Book Title: The Diary of a Boy Soldier
Author: Alexander O Emmanuel
Publisher: Promedia Publications
Release Date: 28th October 2012
Reviewed by Tunde Dawodu
Foreword: Hon N Dashen (Commissioner for Education, Plateau State)
Editor: Logos and Audibles
No of Pages: 160
Genre: Historical Fiction
I went to the Nigerian Military School (NMS), Zaria, some weeks ago and met the interview process for possible admission into the school, ongoing. Little boys with brooms, ‘langalangas’, army boxes, iron buckets and anxious parents, were everywhere, scurrying around to get themselves registered, as very stern-looking officers and soldiers continuously barked orders at them in an effort to have some semblance of ordeliness. Parents were urged to desist from crossing over to the boys lines (hostels) but some wouldn’t listen and this angered the men in uniform greatly. A woman risked the possible humiliation that would come by attempting to crossover because she desperately needed to give her son a form he had forgotten. As expected, the barking and subtle insults began, and as she tried to explain herself, she burst into tears. All she wanted to do was give her son a photocopy of one of his documents and give him the Maltina and LaCasera she bought for him. As she spoke and shed tears simultaneously, the items she held began to fall off her shaking hands, even as she struggled to keep them within her grasp. The army guys couldn’t frown any longer, and they burst into laughter, wondering why the woman was so worked up to such a point as to embarrass herself thus. They finally granted the woman her wish out of pity. My mind quickly travelled with the strength of the scenarios of the last thirty minutes to my own time as a boy soldier in NMS, and the many adventures that came with it. I smiled. Another set of boys were here again to slug it out for a chance to experience the NMS life they had heard of and had come to revere.
Now comes a book that pens down that life we have always bragged about and thrilled our ‘civillian’ friends with, orally. The Diary of a Boy Soldier by Alexander Emmanuel, is a commendable literary revelation into what life as a student in NMS entails. It is an enjoyable fictitious tale of a young lad by name Olanrewaju Ayorinde Banks, through whose life we experience the thrills, adventures and sufferings typical of the life of any student who passes through the hallowed walls of the Nigerian Military School, Zaria.
Ayorinde is a clever boy from a humble background whose life suddenly changes on seeing a smartly dressed ‘soldier boy’ parade around their primary school, one fateful day. He becomes consumed with the desire to be like that boy; a desire which culminates in his gaining admission into the military school. The first chapter sets the tone for the adventures to come with all these exposition, giving us delicious insights into Ayorinde’s background and all the drama that comes with his dream of being a boy soldier, amongst which are the filial and societal pride that his interview and subsequent admission brings. And for those who passed through those hallowed military four walls, they won’t help but smile when the nostalgic thoughts begin to stream in as they leaf through the pages of the book.
The next two chapters flesh out the gruesome two-week cadre course (orientation exercise) all Class One (JS1) boys have to go through; and how the protagonist copes with the frustrations that come with trying to pick up lessons quickly–under the threat of the whip–as a Class One boy.Through Ayorinde’s eyes, we are made to feel the constant trepidation that trails the life of all members of the lowest echelon in military school. Unlike almost every other school, everyone above you in NMS is your effective senior who has the right to punish you as he sees fit. And usually, the Class Two boys (nicknamed hungry lions), who are your immediate seniors, become your worst nightmare throughout your days as a Class One boy; never letting you rest as they send you on errands and punish you at the slightest opportunity.
Chapters Four to Five are quick rides through Ayorinde’s Class Two to Four. He is awarded a position of responsibility at some point, which he relishes and employs to his pleasure and advantage, even though it comes with its unpleasant sides. I feel the author’s brilliant writing lost a little shine here because it seemed he wanted to cram a lot into these chapters; without being very successful at balancing summary and detail. But then, it just might be that being a writer, and having passed through that great school myself, I might be expecting too much from the author. The stories from NMS could indeed fill a thousand pages and yet seem to be just scratching the surface.
Chapter Six is my most interesting portion of the book, as it is typical of the kinds of adventures NMS boys could strangely risk their continued stay in school, and even their lives for. Ayorinde goes ‘on AWOL’, almost gets drowned in a river and barely escapes being caught by soldiers from NMS who are on patrol.
Chapter Seven gives us a peep into the kind of ambience a boy soldier evokes when he comes home for the holidays, while Chapter Eight and Nine are dedicated to one of the most physically demanding and stressful activities in NMS: The Bush Camp exercise. The author skilfully narrates how Ayorinde and his mates undergo training in watermanship, ‘point-to-point’ and other related military activities, crowning it all with a hilarious incident that occurs at the tail-end of the exercise. The remaining chapters take us through Ayorinde’s fall from grace to grass and what were responsible for this; thus becoming the zenith of the moral lessons the book brings to the table.
The Diary of a Boy Soldier would definitely be a pleasurable read for everyone willing to experience secondhand, what it meant and still means to pass through the Nigerian Military School, Zaria; reputed to be the only one of its kind in West Africa. The author has done a good job in condensing in book form, the many shared experiences of all Exboys (as people who graduated from NMS are called) around the world; many of whom will be happy their collective stories are finally finding a wider audience to thrill–through the voice of Alexander Emmanuel (our very own PHRONESIS on Naija Stories!). No book is perfect, and to the eyes of sharp literary critics, the book might lack a thing or two. But whatever it lacks is nowhere near being strong enough to take away its brilliant storytelling and the unique story it presents to all prospective readers; whoever they are and wherever they might be.