When I was a boy, my dream was to be a soldier. I wanted to be a soldier so much than I wanted to be alive. I would watch the uniforms, guns, boots and gear won by the soldiers that passed by my grandfather’s hut and embellish their unrivalled glory. That was not all I embellished. I also revered the honour and reverence soldiers were accorded along the paths by the old, youth and young. The sight of a nicely ironed, tucked in green leafed khaki propelled in me a yearning of loyalty, assuage and morality that I did not quite understand as a lad but will understand after I joined the military. Now, I revile myself for ever dreaming, praying and unhappy with God for ever granting the juvenile request of mine
I was first called a soldier boy by the drunk who would stand ajar under the star apple tree at the village square after his intoxication had taken him on a drive to oblivion. On the fateful day he pronounced the name that will forever be mine, he stood ajar as always pointing a finger and naming names of people that jeered at him, I was on an errand to buy snuff for my grandfather. For others he had been calling names of the atrocities they had committed in the village known and unknown and at such times people wondered how he knew.
An old man he called “Okeoshi, yes thief”. Another man he called, “Woman wrapper, leave your children to keep suffering at home and be moving about, corner to corner dashing your money to other people’s wives.” A woman, a slim and gawky looking woman who tried avoiding him by walking behind the star apple tree, he turned and said in Igbo, “You are running. Your husband and step children you killed will keep chasing you in your dreams till you die.”
At such times, people pondered at the spirit that enveloped him to reveal such secrets. Some said it was the god of the forest, or agadinwanyi as the goddess of the festivities was called because the tale was that at night she came out from her thatched shrine and limped on one knee until early morning before she resigned to her shrine awaiting the next night. Those that believed that the god of the forest had enveloped him would always argue that it was because he spent most times away in the forest and only came into the village square to get drunk. The people that believed that agadinwanyi revealed him the secrets said so because they believed the goddess of festivities would have limped and casted a spell or curse on him by night as he slept bare near the forest.
I never quite sided either of the arguments. As a boy, both could be believed. Either the god of the forest or the goddess of festivities, it was certain from the way he identified and pronounced people’s secret affairs that he was enchanted by a spirit of some sort. As I passed mingling in the jeering crowd in front of the star apple tree to purchase grandfather’s snuff, flipping the coin from finger to finger he pointed and called out in Igbo, “Hey you, I mean you, soldier boy, has your grandfather sent you to buy snuff again?” I knew he was talking to me but I deafened my receptiveness. “You in that brown short and worn out singlet.” People around there turned, identified and started calling me by the name soldier boy. At first, I disliked the name, not that the honour was not all mine whenever It was pronounced but that it was pronounced on me by a drunk, a forest dweller, a believed communicator with the spirits. Then, overtime, I grew into not necessarily liking it but accustomed to it.
My reprimand behind bars started when a handful of soldiers planned a coup. They were filled up with the rampant injustice and unpatriotism in the military system and decided to take the bull by the horn risking the ultimate consequence. In a military system, a head of state cannot be removed by mere election, the ballots but by bullets. As it appeared,these soldiers wanted to do right by their country. They were worn-out by the height of equality being thrown to the winds. So, they decided to take up their arms, clutch their plans tightly and execute their course. They chose the only option – the bullet. These handfuls of soldiers were ready to not only topple the Mossad Security team that secured the General but to topple the General and his rulership. I knew about this, not from the onset but close to the period of execution but I didn’t say a word, not to a fellow Captain, a Colonel, Major or anybody else that could avert the danger or would I say power usurp. If I declared that a coup was being plotted I would also be in danger of having heard from whom and the story could probably go sideways. So, I kept mute, waited for things to play out even when I knew the larger minds behind it.
People said a lot of things – “General is not running the state of affairs well.” “People are marginalised.” “People are suffering.” “There is dehumanisation economically and socially.” What I knew and was concerned with were things within the military - god-fatherism, tribalism, ethnicity that was prevalent. These factors determined who got promoted, who represented the unit in allotted spots for foreign courses. For me to have been promoted to a Captain, I wasn’t related to a Northerner. I wasn’t connected to the oligarchy of leadership but my godfather was, General P. JAdekunle. Sadly he perished in a plane crash the year before I was convicted of a crime I didn’t commit. At the news of his death, I knew my promotion would begin to suffer the same fate as my colleagues who were still lieutenants and 2nd lieutenants. To console myself of the loss of my godfatherI did nothing less than revere my ranks and relish in the connectedness that the rank Captain offered. For the handfuls to plan such a delicate, risky and life endangering takeover they would have mastered the strategies, logistics, workings, electronics, communications and security operations of Dodan Barracks.
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