*My children do not understand what has happened – Wife of killed soldier
By Luka Binniyat
He had just been made a Sergeant two months ago.
And he had served the Nigeria Army for 19years.
That was the once exciting life of Sergeant (Sgt) Emmanuel Stephen.
All that gone like a candle light in the wind!
Last Tuesday evening, a sombre, small crowd of mourners gathered in front of Sergeant Stephen’s House at Block 87, Other Ranks Quarters, Command and Staff College, Jaji.
A few women sobbed quietly inside the small parlour of the man who was simply called Sergeant Emma.
In front of the house, his framed portrait hung on a wall facing the gathering.
Once in a while, someone would come around, peer into it and exclaim: “My God, I knew him! Oh God”.
Sergeant Emma was among the estimated 30 people killed last Sunday, when two suicide bombers detonated their bomb-laden vehicles at the premises of St. Andrew Military Protestant Church, in the Barracks.
Sgt Emma’s widow, Mary Sunday, wore dark clothes, and was standing outside, looking somewhat confused when Sunday Vanguard approached her. There was no need to be identified because it was assumed that everybody there were mourners.
But then, this conversation ensued:
Sunday Vanguard: I have come to say to you how sorry I feel about this, my sister.
Mary: I appreciate this, thank you sir.
Sunday Vanguard: When is the burial going to take place?
Mary: I don’t know. It is only the soldiers that will decide.
Till now, no one has said anything to me.
Sunday Vanguard: This must be very hard on the kids too; how are they doing?
Mary: I am not sure they truly understand what is happening.
Even I have not seen the corpse.
I have not been allowed to see the corpse.
I am so worried.
It looks so unreal to me and we were about to . . . (a group of sympathisers came and interrupted the conversation)
This has been the attitude of the Nigeria Army since the suicide bombers defiled the sanctity of the holy place, killed and maimed worshippers, in such a humiliating manner, in what is considered a fortress.
Wallowing from the embarrassment of the attack, Army authorities had since cast an iron curtain of about a 500m radius around the church; clamped a code of silence on even the victims, and would not permit visitors into the barracks to as much as sympathise with the victims, who are mostly soldiers and their dependants.
At all the hospitals visited, unfriendly armed soldiers stood guard, screening identification cards before deciding whether to allow non-military visitors in.
Journalists were the least wanted around the hospitals.
Officials of National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA; Kaduna State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA; and the Red Cross, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, fumed over the Army’s refusal to allow them ascertain the number of casualties and the needed relief materials that would be mobilised.
Governor Patrick Yakowa was, last Tuesday, allowed into the barracks with a limited number of cabinet members and a few from the Press Crew around 3pm.
But the Press was barred from following him to the scene of the explosion, as members were diverted into a conference hall about 1km from the bombed church.
“Wait here”, one soldier charged.
By Wednesday, at the seventh gate of the barracks, visitors were turned back.
No one was allowed in without invitation from a soldier residing there.
But, as it turned out, there were over 100 entry points into the cantonment; some of them very motor able and unmanned.
In fact, investigations revealed that the two cars used by the bombers were driven into the cantonment through one of the several unmanned roads into the barracks from behind, while soldier posted sentry and manned the main gates.
Sunday Vanguard explored one of the roads in the company of some others who were just going to the mammy market for their usual evening rendezvous, by the Demonstration Barracks in the cantonment close to the Zaria Express way.
A rail line cuts through the cantonment and is about 3kms in length.
“Those people standing in front of that gate are just putting a show to deceive outsiders”, said one of the soldiers.
“Anyone can come into this place, anytime, anyhow”.
And indeed all those Sunday Vanguard spoke to expressed deep fears about what may come next.
“If they want to come here 100 times, they can do that”, said a resident.
“We live with our wives and children fully aware that we are now at war with an enemy we are least prepared to fight.
“What will it take for the Nigerian Army to fence this barracks”?
That was when it actually dawned on Sunday Vanguard that the cantonment was not really fenced.
Continuing, the resident said, “most of the time we are outside guarding other places. Now we have to guard our homes, which were once thought to be the safest”.
Indeed, respondents to Sunday Vanguard’s inquiries said that the two churches in the cantonment (St. Mathew Catholic Church and St. Andrews Protestant Church) do not have any form of guards or security men as is the case with churches outside.
The assumption being that Jaji was very safe.
“Every church in Kaduna and even outside this barrack always has armed soldiers and policemen guarding them. Not these ones”, another soldier lamented.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that the bombs used were not the usual Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Sunday Vanguard gathered that preliminary examination of some of the components of the bombs showed they were brought in from Brazil.
Although it could not be confirmed at press time, there were hints that the bombs were manufactured in the US”.
“When I heard the explosion”, said a veteran of the Liberian war, “I knew it was a real bomb”.
“I heard the sound about 5kms away.
“It was the second blast that was the real bomb.
“I saw lightning that afternoon. “Then the ground shock and dust formed like a mushroom shape.
“I heard the pandemonium and I began to run to the scene, not sure if another one will come off. “I had to move there in case we were needed for combat. “It turned out to be wicked cowards that had no desire to fight, than die and kill others”.
Indeed, the attack in a church inside the cantonment, has not only exposed the vulnerability of the barracks, but has exposed all the weaknesses in the barracks that the military is desperately trying to cover.
But the attack is a profound statement, there is no church that cannot be hit in Kaduna, if the terrorists so desire.