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A gunner gone too soon

ali

You are dead, yet you live. You live, even as you leave this part of the divide.  No one is dead who truly lives in the hearts of his people, family, friends and comrades.  We are family, because you were once a Nigerian, always a Nigerian. We are comrades, because we share in the mental and psychological agony inflicted on our brothers and sisters in North-East, and indeed the whole country by the goons from hell.
Even as you fought in the battlefront, we fought with prayers; hoping and praying for this evil to depart from our shores.  Going by what has been happening recently,  God seems to be answering our prayers: The men of blood are beating a retreat.
You live, and will continue to live in our memory because you were truly the good soldier, the courageous soldier, the soldier of war, who fought to bring peace to our land. Peace has not totally returned but news from the battlefront where you once played your brave part, before you were ruled out of the theatre of war forever, indicate that our army are giving the insurgents bloody nose and eyes; many falling to rise no more, and many fleeing for dear lives.  So, you see, your fight has not been in vain. Your sacrifice will never be futile. Rejoice, brave soldier, your comrades continue to do us proud in the battlefield. Clink glasses wherever you are, great gunner, for the Boko Haram guys are already goners!
That’s why I write this piece in open appreciation of you, even though I knew you not. Even though I never met you, we meet in the heart and spirit, because you have become spirit and now belong to the ages.
In the loneliness of the earth, where your shattered remains lie in final surrender to the will of the Almighty God, you remain a hero, our hero, hero of the fight to flush out the sons of evil, fighting a war without logic, common sense or rationality.
Neither the lethal weapons of the fiends called Boko Haram nor the anonymity of the earth have been able to silence you forever. Who can silence the voice of the righteous fighting a war to keep his fellow countrymen and women from harm’s way? Who can obliterate the memory of the good soldier fighting the bad guys, but getting killed in the process? None.
As I write this piece, I confess that I was one of those who couldn’t understand why the insurgents once seemed to be having the upper hand. I couldn’t understand the reason some of your comrades were fleeing the battlefront or jumping over to the neighbouring countries to take refuge, as the fire power of the renegades raged. There were all kinds of stories: Insurgents being better equipped and bearing more sophisticated weapons than our own soldiers. We heard stories of huge defence budgets that ended up in private pockets rather than being used in buying the arms they were earmarked for. We heard all kinds of stories, that we didn’t know which was true or fiction.  But, because the news from the battlefront was not cheery, we chose to believe that of lack of equipment and diverted funds. The logic is this: If you had better equipment or resources, why should Boko Haram overwhelm one of Africa’s most formidable armies? Why should our soldiers be fleeing the theatre of war? We were worried and concerned and angry.  In our anger, we descended on you with our mouths and pens. We hit hard at our military and defence chiefs.  In one of my write-ups, I called for the immediate resignation or firing of the army and defence chiefs, for their failure to live up to the expectations of Nigerians.  My heart bled, and still bleeds at the casualties  of the internecine war in our country.  I saw what was going on as sheer incompetence on the part of our military leaders.
Now, as if by some strange miracle, the tables are turning, the tide is changing. We are now reading of Boko Haram insurgents fleeing, our soldiers recapturing cities, towns and villages hitherto in the grips of the dreaded sect. I am excited, the same way other Nigerians are.
But we can’t stop celebrating you, our hero, who gave his life that we may live, free from the insanity of the devious sect, causing us all nightmare. You must know you didn’t die in vain. Your families and friends, and our nation must continue to see you for who you truly are: Nationalist and patriot. While others choose to destroy, you elected to build; you elected to keep your nation together and protect her from the machinations of the perverted.
In my books, you have proven even more patriotic than the politicians, who want to be dressed in patriotic robes.  A patriot gives his life to his nation. We know some of these politicians take all the life from our nation. We know they love neither their nation nor its people.  Shameless lot.
As I salute the fallen soldier in today’s column, I am also minded to remember the other casualties of war, those who lost family, friends and relations.  Many there are who will never be the same again, even though they live: How will a man whose entire family got wiped out by Boko Haram ever remain the same, even after the battle is over?
Who will comfort the widow, the motherless and fatherless? Who will restore property lost, homes destroyed and dispossessed? Who will mend the broken hearts? Only God can. Even when the war is finally over, another battle starts to mend the broken human infrastructure.  But, we must keep remembering them, as this is a nation that suffers amnesia.  We always remember to forget and forget to remember.
There are also children of war, those who have been turned to boy-soldiers by the vigilante groups, to secure their territories.  Time bombs waiting to explode in the future if not well-managed.  We must never forget.  And for the soldier killed in battle by Boko Haram, we can never forget. Rest in peace, dear soldier, for you were man of war, who fought for a  peaceful nation.

LASTLINE: The Federal Government  must set up a functional initiative or foundation to immortalise the fallen Boko Haram soldiers now. Their offspring must be adequately compensated for the sacrifice of love their breadwinners gave their nation. No compensation will ever be too much. When people give their lives to their nation, the least the nation owes them is to guarantee the welfare and wellbeing of those they left behind. No less.

*First published March 9, 2015, under the headline “In Memory of the Nigerian soldier killed by Boko Haram. The piece is being rerun in fitting tribute to Lt. Col. Abu Ali, the brave soldier gunned down on Saturday by the dissident sect. May his gallant soul rest in perfect  peace. Amen!

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