In this season of celebrating Nigeria’s 58th independence anniversary, let us spare a thought for the soldiers who have laid down their lives fighting Boko Haram
On the occasion of Nigeria’s 58th independence anniversary, celebrations fill the air. However, beyond the fanfare of our independence anniversary, let us celebrate Nigerian soldiers, those at the war front, daily engaged in battle with Boko Haram. It is the need to celebrate these heroes that engages my mind today after critically interrogating Festus Iyayi’s novel, Heroes. The novel recreates the searing crucibles of the Nigeria/Biafra war which claimed millions of lives. Indeed, many books have been written about the war, some full of prejudice and ethnocentric bias, while others gravitate towards mindless propaganda and falsehood. Iyayi’s novel arguably presents the most objective and impartial account of that war. Writing in the social realistic mode, Iyayi recounts the sacrifices made by soldiers from the two factions caught in the tragic furnace of warfare. Told from the point of view of a journalist, Osime Iyere, the beguiling tendencies of army generals from Biafra and Nigeria are exposed as they sacrifice naïve, young soldiers on a daily basis at the war front.
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Initially, Osime blamed the Biafrans for seeking a separate country. However, after the execution of innocent civilians including his girlfriend’s father by Nigerian soldiers, he comes to a new awareness. The whole idea of the novel is summarized by another character, Sergeant Audu when he tells Osime that “After this war, many generals will write their accounts in which they will attempt to show that they were the heroes of this war, that it was their grand strategies that won the war…The soldiers take the dirt and the ambushes and the bullets with their lives. The soldiers pay for the unity of this country with their lives and yet, what happens? Always the officers are the heroes. Always the generals, the officers take the credit. Always.” The heroes of that war are the soldiers who sacrificed their lives.
Iyayi’s account of that dark patch in Nigeria’s history easily brings to mind the war that confronts Nigeria today and the heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. In this season of celebrating Nigeria’s 58th independence anniversary, let us spare a thought for the soldiers who have laid down their lives fighting Boko Haram and ensuring that Nigeria today is considerably safe. These soldiers are our real heroes. While we are confronted and caught by the destabilizing fever of politics, while we drink champagne, click our glasses and wriggle our waists in celebration of our independence anniversary, let us for one moment, remember the soldiers who have made that celebration possible. While we celebrate and gallivant in our political delirium, there are families who are mourning because they lost their bread winners in Nigerian’s intractable war against the terrorist group, Boko Haram. Perhaps without their sacrifices, our towns will not be safe, there will be no political orgy to indulge in and our unrestrained craze for materialism will be lost. Yet, millions of dollars have been expended in committees and negotiations to finding a lasting solution to the malady, unfortunately, the monster continues to fester.
Boko Haram is a nightmare to Nigerians. At any time of the day, we will recoil if, for any reason our thinking process is interrupted by the thought of Boko Haram. A dream of an encounter with Boko Haram will rouse our sleep with agility and send us to our knees, in supplication to divine powers for protection. Yet, some soldiers, bona fide citizens of this country encounter Boko Haram face to face in physical combat to ensure that the rest of us live a terror-free life. To the many soldiers who have died fighting Boko Haram in Sambisa forest and elsewhere, I salute your spirits, courage and endeavour. I dedicate this independence anniversary to the soldiers, who have died in the battle fighting Boko Haram.
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They are the real heroes of today and they deserve to be celebrated. If Nigerians are looking for heroes, we need not look too far. If Nigerians are looking for those to be immortalised, we need not go to the archives. Nigerian soldiers who have lost their lives fighting Boko Haram are our heroes, they deserve every heroic accolade that this country can muster. The welfare, education and well-being of the families of these soldiers must be taken over by the Federal Government. It should go beyond releasing money to the families while we are occupied with matters of selfish interest. In this era when heroes are in short supply in our country, when villains transmute to heroes overnight, it is important we rethink our conception of heroism. If political predators and economic saboteurs are daily celebrated to the total exclusion of the real heroes, then we are confronted with a potent parody that illustrates the perverse cruelties of life. It is this kind of depravity in our value system, where real heroes and their families are ignored while we celebrate families that have benefitted from the plundering of our exchequer that breeds divine punishment in our body politic.
Regrettably, as our politicians jostle for different positions come 2019, none has made any statement regarding the families left behind by Nigeria’s true heroes. What engages their cosmetic fancy is self promotion with the usual stale mantra of change, empty promises that they have no commitment to fulfil. Nigerians are no fools. One day, the Boko Haram menace will come to an end. One day, it will become part of our history. Also some politicians and army generals will arise to take glory as the heroes of the Boko Haram war. But we know who the heroes are and we will never forget them.
Nigerians will never believe that there are more heroes in our country than those who currently sleep in the forest, who have not been with their families for months, who go without food for several days, who are exposed to the inclement weather in the forest as they stake their lives to ensure that our streets are safe, that we continue to enjoy comfort in our posh cars, air-conditioned offices and homes. For the sake of posterity, let us celebrate the soldiers who have died fighting Boko Haram, let us also celebrate soldiers who are alive, confronting Boko Haram on a daily basis. They are the true heroes and their labours shall never be in vain.
Adiele, Department of English University of Lagos; [email protected]