by Eromo Egbejule
You hear a lot of stories about North-East Nigeria, a slice of the country that has been at war since 2009, at the hands of Boko Haram. But we have largely only heard a single story. Sending a reporter across 7 cities, we tell a more complete story – personal tales of survival and recovery – that speak to hope, to strength and to faith. Stories that speak to life. Across 20 narratives over the next 3 weeks, you will hear the most inspired and touching stories about Nigerians – at their best, even when they have only just recovered from their worst.
Greg Odika (not real names) was only ten when he made up his mind to join either the police force or the armed forces as soon as he was old enough. His father, a civil servant had died two years earlier and his mother, grappling under the weight of catering for him and his younger brother, had defaulted on their house rent.
“The landlord came around one day, ate the food my mother offered him and then told her to pack her things and move out instantly”, he remembers. “We were owing for six months’ but we had no money to pay. As she was crying and pleading with him while he was shouting at her, a police sergeant walked in, fully dressed in his uniform and called the landlord aside. He was our neighbour from the next street and the landlord calmed down and gave us more time to pay.”
The influence of the policeman impressed Odika and he later joined the army, rising up to the ranks of Major. Now 35 and stationed at the Jalo cantonment in Yola, he says he has never regretted the decision. His dream is that when he gets married, one of his children will also carry the baton on.
Until last March, he was stationed in Maiduguri (“I’m still administratively under Borno”, he reveals) helping to restore peace fully to the birthplace of Boko Haram. “It is a shame what has happened to that city. That was a major trading city for people across the borders in Niger, Chad and Cameroon.”
Since the transition from the Jonathan administration to that of Buhari, ammunition supplies and officer welfare has improved, Odika says. “Whatever happened under Jonathan, we don’t know. Some say he signed money for weapons but that was diverted. Buhari gave us weapons and the body language of the soldiers is to fight till death now – that’s why we are winning this war.”
He also says that the Bank Verification Number (BVN) has been critical to the removal of ghost workers from the payroll.
While there, Odika would regularly go to drink with some of his fellow officers at the Lake Chad Bar, one of the city’s most popular hangout joints. On one occasion, a fellow officer was ’bitterly lamenting’ the lack of attention given to some of the captives of Boko Harm rescued from Sambisa forest – something he would ordinarily not do at the regular army officers’ mess.
“More girls have been rescued from Sambisa but the media doesn’t care and the army hierarchy as well. Everybody just wants to hear Chibok girls; if it’s not Chibok girls, they go back to sleep.”
The lack of empathy of some sections of the populace with the army also worries Odika. During the liberation of Dikwa in August 2015, he was involved and says the army was the first point of humanitarian assistance for the locals who had been cut off from food supplies and were largely malnourished.
“We shared our food with them, even with some of the insurgents who surrendered. Our men bathed these people and took care of them before the NGOs and NEMA got access, but you don’t hear that in the news. It’s a shame.”
*The next installment will be published at 10am WAT tomorrow.