Untold Stories Series
Copyright 2017 Uche Innocent
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Corporal Bala was on duty on his fourth wedding anniversary. He knew he would have to stand and search vehicles from 7am to 12 noon. He woke up early to call his wife. It was a very emotional phone call because he loves his wife so much. It was the first time he would mark his wedding anniversary away from home. During previous wedding anniversaries, Bala and his wife would always move away from their kids and other unwanted distractions just to be together. Each anniversary was like a honeymoon and a renewal of their commitment to love, respect and support for one another. It was only natural for them to have such unique affection for each other, especially considering what they’ve been through together.
Bala was just a private in the army when he first met his wife Zainab. She was the daughter of Colonel Isa, a senior officer who Bala was his domestic guard. Zainab, a final year student of Ahmadu Bello University Zaria had come home for a short break when she first met this well-groomed, handsome and polite young soldier. Bala’s duty was to sit outside the bungalow, ward off any unauthorized visitor and run errands for Zainab’s father, Colonel Isa. The day Zainab came home, her father came to the front door to welcome her.
“Help her with the bag” Colonel Isa told Corporal Bala.
Bala collected the little bag from the fair damsel, walked quickly ahead of her to open the door for her to enter. He then dropped the bag in the spacious living room and returned to his duty post outside the apartment.
Zainab had come home to keep her father company. Her mother and her three older siblings had travelled for a wedding. They would be away for one week and Zainab, her dad’s favourite, came to stay with him.
Colonel Isa had gone to the office the next day when Zainab needed to quickly get a condiment for the meal she was cooking. She had already started cooking and needed someone to help her buy the condiment. She was the only one at home and the shop was a little far from the house. She knew she could ask the military guard outside to get her what she needed, but she had never been comfortable with sending soldiers on errands even though her father was a senior officer.
This time, she really needed help.
“General Bala” Zainab teased as she came out and stood at the entrance door. Bala, a mere private, could not help but be amused as he looked up and met the mild laughter on the face of his boss’s daughter.
“Please don’t put me into trouble” Bala answered. “I am only a private. Besides if a butterfly carries your words to my superiors, I would certainly face court martial tomorrow”.
“Don’t talk like that my brother” Zainab said. “You didn’t join the military to remain a junior soldier forever. I am sure you’d want to be a senior officer someday”.
“Until then” Bala answered.
Zainab politely asked him to help her buy what she urgently needed. He gladly dashed out and returned with the condiment few minutes later.
When Zainab finished preparing the meal, she fetched a portion and brought to Bala.
“Offence Number Two: Collecting a delicious meal prepared for your boss” Zainab said jokingly.
Bala laughed as he collected the dish from her.
He thanked her for the kind gesture but she did not return to the interior immediately. She stood and chatted with the private for more than thirty minutes, watching him eat the food. Few days later, she returned to school but before returning, she had given Bala her mobile number.
So the love journey began.
But Colonel Isa would not hear of it. He couldn’t let his dearest daughter have anything to do with what he called “a rankless soldier”, a mere private. He threatened and punished Bala for daring to entice his daughter. He kept him locked up in the guardroom for several days, several times. Bala opted to discontinue the relationship with Zainab but she threatened to commit suicide if he did. Colonel Isa succeeded in transferring Bala from Kaduna to Ohafia but he became mad when he found out that Zainab made the long trip from Kaduna to Ohafia just to see her lover. Her father’s threat to severely punish her did not deter her. She was lost in love.
“What is it about this boy that would make you Zainab, a university graduate, to desire to marry a rankless soldier? Are you under a spell?” Colonel Isa thundered.
“It’s no spell dad” Zainab replied her father. “I know he’s a junior soldier but he’s intelligent, ambitious and lovely. I do not love blindly. I see a husband in him, a sweet father like you, a hero and a best friend. We have discussed so much, enough for me to know that I am on the right track”.
Bala had become a Lance Corporal when they eventually got married but not without the scars on his body to testify to the brutal punishments he had received from the military police several times. He became a Corporal few weeks before he was called up to join the Special Forces sent to contain terrorism in North-eastern Nigeria. His promotion was after a two-month counterterrorism course.
“My darling, I would have to get dressed and start my duty. I would work from 7am to 12 noon” Bala told his wife as he prepared to end the lengthy phone call.
“I miss you always but I will miss you much more today” she said. “This year’s anniversary is so unusual but I will try and cope”.
“I love you my dearest queen”.
“I love you, your majesty, my darling king”.
Corporal Bala got dressed and at exactly 7 o’clock, he was standing side by side with Lance Corporal Segun at the checkpoint they had mounted at Gwange junction in Maiduguri. Corporal Bala was informed that Gwange was one of the neighbourhoods where violence had been recurrent before the checkpoint was mounted.
“Infidels!” a little boy shouted in the local Hausa language as he walked and crossed the two armed soldiers standing at the checkpoint.
Lance Corporal Segun, a Yoruba man from the south did not bother to know what the boy was saying since he did not understand the language. But Bala heard what the boy said and he angrily ordered the boy to come. But the little boy ran away, raining abuses on the soldiers.
Bala didn’t pursue or harm him. He had seen such aggression and threats since they were posted to man the checkpoint in this terrorist infested neighbourhood. He recalled the speech given by a senior officer when they first got to Maiduguri.
“Welcome to Maiduguri, Borno State; Home of Peace” the senior officer started.
“The terrorist group which had come to be known as Boko Haram had in an uprising last year attempted to upset the democratic and civil order in this city in favour of a strict implementation of a religious law. After three days of armed confrontation with the military and other security outfits, the group was defeated and its leader slain. This defeat was after they had destroyed several lives, buildings and institutions in the city. They burnt religious buildings, markets, government offices and several police stations.
“Everyone thought the sect was dead until sometimes this year when rumours had it that the surviving members had regrouped and were planning to mark the one year anniversary of their slain leader with another deadly attack on the ancient city. The rumours were confirmed by intelligence and adequate measures were taken.
“Despite the measures taken, the sect carried out the attacks but they were met with a ready defence formation. Nevertheless, the armed forces could not completely silence the latest uprising because the sect had won the sympathy and allegiance of several locals. These locals now hide these terrorists, making it difficult for a war-like combat.
“As a special counterterrorism detachment, you’d be patrolling the streets of this city, mount and man checkpoints at critical areas and respond to any act of terrorism in your operational sphere.
“I must inform you that in this operation, everyone in this city is hereby considered a suspect. This is because recently, the sect’s members have been disguising themselves in various forms while carrying out attacks, whether bomb attacks, suicide missions or gun raids. They also use human shields when pursued by the military. In fact, the humans shielding them are usually their sympathizers or supporters”.
Bala shrugged off the little boy and waved at an approaching car to stop for searching. Lance Corporal Segun went toward the boot of the car. The driver rushed to open it for searching.
“Officer, my car is empty” the driver said.
“Let me see it” Segun ordered.
When the driver left, Segun turned to Bala and noticed that he was now standing on a little anthill beside the road. He could see two ants trying to make their way up Bala’s military boots.
“You are standing on an anthill sir” Segun reported.
Bala quickly looked down and saw the two big-headed ants trying to climb up his boots. He held his gun with his left hand, bent downwards to beat the ants off his body. He was walking away from the anthill when he began to tell Segun a story.
“When I was a teenager, my parents always received reports of how my friends and I committed several offences in the community. Our favourite misbehaviour was what we called “anting””.
“Anting was a creative innovation we initiated to mar the fun of lovers in our little community. At that time, when a young man is seeing a lady, he usually comes to her house at sunset. They would usually sit just outside the lady’s house, on a slightly raised bench-like concrete slab. The discussions usually extended into the night, sometimes till about 9pm. Since darkness covered the area at night, my friends and I would usually collect ants from anthills during the day and store them in paper packets until night-time. We would then move around the neighbourhood in search of any two lovers sitting on any of the slabs. When we spot a couple, we would go towards the slabs and release a batch of ants on the slabs on either side of the unsuspecting lovers. We would then withdraw to a safe distance to watch the result of our plot.
“As expected, the ants would begin to move around the slab. And certainly, one or two would move toward the lovers. In most cases, it takes an average of fifteen minutes before we hear a mild scream or a loud shout from the first victim of an ant’s sting. And as expected, the date is ruined. We would come out of our hiding place, laughing and plotting our next raid.
“On one occasion, we waited for more than thirty minutes and were about to give up when we heard two loud screams almost simultaneously. There was moonlight which made it possible for us to see the reactions of our victims. It seemed both of them were stung at the same time by the ants and from all indications; they were stung at the very wrong places. We were watching the young man scratching his thigh furiously. The lady was beating her back frantically. We thought we had seen the end until we saw the young man quickly unzip his trouser and dragged it down ferociously. The lady had also begun to rush toward the gate of her house but she had torn her blouse before entering the house”.
Both soldiers laughed loudly as a bus approached the checkpoint. Segun went to search the bus while Bala watched the terrain.
A lad walked past the checkpoint gazing into the tent that the soldiers had mounted beside the road. The tent was their temporary shelter from the sun and also their house in the night.
“That young man has walked across this checkpoint about four times this morning” Bala noted.
“Are you suspecting anything?” Segun asked.
“He’s been gazing into the tent and into the truck each time he passes. I don’t trust him”.
Segun looked around the immediate environment. Everything seemed usual. Their truck was parked beside their tent with two armed soldiers sitting in the front seats. The remaining six soldiers that made up the unit were sitting and chatting inside the partially open tent. The road was busy as usual and no one seemed to care about them, except the kids who call the soldiers ‘infidels’ whenever they were passing through the checkpoint.
Bala looked at his wrist watch and smiled. Segun noticed the beaming smile.
“What’s that smile for?” Segun asked.
“The time is almost 12 noon. I am itching to handover to the next guys. I need to relax and call my beautiful wife. Today is our fourth wedding anniversary”.
Segun smiled and said “congratulations sir”.
Two soldiers had dressed up to take over from Bala and Segun. They were standing in front of the tent waiting for Staff Sergeant Chukwuma to authorise the shift.
“That same young man is standing in front of the house few metres away” Segun reported to Bala.
Bala looked toward the man and could see him pointing towards the checkpoint as he talked with another man. Bala couldn’t ignore the signal anymore. He decided to keep watching the two young men non-stop. The men later noticed Bala’s eyes on them and they quickly walked away and entered a nearby tiny walkway.
“Handover” Staff Sergeant Chukwuma announced at 12 noon.
Bala and Segun gladly left the busy road to retire to the tent. There was a little makeshift toilet behind the tent. Bala went there to urinate. He returned to the tent few minutes later and was ready to call his wife. He took off his jacket but left his boots. Gently but deliberately he adjusted the tiny mattress toward the far right of the tent where he could not be seen by passers-by. He did not want to be distracted. Other soldiers were sitting outside the tent except Segun who was sitting on a stool near the tent’s entrance.
“I am having a strange feeling about those young men that were on patrol around this checkpoint today” Segun said as he pulled his chair closer to the tent’s door. He wanted more fresh air.
“Same here” Bala replied. He was already dialling his wife’s mobile number.
Segun kept quiet when Bala started talking with his wife. Bala was alone inside the tent. Segun was seating at the tent’s door. Four soldiers were sitting outside the tent, shaded from the harsh sun. Two soldiers were standing on the road searching vehicles while another two were sitting in the front seats of the truck beside the tent.
The two soldiers on duty were armed and ready for combat. The two soldiers in the truck had their guns by their side. Segun and the other four soldiers had their guns kept inside the tent. Bala’s gun was lying beside him inside the tent.
Bala was lost in the ecstasy of his love call when he suddenly heard shouts of “Allahu Akbar” quickly followed by simultaneous deafening gunshots just outside the tent. He quickly dropped the call, put the phone into his pocket and lay still on the mattress.
In the next two seconds, Lance Corporal Segun slumped backwards into the tent, his body riddled with bullets. Bala saw it. He was the only one inside the tent before the gunshots began. Segun had been sitting right at the door of the tent.
Bala was about to raise his head when he heard gunshots targeted at the tent. The bullets went round the tent, piercing the material used to cover the tent. He then closed his eyes as though he were also dead.
After an attack that lasted for less than two minutes, Bala heard cheers of “Allahu Akbar” followed by a voice that said “let’s get out of here”.
That was when Bala immediately crawled toward the entrance of the tent. He peeped through an opening and saw four attackers fleeing into the Gwange neighbourhood.
When he was sure that there was no attacker nearby, he took his gun and came out of the tent. He looked around and saw the lifeless bodies of his nine colleagues. They had been caught unawares by four precise terrorists and slain. He lifted up his eyes and saw one of the assailants barging into a house two hundred metres away. The road had been deserted since the gunshots began. Bala could see that no one cared about him. The civilians around were all taking cover. He reloaded his gun, wore his bulletproof vest and quickly ran toward the house where one of the assailants had entered.
“Where is the man that just ran into this house?” Corporal Bala questioned a woman who was sitting at the patio beside the gate.
“No one entered this house?” the woman answered.
Corporal Bala shouted at the woman.
She was defiant.
It was when she called him an infidel in Kanuri language that Bala knew that the woman was also an enemy.
He kicked the plastic kettle which she was pretending to be using for ablution. The time was barely 12:30pm and he knew that the ablution was pretence since the prayer was supposed to be at 1:30pm. When he forcefully opened the gate, he saw the young man who earlier patrolled the checkpoint. He was scaling the fence of the building. The man disappeared before Bala could shoot.
Bala followed speedily and scaled the fence also, but the man had ran into one of the several houses in the congested slum. Bala came down the fence into the surrounding area. He looked around the area and instinctively knew he was in dangerous terrain. He could sense the danger in the atmosphere. He was right in the centre of enemy camp. Every face that he saw, male and female, young and old, all smelt terror, hatred and disgust.
A door slammed behind him and he quickly turned around, gun in hand, ready to shot. He saw no one but heard running footsteps inside the house. He wanted to pursue but on a second thought, he didn’t. He remembered that he was alone in a probably well-armed terrorist zone.
Another door slammed in a house few metres away.
This time around, Corporal Bala rushed out of the area. He ran to the checkpoint where he met the bodies of his slain colleagues. He quickly gathered the guns and bulletproof vests of the dead soldiers into the trunk of the truck. He drove furiously to the army barracks six kilometres away. He screeched as he turned into the gates of the barracks, so loud that the guards were scared. He honked the horn furiously. One of the guards went to open the gate while one came to the truck to confirm who the driver was.
Corporal Bala was not in the mood for protocols. He ignored the salute from the guard and drove to the administration office.
“What is wrong?” Warrant Officer Sule Sani asked Corporal Bala who had bumped into his office after a quick knock on the door.
Corporal Bala narrated the whole incident in less than two minutes.
“You mean those bastards slew nine soldiers?” Sule Sani asked, pronouncing the ‘nine soldiers’ with wrathful emphasis.
The Warrant Officer quickly made a few radio calls and before you blink twice, twelve trucks filled with armed soldiers were set for combat. Two ambulances followed them to carry the bodies of the slain soldiers.
The operation was led by Captain Bawasa.
Before the troops left, Captain Bawasa gave a quick speech.
“Some terrorists ambushed a checkpoint at Gwange and slew nine gallant colleagues of ours. The assailants are being shielded by their sympathizers in the renowned terrorist neighbourhood”.
He paused for a few seconds and declared: “Killing one Nigerian soldier by civilians is a taboo. Killing nine at a spot is war. And I, Captain Bawasa, am leading this war”.
The trucks and ambulances drove off in a frightening convoy and arrived at Gwange in few minutes. The ambulances went to collect the dead bodies. Captain Bawasa was with them to confirm the incident.
The sight of the slain soldiers ignited the killing demon existent in the DNA of the average Nigerian soldier. This demon is an extreme version of esprit de corps that soldiers exhibit when a colleague is slain or wounded by an enemy.
“Get me the microphone” Captain Bawasa said as he ordered his men to encircle the entire neighbourhood. The neighbourhood had more than three hundred closely packed houses.
The truck containing the public address system was brought to him. The speakers were mounted on the roof of the truck.
“Where is the house that the gunman ran into?” Captain Bawasa asked Corporal Bala who had been by his side since they left the barracks.
“Over there” Bala replied, pointing to a house about 200 metres away.
The entire neighbourhood was quiet and partially deserted.
Three military trucks began to slowly drive into the area. Captain Bawasa sat in the truck that had the speakers. He cleared his throat and began to speak into the microphone as they drove slowly into the area. He spoke in Hausa so that the locals would understand him.
“My name is Captain Bawasa” he began. “As my name implies, we are not here to joke or to waste time. I give this neighbourhood ten minutes to surrender the terrorists that carried out the attack this afternoon and also surrender their weapons. Don’t take my civility for granted”.
He made the same announcement in four streets and had just entered the fifth street when numerous gunshots from a nearby building targeted the three trucks. No one was sitting in the open trunk and the soldiers inside the trucks were shielded by the bulletproof glasses. Nevertheless, some bullets went through the metal doors and wounded three soldiers, including Corporal Bala.
The drivers quickly reversed out of the street into the safety of the open space outside the street. More than one hundred soldiers surrounding the neighbourhood heard the gunshots and were already in combat positions.
“Get petrol from anywhere” Captain Bawasa ordered his lieutenants as he jumped out of the truck. The lieutenants quickly fetched petrol from an abandoned petrol stand. The owner must have fled when the soldiers arrived at the area few minutes ago.
Bala and the two other soldiers were being treated by the medical team. Luckily for Bala, it was a shallow cut on his right thigh.
Captain Bawasa angrily ordered that the entire neighbourhood be set ablaze.
“Anyone running out of the fire should be shot on the spot, whether male or female, young or old. They are all terrorists” he yelled.
In a well-coordinated pattern, the soldiers set ablaze houses at the edges of each street, allowing the fire to infest the next buildings. The huts, bungalows and shops in the Gwange district were all soon sending heavy smokes into the sky. Several people attempting to flee the fire were met with bullets from the combat positioned soldiers. In about one hour, Gwange was littered with dead bodies, the houses all aflame and the skies darkened with thick fumes.
Captain Bawasa and his men were inspecting the area to ensure no one survived when the entourage of the Borno state governor arrived at the scene.
Seeing an entire neighbourhood in the capital city of Maiduguri destroyed and the bodies of the people on the streets, the enraged governor asked the unsmiling captain to justify what he called “a catastrophic and inhumane operation”.
Captain Bawasa turned to the governor and said to him unrepentantly “if the government house where you reside, decides to kill nine Nigerian soldiers, I will lead a similar operation to destroy the entire government house and no one will escape, neither you, nor your family nor your guards”.
The captain left the stunned governor and led his troops back to the barracks. On their way, Corporal Bala pleaded with the captain to recommend him for a transfer back to his family in Ohafia, to continue his recovery there. The captain agreed.
Bala’s wedding anniversary and honeymoon had been soured. He called his wife who was still unaware of what happened since he ended the call without warning.
“My love, you got me confused and scared. You abruptly ended the call this afternoon and you’ve not picked or returned my calls since then”.
“I am sorry dear” Bala replied. “You should be glad that I am alive. My duty post was attacked by terrorists and I am the only one that survived. My other nine colleagues died on the spot”.
Bala could hear his wife’s sobs as she expressed her gratitude to God for sparing his life.
Three days later, Bala was released to return to his base at Ohafia. When he got to Ohafia, he asked his wife if the events were reported in the media.
“No news media has reported the attack on the soldiers or the counterattack by the soldiers” she told him.
Bala began to follow the news on television, radio and newspapers. For several weeks, no media outlet reported the events of that horrible day. He called several people who lived outside Maiduguri and no one seemed to be aware of the events. This disturbed Bala. He began to wonder how many other soldiers who have been killed by terrorists but their deaths were kept hidden from the public. He felt it was injustice to the gallant men of the armed forces if their deaths were treated with such dishonour.
He was more disturbed by the silence of the media on the destruction of Gwange neighbourhood and its residents. Though he was part of the operation, he felt that such massive destructions should have been well publicised. He wondered why the governor also kept quiet about it. He believed that the correctness of that military operation was debatable. Such incidences should not be swept under the carpet.
Few weeks after Bala’s return, he called his wife and said to her, “I want us to go for our yearly vacation next week”. She was standing at the dining table. He could see her beaming with smile as she gently came close and gave him a very tempting kiss. She sat beside him on the sofa, her hand around his body and said to him sensationally, “it would be my opportunity to treat the wound you got on our wedding anniversary. This time, it would not be treated on a hospital bed. I would treat you on a love bed, myself!”
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About the Author
Uche Innocent writes compelling stories. He desires to give readers maximum pleasure while also informing them on vital issues. The Untold Stories Series focuses on events related to terrorism in Northern Nigeria.
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