GBENGA ADENIJI writes about the profound anguish of relatives of soldiers who paid the ultimate price fighting terrorism
If tears could wake the dead, Yinka, the slain brother of writer and lecturer, Taofeek Olatunbosun, would have risen from the dead by now. Last week when he heard of the death of his soldier brother in Borno State in the hands of Boko Haram, Olatunbosun cried himself hoarse.
He was yet to believe that his brother, who was a major in the army, had been cheaply killed by the terrorists. Olatunbosun mulled and sighed as sympathizers pleaded with him to take heart. He just couldn’t control his emotions inflamed by inestimable grief.
Barely managing to speak with SUNDAY PUNCH amid the palpable misery, he said, “There are pains that do not heal but have to be nursed all through life’s pathway. This is one of them. The death of my brother, Major Yinka Olatunbosun, has left our family in eternal sorrow. We both grew as brothers and later decided to make career choices.
“When I chose to be a writer, he said my choice was a good one for the family and said he would do his best in the army. We kept in touch with each other despite our busy schedules. Then one night, he called, wanting to know what my PhD was all about. I told him it was on ‘personality and creativity.’ When he heard about the PhD theory, he asked me if I had come across Prof. Cesare Lombroso, a crime analyst. I queried his academic acumen but he told me not to forget that he earned degrees before joining the army.”
Saying his brother had high hopes about his career, Olatunbosun regretted that his dreams were shattered suddenly like a glowing candle blown away by a quickening wind.
With tear-plastered face sullied by unending recollections, he added, “Then I told him I would like to write about the army, Boko Haram and terrorism. He promised to assist me. Then suddenly, we heard that Boko Haram killed him alongside a lieutenant and some soldiers last week.”
Our correspondent reliably gathered that the slain soldier’s father, who is a retired soldier, had been heartbroken since he heard the news of his son’s death.
Olatunbosun, who also disclosed that their father, who had lost his wife, became devastated upon hearing the crushing news, stated that Yinka left behind three children and a young wife who were equally inconsolable by his death.
It was further learnt that the widow of the late weapon expert in the army became anxious when she couldn’t reach him on his mobile for two days until news got to her that her doting husband had been killed a few days earlier in a battle with insurgents.
Grief so unbearable
Though the widow of the late Captain Emeka George, Funmilayo, is trying to forge ahead despite her husband’s death in the ongoing war against insurgency, it is hard to hide her grief over the incident.
Funmilayo, who said she met her late husband at the Lagos State University, Ojo, where they both studied, noted that her consolation was the love they shared.
She said, “I am from Lagos State while my husband was from Enugu State. We met at LASU where I studied Accounting. I am greatly pained by my husband’s death. We both attended last year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day, but I was at this year’s event alone. The day I saw his corpse at Maiduguri, Borno State, when he was buried on August 13, was a really sad day for me. But 15 days later, precisely on August 28, I was delivered of a baby boy who resembles him so much. I have four girls and a boy. I recall how I missed his physical presence when my first child, who is 10, wanted to attend Air Force Secondary School and I was told that her father had to come with her and I said he was dead.”
She stated further that she had no work at the moment and concentrating on how to wade through life with her children. Funmilayo recalled that when her husband died, those close to her and some of his colleagues kept the news from her until she found out.
She added, “It was indeed a sad day for me when I got the news that my husband was dead. Even my friends, who already got the news, only called me to ask if I heard from him to know if I was aware. It was a terribly sad moment for me.
“There was a time his daughter told him to quit when we spoke via WhatsApp video call one day. He told her affectionately that he wouldn’t do that as he signed to protect the country against internal and external aggressors.
“I have told our children what happened to him and that they wouldn’t see him physically again. They cried and accepted the reality. I don’t know what to say as I am so sad about the death of my caring husband.”
It was learnt that the late George, who studied History and International Relations, enjoyed writing poems and used to put his creative mind to task anytime there was an opportunity to do so. Our correspondent independently obtained a poem dated May 31, 2018, written by the soldier shortly before his demise on the battlefield.
In the poem, George wrote, “I went to the frontline from the routine Operation Mesa/There, terrorists attacked me and my men/The ORO lll, Zama Lafiya and Lafiya Dole were all involved/For all of my 10 years I have served and fought I never went off until time span of nine years have passed/I spanned my sojourn in the war at the North-East/ There was relief as posting was announced/With my nine years gone by hard and fast/By just a few months blank of time/Returned to my home and loved ones/The greeting of ‘hero’ was overwhelming/And relief on my return, showed the weight on them too/Now a new letter is sent in and reads, “We are conducting a special exercise operation LAST HOLD/To restore hope in North-East engulfed by Boko HaramInvolved in clearance and hold of the area, we stay with the people, Follow them to their farms, Stay with them even on their farms”/At first, I was told, newly returned from the battlefields excluded/ Shock! an hour to departure/I was asked to prepare to move/ Unhappy?/Not of fear but uncertainty/When is this war coming to an end?/ Am I coming home soon as said?/As I never thought I would come back to the frontline this early/I found myself at a phone/And tears ran down my eyes as suddenly without expectations/I had been welcomed by my daughter/Nine of years, she said, ‘I want you to quit daddy’/I laughed but I sighed inwardly in sober reflection/’No’ I say’ ‘No, I won’t quit my darling daughter’/So why do you like fighting Boko Haram? she asked teary voiced/’Well’ I say “it’s my duty’’/I signed it and that’s how I pay your way/’Oh’ she says awkwardly, ‘I know but I don’t want you to die! why must you go?/ The only person who can change this is a soldier/Against these enemies of state/I testify to bloodletting ritualists that have come with Boko Haram/ With other beasts in-gain to swell their purses/ to wheedle national budgets/beat the soldier families, siblings, beloved, plagues of eternal everlasting injuries/That some leaders, patented by these beasts of no nation, forever profit/ Civilians may dispute the burden and our sufferings/In the rain and drought/Where there be no shelter/In the dust and darkness of night.”
soldiers in trouble: One of George’s ex-course mates at LASU, Mr Olaiya Borisade, who was also obviously pained by his death, said they were like twins during their undergraduate years. He said, “That was before he joined the army. We both studied History and International Studies. I find it difficult to describe the way I miss him. Since his reported death, I have not been able to come to terms with the occurrence. I still feel that a part of me is gone.”
The case of Seun, widow of Ibrahim Sakaba, was as absurd as it was traumatic. This is because the Ogun State indigene learnt of her husband’s death on the Internet. Sakaba was among the soldiers killed when the terrorists attacked the Nigerian Army 157 Task Force Battalion, Metele, in November, last year.
Efforts to make Seun speak with our correspondent about her husband’s demise were futile as she politely declined. But a reliable family member, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to speak to the press, said it was devastating for Seun when she learnt of the incident.
The family source said Seun chatted on WhatsApp with her husband last on a Sunday prior to her 30th birthday before the deadly attacks.
The source said, “She later sent him a message on WhatsApp a few days later as they usually communicated via the platform. She was even going to accuse him of not sending him a birthday message, not knowing that he was dead. She uploaded her photo on WhatsApp that day and a friend sent a message to her to ‘take heart’ as God would take care of her and her four-year-old son.
“The message got her worried and she called the friend who, sensing she was unaware of the development, said she meant that God would protect her and her son being the only ones celebrating her birthday without her husband in town. Seun still didn’t know that something was amiss but prayed to God to protect him. She called a soldier close to her husband who said their location was attacked but would get back to her. I wasn’t sure he picked his calls afterwards, perhaps he didn’t want to break the news of her husband’s death to her. It was later that one of her godmothers, who also hardly visited her, paid her a visit to say she only came to check on her.”
According to the family source, Seun, who usually browses the Internet, later saw her husband’s photo on several platforms that he was killed during an attack by Boko Haram.
Saying they were married for seven years, the source noted that the incident left her heartbroken but decided to be strong for her son.
The source stated, “She saw her husband last in 2016. They got married when he was a major. He died as a lieutenant colonel in Maiduguri during the Metele attacks. The late soldier lost his father when he was young and his mother died on Saturday (yesterday). He also lost his brother, Yakubu, an army lieutenant, to the Boko Haram war in Yobe State on October 5, 2014. The soldier brothers were from Kebbi State.” soldiers in trouble
Our correspondent gathered that Seun is now into farming for survival and would always tell those close to her, “I am in God’s hands.”
The widow, it was learnt, was in Maiduguri in December for the private burial of her husband alongside some other soldiers.
One common thing among the bereaved relatives of the slain soldiers was that they were first unable to get in touch with their loved ones on the phone for days. Out of anxiety, they reached out to their colleagues who would refuse to disclose anything until they somehow got wind of the fate that had befallen their beloved.
SUNDAY PUNCH reliably learnt that none of the grieving families was officially informed by the army authorities of the death of their soldier relatives. Indeed, the soldiers fighting terrorism in Nigeria continued to do their best in spite of the challenges associated with the hard-hitting task.
Videos had trended online of how soldiers in troubled parts of the country held birthdays and religious services among themselves, clutching tenaciously to their guns to repel any attacks from the terrorists. Lately, one of the soldiers even refused to betray emotions but rather let them out online when his girlfriend, perhaps unsure of her future with him, went ahead to marry another man.
As the war against terrorism intensifies, the Federal Government alleged last week that opposition political parties were busy mobilizing bandits and Boko Haram fighters to cause crisis ahead of next month’s polls.
Though the army usually keeps mum on the casualty figure on its part after any battle with the insurgents, it not long ago said 23 of its personnel were lost to the Islamic State of West African Province terrorists that attacked the 157 Battalion in Metele, Borno State, on November 18, 2018.
Besides, the United Nations Development Programme, in its 2018 National Human Development Report – ‘Achieving Human Development in North-East’ – said Boko Haram attacks claimed 32,570 lives in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states in eight years.
The report, covering between 2009 and 2016, stated that the highest casualty in a year – 5,350 – was recorded in the three states in 2016. The report showed that the terror group became more deadly as the number of casualties increased steadily each year: 2009 (2,320 deaths), 2010 (3,000); 2011 (3,560), 2012 (3,700), 2013 (4,420), 2014 (5,000); 2015 (5,220) and 2016 (5,350).