In April this year, I got a message from a long-time friend. He had written a couple of things in it, but ended with the heart-wrenching words – Lord, I put my trust in you.
I was very busy that day and couldn’t get to the phone, so I didn’t see the message on time. When I did, I was unable to respond immediately because of some crisis I was involved in at work, and for that, I am filled with regret. It has been weeks since that message came through. And though the two checks turned blue after I was able to send my reply hours later via WhatsApp, indicating that my prayer for God’s protection was read, he didn’t reply.
I haven’t heard from him again since then. His number wouldn’t connect, and my subsequent messages to him remain undelivered and that doesn’t give me comfort. You see, my friend is a soldier posted to the North East of Nigeria, where he has been for quite a while now.
It’s not unusual for him to be incommunicado for weeks, so I’m not reading any meaning to this lengthy silence. There had been times in the past, when we didn’t speak or communicate with each other for weeks, maybe even months, and then from out of the blue, he’d send a text message wishing me a happy new week or month… as the case may be.
Every now and then, I remember him calling to ask about my family or to share some exciting news about his family. Considering the sensitive nature of his job and how cut off he is from civilisation as we know it in the big cities most of us reside, I’m always happy to know that he is doing fine and to offer my words of encouragement to him. He has never asked for it, but knowing that he is thick in the theatre of what essentially is a battlefield, I always offer it anyway.
I try not to ask about specifics, like the location he might be calling from, about the Boko Haram insurgents and if he has been involved in any gun battles or about welfare-related issues. I take those to be out of bounds for obvious reasons, but don’t be fooled. I’m curious as hell to get first-hand information, but I refrain from asking and he does not tell.
But does he really need to tell? I am capable of putting two and two together and making four. Those times he is unable to call home and we are unable to reach him… where was he? He has been in the North East for years and there is no indication that he’d be coming home anytime soon. I am terrified for his life and I worry about the fate of his wife and children if he doesn’t come home.
I don’t know very many of them, but I’ve been told by wives in similar situations how debilitating the experience can be. It can hardly be a happy life when every time your phone rings and it’s a strange number or one of husband’s colleagues calling, your heart skips, and you pray that it’s not the call every woman who has her husband in Borno state doesn’t want to get.
Every time there’s some breaking news involving Boko Haram and attacks on soldiers, sleep and appetite fly out the window and anxiety sets in. That must be how it is with my friend’s wife. Some might say he is a soldier; that’s what he signed up for, but still, to be a husband, father, son or brother in that situation must be one of the most terrifying experiences ever. I’m certain that is why soldiers abroad who undergo similar combat situations receive post-trauma care so they are able to get readjusted to society when they come back home to their families.
As I write, there are so many men and women, actual boots on the ground prosecuting this war against terrorism and insurgency. There are so many young Nigerians in uniform, dodging or taking bullets so the rest of the country does not dissolve into total chaos and anarchy, and communities decimated and obliterated. They deserve our praises because for them reality is not the senate summoning the service chiefs, or the presidency saying the war against terrorism has been won, technically or otherwise.
These men, do not put their fate in Tucano aircrafts or the extra $1b the presidency has secured from the excess crude account to secure the country, because that money just might suffer the same fate as similar monies voted for this purpose have allegedly gone in the past. These soldiers, my friend included, put their fate in the God they serve and in each other.
For these gallant men and women, reality is waking up every morning—knowing as certain as some of us are of our morning coffee and toast—that death is lurking and it might very well be their last day.
So if you can, please spare a minute to pray for these brave Nigerians, that for their sake and for the sake of all the innocent men, women and children of this country, who might be the next victim of suicide bombing, gruesome attacks or kidnapping, that this war ends, and very soon.
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