I was filled with guilt as I talked to him. He was calm as I recounted my experiences for the past two years; experiences which had changed me forever. As I spoke with, I was filled with the same blood-curling terror that that had taken hold of me, tiny rivulets of sweat ran down my body. He noticed that I was hyperventilating, and said:
“Calm down Andrew. It is alright. Take your time. No one’s in a hurry.”
Strangely, I began to calm down; the tone of his voice more than his words were like a soothing balm unto a soul scarred by the most unimaginable of evils. I really wanted to continue, to tell it all, to hear someone else say to me that I did not cheat death while my comrades couldn’t.
I gripped the chair till my knuckles hurt. Then I continued:
“That day, we had received intelligence that the terrorists were planning an attack on one of villages around the Sambisa region. Our commanding officer had been given instructions to secure the village at all costs. I was closer to him, so he confided in me that we didn’t have enough supplies and ammo to take them on.
“ ‘You have to let the Headquarters know about that!’ ” I had said. His reply set my body on fire with rage,
“ ‘I had told them about that weeks ago. They had promised resupply since then. But here we are, nothing! How can I lead men into battle with so little supplies?’ ”
“Of course we couldn’t disobey orders, not unless we wanted to be labeled traitors. So, we gathered the meagre supplies we had and readied ourselves for battle. We departed for the village, hoping to set up a base and do some reconnaissance before the terrorists arrived. But as we arrived, we were met with something we could have never bargained for.”
As memories upon memories assaulted me, I felt like I was choking. The gory details were too raw, closing my eyes only made them more vivid. The doctor, ever calm, kept on telling me to take things easy and slowly, calming me down with soothing words. After about two minutes, I resumed talking:
“Unknowns to us, they had set up mines around the village. Evidently, they knew of our arrival and laid an ambush for us. I was two cars behind the car that was first hit. In an instant, the car flew up into the sky, a mass of billowing smoke surrounded us. Screams and moans were everywhere. Shortly, a second car went up. More screams erupted, making the area an instant burial place.
“Our commanding officer had chosen that we arrive at night so as to avoid detection. That proved to be our undoing. Before we could arrange ourselves into battle formation, gunshots came in from all angles. As it turned out, we were completely surrounded. We fought for our lives with everything we had, but we were outnumbered and out-weaponed. We stood no chance.
“When it was obvious that we had lost the battle, the stories of what those terrorists did to captured soldiers assaulted me. I was scared, yes, I was scared. I turned and saw my commanding officer wrestling with a terrorist, I immediately went and shot him dead. Looking at my commander, I saw that he was badly injured. He had been shot in the stomach, and his guts spilled out into my hands. His breathing was shallow as he said to me:
“ ‘Andrew my boy, this is the end of road for me. Save yourself. Run for your life!’ ”
I was vehement in refusing to abandon him. I was telling him that he would be fine. With his last strength, he bellowed:
“ ‘I said: SAVE YOURSELF, YOU BASTARD!’ ”
“But I couldn’t bring myself to leave him. What kind of a man would it make me? What kind of soldier leaves his comrades to die? As I was calming him down, a grenade detonated close to where we were. I was thrown into the sky and I lost consciousness.
“When I came to, I was back at our army camp. Few of my comrades were alive. The rest had been killed in the carnage. According to my friends, they were about to retreat and had left me for dead until one of them saw my hands twitching. That was what saved my life, a twitching hand. They had carried me all night back to the camp. I tried standing up, but I couldn’t. I didn’t understand what was going on, I tried again but my legs weren’t responding. I called my friends to help me out but still I couldn’t stand up.
“That was how I became crippled. Fighting a battle that was lost before it had started. Later on, I was sent to an army hospital, where I was told that I had sustained severe spinal damage and could never walk again. I was retired at the age of thirty-five and sent home.
“Normally, whenever I was given a leave to go home, I was excited to see my family again. But not this time. I was not the same person, I was flawed. I was afraid of how my wife and my little children would see me. Would my wife leave me for a better man now that I could not do anything again? How would my kids see their crippled father?
“As it turned out, they accepted me. My wife had told me that she married me for better and for worse, my children were even happier because I got to be with them more.
“Soon, I started having problems with my wife—don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t her fault. The fault was mine. Whenever she touched me, I would recoil as if I was zapped with some bolts of electricity. I even grew distant from my children. My second child was most affected because she was the closest to me. She had asked me one day if I hated them. I had replied that I did not but could not explain further.
“How could I tell her of what I went through? How could I explain that daddy had horrible nightmares which would see him waking up with beads of sweat? How do I explain that I was more familiar with the cold touch of guns to that of humans? That I was spared when my comrades were so unlucky?
“But somehow my wife understood me without being told. She never complained. When the nightmares became unbearable, she suggested that I visited you. She had said that you would help me. So here I am, help me!”
After I was done talking, he looked deeply at me, and after some seconds, told me to pray with him. That surprised me a lot. When was the last time I did something like that?
He prayed: “Father Lord, I thank You for Your son who You have saved from the jaws of death. Everlasting God, it is only You who can understand what he is going through. Strengthen him Father, deliver him from the guilt he carries. Mighty King, show him Your Love which sets everything right. Heal him from all manner of afflictions and restore the love which once reigned in his family. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
As I joined him in saying the final amen, I felt such a sense of peace that was inexplicable. Instantly, I knew that I was going to be all right. We chatted for hours on more general topics and after four hours of talking to him, it was time to go home. He wheeled me out of his office, and outside I saw my ever beautiful wife. When she saw me, she smiled and ran over to me. Looking into her eyes, I knew that I could love her again. She bent down and kissed me. She took over from the doctor and wheeled me towards our car. She assisted me in getting into the passenger side of the car; after she had put my wheelchair into the back seat of the car, she took wheels and drove us home.
As we went home, I thanked God for my wife and children. For two years, I had been assaulted by what I experienced that day, but I knew that I would get over them. I would never forget my comrades, both those still serving and those that have fallen, but the guilt with which I remembered them was no more.
They, not me, were the real heroes. They serve and defend their country, putting their lives at risk so that citizens would be safe. Most of them do not have enough supplies and are not remembered when they die, but they would live on in my heart, for they are OUR SILENT HEROES.
This story is dedicated to all Nigerian soldiers especially those fighting the Boko Haram insurgents. We recognize and appreciate your brave efforts in keeping us safe despite the challenges. This is our little effort in saying THANK YOU!