We lost 407 colleagues in a set
Personnel missing inside bush during operation
How insurgents posed as colleagues to launch attack
By Evelyn Usman
June 19, 2020. As early as 8 am, they were already seated inside Buhari Hall, at the Nigerian Armed Forces Resettlement Centre, Oshodi, Lagos, awaiting the arrival of the Special Guest of Honour, Air Vice Marshal Kingsley Lar.
While some of them were lost in reverie, others exchanged banters, from their social distance sitting arrangement.
From the expressions on their faces, it was obvious they had long waited for the day to come. Unfortunately, some of their colleagues who also looked forward to that day, had fate dictate otherwise.
The occasion was the Passing Out Ceremony of Military personnel of Course 01/20, drawn from the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy, and Nigerian Airforce.
Thirty-five years ago, they took an oath to lay down their lives if need be, and to go anywhere by land, air or sea, in the protection of the sovereignty and strategic interest of Nigeria, as demanded.
407 personnel die
About 750 of them were enlisted into the Military in 1985. However, along the line, half of the number died either in the course of defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria or through natural causes.
In this interview with some of them, they gave chilling accounts of their face-to-face encounter with enemies of the country and those of other war-torn countries.
While some of them had different medals attached to their left breast pockets,
to show for their participation in different wars, the feat, however, left indelible scars and disfigured body parts, as memories of their sojourn in the military.
According to Olateju Sunday, a Master Warrant Officer, ” These 35 years are indescribable. I did not expect that I would spend up to this year in the Army, but because God has destined me to be there, I was able to scale through despite the hurdles. There were times when I was sober over my colleague’s death”.
“Asked how many colleagues he has lost, he replied, I cannot tell you all. But we were 750 that started in 1985, but 343 are passing out today. So, if you subtract the number from those alive, you should know that it is the grace of God that saw us through.
Disguise to attack
“I participated in the United Nations ECOMOG operation in Liberia, Sudan, Sierra-Leone and other countries. The experience I can never forget was during the fight against the Boko Haram sect in the North-East.
”On that fateful day, precisely in 2014, Boko Haram members disguised as friendly forces by flying the Nigerian flag on their helicopter. Our Commandant thought the helicopter was our colleagues’ that were coming to give us support. Instead of landing in front of us, the helicopter landed behind us.
“ As they were landing, they released a smoke bomb so that we would not be able to see them until they would be able to take over. When they took over, they started taking our fire powers, which were our supporting weapons, on the field. We started losing some of our people.
“ Even in the face of that confrontation, we did not chicken out, we had to fight with the last ounce of blood. We did not give up until we were able to overcome them.
“My advice to those still in service is that they should be prayerful. Tactics or no tactics, it’s God that saves lives. Somebody can die from the left or right sides, or even near or far from you, it’s only God that will not allow the bullet targeted at them to penetrate. They should not try to leave training, because it’s not the day you are in the war front that you’re supposed to prepare for war. You prepare for war in peacetime so that when war comes, you are not scared to do anything”.
I joined Army at 23
For Master Warrant Officer Adeshina Peters, who was 60 years old on Monday, he said he joined the Nigerian Army at 23.
Though he described his 35 years in the Military as challenging, he boasted that he would encourage his children to join the Military if they showed interest. Like others, he shared his close shave with death.
He said, “ I’ve had a close shave with enemy forces. That was January 15, 2015, in Kangarowa, the Lake Chad region.
We were at our defense. Normally, the enemy attacks us from 4 pm till 8 pm. So, if we were in the war front, we always observed that time.
On that fateful day, we saw them coming right from our observation post. Everybody got into the trench to wear our fragmental jackets. Then, they started shelling, as they were shelling, they were advancing and we were returning fire. I was 30 to 45 meters close to them. How I managed to escape remains a miracle to date.
Colleagues die, missing in bushes
On his part, Army Warrant officer, Sadam Ezekiel, was full of praise to God Almighty for the privilege of being among those who have war stories to share.
Narrating his, he said, “There were lots of challenges. We swam troubled waters and peaceful environment, we experienced hardship and rainstorm.
I have participated in four wars on the African continent. They include: Sudan, Mali, Liberia and Sierra-Leone, and I have my medals to show for them. Some paid the supreme price, but God helped me triumph.
“I had a close shave with death in Sudan and Mali, when the enemies threw missiles to our camp, but fortunately, it did not reach us. Rather, it fell in their neighboring camp.
Many people died in our camp in Sierra-Leone. Some were shot and died right in front of me and by my side. Some colleagues got missing in the bush”, Ezekiel, stated.
For Warrant Officer Anyanwu Vitalice, the tales were not different. As an Electrical Electronic Engineer with the Nigerian Navy, he said the war he fought was mainly in the sea.
According to him: ”Within these 34 years, I have experienced all the wars you can think of, both inside and outside the country. I participated in the Niger Delta, the Boko Haram activities in the North-East, as well as the fight in the south. I also fought in the ECOMOG war in Liberia for almost two years.
“While the war was on, our job was to maintain all the weapons on board and ensure our ships were in order, in terms of being seaworthy, operational, and gun power readiness. At one time or the other, we escaped death by the whiskers through God’s grace”.
Encounter with militants
For Nandon Dashe, naval personnel, he said he had the good, bad, and ugly experience in his field of operation. He recalled how they were attacked by militants in the course of trying to restore peace in the Niger-Delta region.
He said he could count 20 of his colleagues who died during the operation .
He also expressed concern about the perception of the public on Military personnel.
He said, “ at times, civilians see us as enemies as if we are not humans. We are welcomed anywhere we go and seen as people who have given their lives to serve this nation. But in Nigeria, it is always the other way round. People frown at us”.
As part of the preparation to disengage these military personnel from service and reintegrate them into civilian life, they underwent six months of training at the NAFRC, where they were trained on vocational skills that would enhance meaningful post-service life.
The Special Guest of Honour/ Commandant of the Centre, Air Vice Marshal Kingsley Lar, while congratulating them, informed that 365 of them turned up for the six-month course but that some of them had to be returned for various reasons, leaving 343 of them. Unfortunately, he disclosed that one of them died last month.
He gave special recognition to wives and children of the retiring personnel for what he described as their sacrifice, love, and prayers throughout the years of service.
“ Indeed, they had to bear the brunt of our absence over the years. The sacrifice is over and it is now time to return to their warm embrace”.
To the retiring personnel, the Commandant, charged them to continue to make positive contributions to the country.
He reminded that “ as ambassadors of the Nigerian Armed Forces, you are to remain dedicated, disciplined, and maintain the highest level of integrity with which you have served in the past 35 years. The training you acquired is to enable you to contribute positively to your various societies and thus, helping to build a greater nation”.
Some of the personnel were given awards for their exemplary leadership and outstanding performance during their six months stay at the centre.