War In The NorthEast: The Enemy Within
I was almost afraid to write this, but I scribble on the page because some stories must be told before they tear your heart to shreds. A lot of us sit in the comfort of our homes masquerading as soldiers. “Keyboard warriors”, ranting and raving at the injustice in the North East of Nigeria, we spend so much time judging the military, and taking vitriol filled shots at the President. If only we knew the truth. The real stories will shock you to silence. As they have me.
I have travelled back and forth from my home in England, back to the North East of Nigeria over the last couple of months. Sometimes, I have been to Borno and Adamawa at the behest of my publisher and sometimes as a result of my own, albeit-stubborn freewill. Shutting my ears to the indignant cries of my fiancé, I realise I have to do this. The North is my home, these are the streets I used to want to roam before Daddy shipped me off to boarding school. My home is in flames.
Every time I come home, I weep. I discover something or the other that breaks my heart. If you did not believe Nigeria was at war before you stumbled on this article, I need to urge you not to go on, stay in your safe cocoon of ignorance, but if you decide to step away from your cocoon and be truly liberated, the things you read here would probably scare you. They scare me, I heard them with my own ears.
Nigeria is at war. After days of reaching out in futility to people who could get me to speak to those who were at Nigeria’s battle front, those brave soldiers we frequently blame for dropping arms and running for their lives to neighbouring countries- pardon me, you have not read this yet- but you see I am already biased. Biased and living in fear for our soldiers, for Nigeria.
After days of futility, I finally got to speak with one brave soldier. He told me he was recently dislodged from Bama barracks. He had so many accusations, filled with bitterness at being discarded, feeling unwanted and unloved by the people he took up arms to fight for. His story drove me to tears and I am not easily driven to weakness.
Without asking him any questions, the first thing he blurted out was that he believes the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad, the group called Boko Haram is government sponsored. I looked at him with one part amazement, two parts disdain. I asked him if he had any proof, and he looked hurt that I would ask him for proof.
“You people think it is easy to be a soldier. You think we are just a bunch of cowards. Look, I have not worn mufti since 2012, I would die for my country. Do you know how many times my parents have called me to come back home?”
I apologised and explained to him that if he had no proof, all he said would be regarded as hear-say and no one would believe the truth.
He shuffled his feet, hesitant and a lot less confident than he had begun, then he stated that he had points that made him believe this was so. He then told me that a helicopter delivers ammunition to Boko Haram at night. He had heard the helicopter once while they were advancing on one of their camps, and the sound had sent chills into the hearts of this particular soldier and his fellow comrades.
According to him, the group also have an unending number of Toyota Hilux vehicles. “There is no ammunition they do not seem to have, even the ones that I have never before seen with this my eyes, they have it.” I asked him if it was true that the members of the terrorist sect dressed like soldiers, He laughed. “They dress even better than us. They have created their own soldier uniform. Just like our own”.
He then added, “Have you ever seen one picture of a Boko Haram corpse? I am there at the front, I have never seen a Boko Haram corpse. Except one time at Damboa when the fire power was too much. If you kill one of them now, someone will carry his corpse and run away.”
I asked about his experiences at the front. His eyes clouded over. “We were asked to advance to the war front with our Russian AK-47s. No support. We were going to fight without support when we were going to fight against people that were fighting with AMG (Assault machine guns), MMG (Medium Machine Guns), grenades and all of that”
“There was a raid we went for, we were not supposed to come back the same night but the GOC suddenly told us to come back and as we were going, before we knew it, we went into an ambush. We fought hard and escaped. When we came back the GOC asked how many casualties we had and when we said we had just 4, the GOC told us “shame on you”.
“We couldn’t believe what he said. We were very angry”. He then proceeded to tell me how in that rage, the soldiers shot at the GOC and he escaped in a bullet proof car and was flown to Abuja where he was immediately retired. These soldiers suspect that several of their top officers are selling them out to the Boko Haram sect and luring them into ambushes. “We hear stories. We hear that sympathizers in the Nigerian army will deliberately leave doors of armouries unlocked for Boko Haram. We do not have enough, yet the little we have is being stolen from us. That GOC should have been court martialled but nothing happened, they just retired him.”
I stared into space, trying to arrange his accusations in my head. He continued “we were going to deliver an armoured tank to soldiers stationed in the bush, we entered an ambush in Damboa where a sniper in a tree killed one of our soldiers and we managed to kill the sniper. But how did they know we were coming? How did they know where we will pass?”
The soldiers also say that they do not know what they are fighting for as they have been fighting since and they cannot see any results. Nothing has changed over here. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. And then we start all over again. I felt sorry for him, volunteering to fight for his country. Feeling like all hope was lost already.
“I asked him if he had any plans when the war was over. He looked at me and said “If the fight ends today, I will leave the army because of the experience. I cannot stay in the army and watch my seniors oppress me when they have not seen half of what I have gone through. But why talk of when the war ends? I don’t see it ending any time soon, there is a serious problem coming to this country. There are currently threats that they want to attack us soon.”
This is not one of those pieces where I shout and condemn strongly with the words on the page, this is one of those articles where I only share the truth. This was said to me and more, and I slowly came to terms with the depth of rot in our army, realised the braveness of our soldiers and the realities on the harsh war front. The next time you take to your keyboard to write that article, or tweet those 140 characters that make you sound lofty and intellectual, consider the words shared by one of my newest friends, though fighting at the heart of this grime in the country’s Northeast: “The more things change, the more things remain the same.”