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Borno (A Tale of a Nigerian Soldier)

On Friday 23rd September, 2011, I came back home from work after our weekly Padre hour, from where we got permission from our commanding officer to close for the day. That day happened to be my son Khalifa’s birthday. When he saw me coming with the bicycle I promised to buy for him, he ran to me with a big smile on his face, and jumped to hug me.

“Yeeh… my bicycle! Daddy can I go and play with it now? I want to drive it,” he said.

“Is that your way of saying thank you to your father? And you don’t even know how to ride a bicycle, let alone drive it,” Habiba my loving wife replied him. She was nine months pregnant and within her EDD period; the doctor said she had less than a week before she puts to bed. I was very excited that soon, not only will I become a father again, but will be a father of three. My friends said I was in a competition with Sergeant Bala, a man whose wives give birth every year. I laughed my heart out when they said that to me. Sergeant Bala of all people had his own battalion of children inside the barracks.

Later that day, it was exactly 2300 hours (11pm) when I heard a bugle call. I was about to cut five (sleep), when I jumped on my feet on hearing what we considered the emergency call. I quickly pulled out my camo from the hanger, wore it and was about to exit the room when Habiba called after me.

“Are you really going to leave without informing me? You couldn’t even wake me up first—”

“Habiba, you are not new to this nah. I must get to the parade ground on time or there will be trouble for me, and you should know this. I will come back as soon as whatever the emergency might be is over,” I said that with so much ease, little did I know that the emergency wasn’t the type to get over with easily.

I reached the parade ground and joined my regulars in the squad. We stood and waited for the Commanding Officer to brief us on what caused for the sudden emergency call. About an hour later, he came and what he said was unexpected to us. He said:

“Gentlemen, there was an attack on one of the major military locations in Gwoza, Borno State. After a deliberation by the army headquarters, they have decided to send support to that very location.”

I was with the artillery unit, so without doubt I knew that I won’t be sleeping at home that night. Not after what we were informed about. The commandant, Lieutenant Colonel TY Badamamaki instructed the Adjutant to call the names of those that would be deployed to Borno for the operation. At serial 104, which was my name—Lance Corporal Sani Abacha of the A Company, artillery unit.

From there we marched to the arms store, signed our riffles and moved back to the parade ground. Luckily the vehicles that were meant to convey us to the airport got delayed, so we were given half an hour each to go see our families before we leave.

I left Habiba, my heavily pregnant wife in tears when I informed her that I would be leaving, but I don’t know when I would be returning home to her. Deep down inside me I didn’t want to leave, but then what could I have done since whether I like it or not the job must be done?

“When you put to bed dear, if it’s a boy name him Faruq. But if it’s a girl name her after my mother. Take care of yourself and the children, and please try not to think too much. I will call you whenever I get the chance. Tell the children that daddy loves them very much, but duty calls, so I had to leave. Till we meet again my lovely wife, goodbye.” Those were the last words I told my wife Habiba, before I left to serve my country.

We arrived Maiduguri on Saturday 24th September, 2011. From there we got transported to Gwoza Local Government. After a week of orientation and planning in Gwoza, we were told to get ready for battle, and on Monday 3rd October we got deployed into the forest, in the middle of nowhere. I still remember how fast the choppers that conveyed us there flew away, they left like there was something wrong with the place they brought us to. OMG! And there was. ‘Dear reader, even if you haven’t seen war before just keep praying for peace’.

We joined the rest of the soldiers there and after the Company Commander briefed us on the situation at that moment, I felt the spirit of war land on me. He said we would advance the next morning as early as possible, so we could attack the enemy first, and possibly rescue some of the hostages with them. That was the plan: to attack first, kill and rescue. But everything didn’t go as planned because they attacked us first.

At 0200 hours (2am) in the morning, we heard gunshots close to our location, not knowing the enemies were closer than we thought. The next thing we saw were a group of men coming right at us, about a thousand of them, some of which held machine guns, others armed with the rocket launchers. That day was like hell for us, and for me it was indeed hell on earth. We exchanged fire for a good twelve hours, I felt the entire world were attacking us that day. Fire after fire, bullet after bullet. Each time they launched their explosive at us I heard men crying in agony, and I knew that it was only God that would help us that day.

I saw my regular, Corporal B. Sabo, he was bleeding furiously from the stomach and screaming for help. There was no medic close by, so I knew I had to do something, or at least get him to cover. I crawled and dragged myself through the bodies of the men that I knew were alive when we came, but had became corpses within a blink of an eye. I got to Sabo and carried him on my shoulder, I was about to run out of sight when the unpredictable happened. I opened my eyes to the gruesome sight of me covered in blood, my own blood. My legs were completely shattered by a grenade, shattered beyond repair. I looked to my right only to see Corporal Sabo lying lifeless because I wasn’t able to save him. I thought that was the end for me too, the end for everyone else. I had even started saying my last prayers:

“God, please forgive me for all I have done wrong in life. Take care of my children: Khalifa, Zainab and my unborn child. Take care of my wife, give her the strength to bear my loss and bless her with someone better. God, please give my parents the strength to bear my lost and protect my entire family for me,” I said.

I had lost all hope of survival until the airforce fighter jet came around. I saw the jet fly above us and was engaging fire at the enemy and that was all I could remember.

I woke up at the State Specialist hospital in Maiduguri, Borno state. From where, after spending six months, I got deployed back to my main unit, to my wife and four children. Habiba gave birth to a girl and a boy in my absence. How ironic, I lost two and gained two.

So unfortunately though, I became a handicapped soldier.

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