotic. God-fearing and beyond reproach. This is why I can never accept the caricature that is often painted of the armed forces in the popular media as brainless “jackboots”. There were some that fitted that description and probably worse. But there were others who were men and women of the highest character and virtue.

For legal reasons, I shall call him Yohanna. The wounds are still very fresh in our hearts. He was born in Takum, near Wukari in Taraba State in 1967. He went to the local mission primary school. From there he passed the entrance examination to one of the top secondary schools in the country. He later joined the Nigerian Military Academy where he distinguished himself both in academics and military training. He was commissioned into the Nigerian Army in the 1980s and was soon launched upon an illustrious military career. He rose by dint of hard work and merit to the position of director at Staff Headquarters. He was a qualified chartered surveyor while also possessing two Masters degrees, in Transport and Logistics and in Public Administration. A highly accomplished professional, he rose rapidly through the officer corps to the position of Brigadier-General in his early forties. He married a Nubian princess from Southern Kaduna whom I shall call Jummai. They had three daughters whose names we have to protect. Let’s call them Ursuala, 16, Hannatu, 13, and Anna who was only six.

Yohanna loved his family dearly. His daughters were his life. His entire being was centred on work, family and the church. He would occasionally do squash and golf. But he was never the type you would find crawling the streets at night. Tall, handsome and of a quiet and reticent nature, he was the complete family man that is the dream of any wife.

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The manner of his death remains a mystery. What we have been told is that he was in-charge of army supply and logistics in the war against the insurgency in the northeast. In early December he was summoned by his senior officer to accompany him on a field reconnaissance in the Bama area near Borno. The idea was to see the lads on the field and to assess the kind of materiel they needed to execute the war against the insurgents.

Whilst on that journey the senior officer asked them to get off and take a walk to survey the terrain. As they were taking the walk, they suddenly fell into an ambush by the Boko Haram insurgents. The senior officer made for the Land Rover and was whisked away to safety. Poor Yohanna was felled in a rain of bullets. He did not die immediately. His orderly was courageous enough to carry him on his shoulder in a desperate attempt to evade the insurgents. Alas, he too was felled in a rain of bullets. He died instantly. Yohanna did not die immediately.

He was the type of husband that would call his wife every single day to let her know how he was faring. On that fateful day no call came through. By midnight she attempted to call. There was no response. By the following day she was beginning to fear that something must have gone amiss. She continued to call, but the battery of his cell phone went dead. She was beginning to fear the worst. She sent text massages to her pastor and to her church congregation to pray for her husband. She called Army Command and was told that an incident had happened while on a field survey. Unfortunately, the terrain was such that the army was in no position to infiltrate the area on a rescue mission. Three weeks later, during the first week of January, his decaying body was found in the wild bushes of Bama. His name and rank were still stuck to his uniform. He must have died of haemorrhage perhaps, mixed with thirst and hunger.

Perhaps the truth of what happened to this gallant officer and hero will never be told. There were stories of betrayal, set-up and jealousy. The bitter truth is that the once great Nigerian Army is at such a low point that officers do not trust their brother officers anymore. There are moles in the army that report every movement to the insurgents. It was said that the late officer was one of those who ensured that the right arms and supplies were always delivered to the soldiers on the battlefield. He was to pay dearly for his honesty, patriotism and dedication to duty. So did the orderly who tried to save the life of his superior officer.

I was privileged to attend his funeral in late January at the military cemetery in Abuja. All the service chiefs were there as were National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki and FCT Minister Bala Mohammed. Family, friends, colleagues and well-wishers were in tow. A military band played the most solemn martial music. Eerie and sombre was the mood. And then his coffin was lowered to Mother Earth with a twenty-one gun salute. We all walked past the coffin to pay our last respects. His widow and children sat in gloomy silence, totally disconsolate with grief. His heartbroken mother became a ghost and shadow. His twin sister started shrieking and screaming. Many people broke into wailing. I, who always thought of myself as a strong-willed intellectual, began to weep. I grieve for him like King David grieved for his brother Jonathan.

Between the several bungled attempts to hang him, Ken Saro-Wiwa lamented, “What kind of country is this?” A country that consumes its brightest and best; a country with no compassion or justice.

For the believer that he was, this fallen hero did not die. He has been translated into one of the angelic warriors that stand before the Throne of Glory. We should not weep for him; we should weep for Nigeria.

Obadiah Mailafia