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A Young Soldier’s Tale Of Death, Hunger And Suffering

A Young Soldier’s Tale Of Death, Hunger And Suffering
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At 1100 hours on Christmas Day, Lance Corporal Augustine will begin the three-hour journey on pickup van into Sambisa Forest from Konduga the place he had been stationed for the twenty-five months. Final yr, he had spent a number of weeks within the huge savanna that has now turn into the headquarters of terrorist group Boko Haram and its offshoots. Augustine thought he wouldn’t have to hitch the troops in Sambisa for an additional two or three months, having been shot twice this yr; as soon as with an armour-piercing spherical that miraculously solely nicked at his rib after getting by means of his bulletproof vest. This time, nevertheless, he knew he was being punished and despatched to the thick of battle- just like how the biblical King David did Uriah. Besides that he didn’t sleep with Bathsheba; his superior officers found his communication with a politician who needed him to make a video denouncing President Buhari.

“He told me that if that video goes viral, the president will lose the forthcoming elections because Nigerians will believe even soldiers are not backing him”, he says. Within the textual content messages, Augustine declined to make such video. However that wasn’t sufficient for his commanding officers. “They said it’s because I’m where there’s network, that’s why I can use Whatsapp. By the time they throw me deep inside Sambisa, there won’t be a way for me to message the outside world”.

“I don’t want to die. I’m not afraid of dying. There are so many people that I won’t just be able to hear from while I’m in there… that’s my only concern.”

Augustine is a 23-year previous whose expertise and stoic resignedness belie his age. 5 years in the past, he decided that utterly altered his life in ways in which even he couldn’t think about. Osaze, his greatest pal joined the military straight out of secondary faculty in Benin Metropolis. They grew up within the barracks collectively, sons of retired military officers. It was Osaze’s lifelong dream to comply with within the footsteps of his father and shortly as he turned 18, he enlisted within the military. Augustine however by no means had this dream. He had watched his mom toil together with his sick father and 4 different siblings. His personal dream was to be a musician or an actor or a footballer, the teenage ambition of anybody who had ever seen 2face or Ramsey Nuoah or Victor Moses. However because the block they lived in buzzed at Osaze’s enlistment, it abruptly occurred to him to do the identical. With out informing his mother and father, he put his identify right down to turn out to be a Nigerian soldier. “I just joined without their consent”, he says. “They were unhappy when I joined the army because they wanted something different for me. Osaze and I grew up together so when he enlisted, it just occurred to me to do the same.”

A 2015 parade for retiring infantry officers at AFSCS Jaji. Photograph: thenationonline.

They have been bussed from Benin to Jaji, the Military Command and Employees School situated in Kaduna State the place they got a primary two-week infantry coaching and despatched off to Borno State.  There was no preparatory interval for the boys; as soon as they earned their Personal stripes, the military deemed it match to have them battle the nation’s warfare towards Boko Haram.

The Konduga outpost is beneath the command of 7B Division, Maiduguri. Within the final decade, Borno State has been a hotbed of intense battles with insurgents who’ve utterly taken over almost 700sq kilometre entirety of Sambisa Forest. For 4 years, Boko Haram superior at will and killed a whole lot of Borno residents every time they struck. In 2013, the Nigerian authorities mounted an offensive that pressured the insurgents into Sambisa however just for some time. Because the Goodluck Jonathan administration declared a state of emergency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, Boko Haram preyed on weak topics: first, the Authorities Secondary Faculty in Mamudo was attacked, killing greater than 40 college students. Then got here the Buni Yadi bloodbath the place 60 schoolboys between the ages of 10 and 19 have been killed; earlier than the Chibok assault that gained international consideration.

It was towards this backdrop that Augustine began his army profession. As a lance corporal, officers like him are on the second to the bottom rung of the military hierarchy (the bottom being Personal, which all enlisted grades begin at). The pay is low and the duty, while it will not be probably the most delicate is definitely one of the essential. After the generals draw up methods, the military wants males like Augustine whose job is to hold the weapons and easily, battle.

 

 

Nunu for breakfast, kunu for dinner

Fulani lady extracting milk from a cow.

On the finish of every month, his mom receives the sum of N20,000 in Augustine’s account that she retains for him. In principle, the month-to-month pay is meant to be saved for him however lower than a yr after he joined the military, his father died. As the one son amongst 5 sisters, he felt- and nonetheless does- that the household has grow to be his duty. If he had not been within the military when his father died, they might have been evicted from the barracks that they had lived all their lives. Augustine doesn’t permit himself to think about his household’s financial state of affairs, as an alternative, he focuses on being alive to have the ability to proceed contributing his month-to-month pay. “You can’t afford to think about that, you just try to survive and see the next day.”

“I don’t even care about the salary,” he explains. “It will get into the account whenever it does. But feeding is the worst part.” For him and his fellow troopers, starvation is a continuing, haunting companion.

“The feeding is the worst part. There are times we have to go to Maiduguri for our welfare supplies. Although Maiduguri is less than two hours away, it’s always a dangerous journey because Boko Haram can attack us at any time. If they overpower us, they go away with whatever we have. So by the time we get back to camp, we have very little supplies left. You can use one sachet of pure water for two or three days…”

He continues, “The full salary is N49, 000 but N20, 000 is paid into our bank accounts and we’re given N10, 000 in cash. The remaining is supposed to be for our feeding and welfare but nothing actually happens. We have to find a means to survive by ourselves.”

“We don’t eat breakfast. In the afternoon we drink nunu (freshly squeezed milk) and bread. At night it’s either kunu (blended millet) or eba, if any of the other boys have stew. Sometimes we get lucky and get meat from hunters that catch animals in the bush who are going into Maiduguri town. Those are the ones we ask to buy us stuff like bread, water and recharge cards.”

“All we can do is ensure that we keep our morale high. We sing and entertain one another when there’s no action to deal with. But mostly, we fight and patrol with nagging hunger. Day and night we perform sentry duties.”

 

The President has failed us and our superiors have bought us

Repeatedly the Muhammadu Buhari administration has claimed that Boko Haram is “technically defeated”. For younger troopers like Augustine within the thick of battle, that’s removed from correct. In 2018 alone, Konduga has seen a minimum of ten totally different assaults with numerous numbers of casualties. Simply this previous November, the 157 Activity Pressure Battalion in Metele on the northern finish of Borno was overrun by insurgents and multiple hundred troopers have been killed. The Nigerian Military denied that the causalities have been that many, a press release that the president’s Particular Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina doubled down on whereas on a tv programme. In his phrases: “All over the world, the military does not or rarely disclose the figure of its casualties. ”

Augustine doesn’t know if that’s right (it isn’t. In precise reality, the worldwide greatest apply is to launch the names 24 hours after the households have been notified) however he does know that he has skilled thirty –two assaults and misplaced a number of colleagues. His greatest pal Osaze was one among them.

“I didn’t realize I took a wrong turn until when my friend died. He was shot and then beheaded by Boko Haram. That was the person I grew up with and joined the army because of. Shot and beheaded like his life didn’t mean anything.”

“A lot of people are not aware that their children are dead. When an attack happens, there are always soldiers that are M-I-A (missing in action). The families are not told that they have not been seen or heard from for one whole year. That’s when they’re assumed to have died. Then the military informs the family that they were killed in action.”

 

He doesn’t assume Boko Haram has been defeated just because the blatant assaults in main cities (such because the UN Constructing bombing of 2011 in Abuja or the a number of bus park assaults within the federal capital) has ceased. He describes the insurgents as unearthly, individuals who haven’t any worry of dying and would struggle till the final man is lifeless. Then they launch yet one more assault, both to conscript native boys into becoming a member of them or to overrun army bases and take over their ammunition because it has been seen on a number of events.

Earlier this yr, a gaggle of troopers protested on the Maiduguri Airport. They have been rounded up and are dealing with court-martial for mutiny. But in October, one other group have been seen in a viral video protesting towards what they referred to as the out of date gear they got to struggle with.

Augustine agrees, saying all he has to execute the orders given to him is one AK-47 rifle.

“All I have to fight is one AK-47 rifle and four magazines. That’s all. There are thirty bullets in each magazine. Once you’re out, it’s over. You have to wait until reinforcements are brought in from the Maiduguri division headquarters. If you’re lucky, a colleague may be kind enough to share some of his with you otherwise you’re doomed. The only thing you can do is to run. We can’t fight back and that’s how Boko Haram gets to overpower our men; you resort to fleeing when your ammunition runs out.”

“I got this picture from the person in charge of weapons. These are all the weapons we use in fighting Boko Haram. The AK 47 is a soldier’s personal rifle while the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) is for a section of soldiers, which consists of ten soldiers and above. They are just given one GPMG while Boko Haram owns more than a thousand GPMG for each person unlike we that own AK47. This whole weapon of ours is nothing compared to what Boko Haram holds.”

“They’ve sold us”, he counters once I point out what that the 2018 price range for army operations was N75 billion. “They’ve bought us if some powers past our management have entry to those funds and we’re struggling like this. It’s like we’re overseas. “

“From time to time, the Chief of Army Staff “ (Lt. General Tukur Burutai) visits us in camp. He comes to speak to the men, boost their morale and make promises that are never fulfilled. He promises that our salaries will be increased and that the feeding situation will be improved. It hasn’t happened.”

That is the place Augustine was handled after he was shot by Boko Haram fighters.

“The last time I was shot, I spent ten days in the hut we use as a makeshift hospital. The medical corps treated me and sent me right back out.” Whereas there he was reminded as soon as extra of the very blurred line between life and demise that he lived as a soldier. One minute you’re advancing and the subsequent, you’re operating away from the extremely outfitted insurgents.

At this level, I ask Lance Corporal Augustine what he would say to President Buhari if he might. His reply is a damning one-liner: “The President has failed us.”

 

 

Goals Interrupted 

Augustine thinks he might have been a singer if the state of affairs was not the identical. “I was already performing in my hometown while I was in secondary school. I even got in contact with a top Nigerian musician and he wanted to sign me. But it didn’t work out.”

“I came to Lagos three years ago. I didn’t fit in. Everything was different. It was as if I was in a different world, away from the hunger and death I had become used to in Borno.”

“Most people don’t even know what is going on here.” And it’s true; most individuals his age are oblivious to the realities of troopers like him. On the bigger scale, it seems as if the Nigerian populace is inured to the information of Boko Haram assaults. Within the days main as much as Christmas, there have been a number of live shows in different elements of the nation the place younger individuals celebrated the top of the yr in glee and excitement- simply as they need to at their age.

However even at that, the conflict on terror continues to be happening and continues to be claiming lives virtually at will. Solely this previous Sunday, there have been reviews of yet one more assault on Chibok city the place seventeen individuals have been reportedly killed. About that very same time in Lagos, 1,600 kilometres away, almost 20,000 individuals partied at Wizkid’s present, with none worry of being attacked or shot at.

Augustine smiles wistfully once more when he’s tasked to recount how he spent his final Christmas.

“Christmas sha. I spent Christmas Eve in the trenches. That’s where we sleep when we’re in the bush. Each one is dug just to fit one soldier. That’s where I was on Christmas Eve. Things like that don’t come to mind at all… there’s no time to wait and think of Christmas.”

One of many trenches the troopers sleep in.

If he had the prospect, he’ll be out of the army to steer a civilian life, but he fears that it might be too late for him. Getting discharged from the military just isn’t a simple process regardless that on paper, it should be.

“It’s a voluntary organization”, he says. “You’re free to leave just the way you came in. All you have to do is write a letter of application for discharge. Then you have to settle one or two people to work on your papers. Otherwise, it could be there for years. People will purposely sit on it until you pay them. You could be there forever!”

How about redeployment to much less risky areas? Augustine has no management over that. Colleagues which might be on the identical rank as him haven’t been moved round much- all of them solely get redeployed to different camps and bases inside Borno State.

That point is what Augustine doesn’t really feel he have proper now. Not solely does he should survive, however the strain of being the breadwinner of his household can also be heavy on his coronary heart.

“My younger sister just got admission into the university. It’s the salary that comes into my account that my mum uses, in addition to what she can get. I just can’t leave now. I need to be sure before I make that move. I have to be sure I’ll be fine when I leave…”

At 23, Augustine nonetheless has time to chase different goals. Whether or not he will- and even be alive to chase them- is one other matter completely, and as he heads into Sambisa this morning, he has just one request: “Please pray for us.”

 

 

*Augustine’s identify, his deceased pal’s and their hometown have been modified to guard his id. All different particulars are unchanged.

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