For Lt. US Onuoha and Other Soldiers Who Fell to Boko Haram: A Tribute By Ogbu, Blessing
“When the corpse of another person is being conveyed,” an Igbo proverb goes, “those not of the kinfolk regard it like a log of wood.” Nigerians have always made sacrifices, including the payment of the supreme price, for the continued unity of this great nation. ‘Nigerians’, as used in the context of this work, are the proletariat who spare no quota as they deploy their strength, talents, and, sometimes, their material and financial possessions to buoy up Nigeria, attract favourable international reviews, and, above all, to interpenetrate their compatriots and instil in them a sense of nationalist pride and aspirations. The late Lieutenant Uchenna Sheridan Onuoha and his fellow subalterns who, recently, paid the ultimate price for the nation’s unity were such Nigerians. Yet, it is not only disturbing that this category of citizens are not given the due honour so amply deserving of their persons and their contributions to national unity by those under whose direction they served: it is grievously distressing that their compatriots regard their exertions with something akin to detached apathy, veiled suspicion, and sometimes, muted animosity. The soullessness of some of the bureaucrats in their treatment of the nation’s true heroes is heightened unconsciously by the spiritlessness of the citizenry.
Though Nigerians have grown impervious to the unresponsiveness of their leaders to the circumstances of Nigerians, it is no justification for these leaders to seek to draw the veil of anonymity on the contributions of these worthy Nigerians by employing Mephistophelean obscurantism. Equally worthy of censure is the act of heaping vacuous acclamations on these Nigerians with words found only in the body of prepared speeches and not in the heart of the speechifier. There is no practice more repellent than the use, by officialdom, of the word ‘only’ when quantifying the number of the victims of both man-made and natural tragedies – a practice I have condemned consistently. Unbeknownst to me, I was to become a victim of tragic irony of personal, nay, national proportions, when, last week, my childhood friend, brother, and confidant was felled by the instruments of destruction of the Boko Haram boys in an ambush on Wednesday, the 9th of July, 2014 in which the Defence Headquarters claimed that ‘only’ three soldiers were killed. Last year, his squad was involved in an ill-starred operation the heavy casualty level of which the Army and Defence brass attributed to an operational and communications failure. http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/144803-exclusive-40-soldiers-killed-65-missing-in-fresh-boko-haram-ambush.html I never knew he was involved in that operation until we met in Makurdi, Benue State during last December’s Beer Carnival. He had been surviving by the whiskers, and on a preponderance of amazing luck, he told Chigozie and I in a voice laden with emotion. That December reunion was our last meeting. We never reckoned his luck would run out soon: we thought it would endure until this Boko Haram mess had been mopped up. But, it never did: his luck ran out last week. http://www.premiumtimesng.com/politics/164706-boko-haram-nigerian-soldiers-kill-scores-of-insurgents-in-borno-dhq-2.html
Lt. Uchenna Sheridan Onuoha was a perfect officer and gentleman, I daresay. He put his heart into his job, and, though he had a mortal fear for hazardous ventures a typification of which was his failure to make it through the swimming test of the Gulder Ultimate Search auditions prior to his commission in the Army, he had profound faith in the Nigerian Project. This explained why he joined the Nigerian Army, a body of highly disciplined officers and men renowned and revered for their uncommon gallantry and high standard of professionalism. We, his close circle of friends, have always marvelled at where Uchman, as we called him, timorous as he was during our growing up days right up to the University, summoned that admirable courage to join the Army. I consider that bold step an exceptional sacrifice equalled only by the evangelistic zest of the early Christian missionaries who encompassed land and seas and traversed the unknown to bring the gospel of redemption to Africa. Circumspect as always, and deeply reflective, Lt U.S. Onuoha had sparred with me not a few times on whether my devotion to the tenets of Rastafari was not in diametric contrast to my conservative calling as a Legal Practitioner. On such occasions, invariably, I rejoined that both sought the good of the common man, through the enthronement of a just and egalitarian society, the law itself being an instrument of social change. His last duty post was the Nigerian Army School of Military Engineering, (NASME) Makurdi from whence he was yanked off to Borno State, the hotbed of the Boko Haram terror group.
I make no pretensions as to the sublimity of this piece, but I will pretend that this is a tribute to a fallen national hero, who I considered an archetype of all such fallen national heroes who were not given a name and a face as they fell; though I am not unaware that it turns up as a poor effigy when projected onto the dazzling floodlight of the powerfully moving tribute delivered by the Roman General Mark Anthony as he stood before the perforated cadaver of his friend and fellow General, Julius Caesar, who was killed by the swords of Brutus and his co-conspirators. As the remains of Lt. U.S. Onuoha and other fallen heroes are laid to rest today at the scene of their last Special Assignment, the blood-soaked, dust-encrusted landscape of Borno; a landscape that is dotted today with burnt-out carcases of habitations, bazaars, souks, and sanctuaries; a landscape on which burnt stubbles and blackened shrubberies of the Savannah stand as monuments to bear witness to the destructiveness of man; a landscape where the stench of roasted human flesh assaults the olfactory senses; a landscape where the gory remains transform the eyes from its ocular function into a troubled fountain of lachrymal crystals: as Lt U.S. Onuoha is laid to rest today, I refuse to see him, and his fellow officers as mere objects whose only significance is represented in the cosmology of the bureaucratic top dogs by numeric quantification. I stand against the official practice of anonymitizing these brave warriors. Last year when certain officers of the Department of State Security were killed by the Ombatse cult in Nasarawa State, the DSS paid for airtime on national television and radio networks and bought spaces on national newspapers for several days to mourn their passage. The nation saw the faces of the heroic officers, and knew their names. That is how to revere a warrior, a national hero.
In my reckoning, Lt. U.S. Onuoha was a national hero, no matter the attempt to shroud his memory, his dedication, his patriotism, and his altruistic contributions to national unity with the cerement of nameless obscurity and abstractionism. This is in spite of the order from the army that no family member, not to talk of friends, is cleared to attend the funeral, apparently because of the security situation in Borno State. Uchman, I stand in awe of you, Sir, for thou art more honourable than we are who have chosen the soft comforts of offices and other objectified representations of civilian existence! As Lt US Onuoha and the rest embark on their otherworldly journey today, let us that yet live within the spatial location they fought to preserve for us, always, as true patriots, sit down in a contemplative posture and ponder the noble sacrifice of these true national heroes.
Ogbu Blessing E. Esq., a Legal Practitioner, writes in from Abuja
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