I once read in the Nigerian National dailies about a senior army official who killed someone because he accidentally smashed the army man’s car. The civilian was pleading for his life when the army official brought out his gun ready for the kill. I wondered for days how a human being could easily kill another human being. This short story is the product of my pondering, my questioning the status quo of leadership, recruitment and life in Nigeria. I hope you enjoy reading.
A gun, uniform, and a powerful man, I sing to myself as I look in the mirror and wear my army uniform daily. This uniform endorses me as the almighty. ‘Yes, I am a powerful man,’ I chant. Gone are the taunting shouts of childhood ‘you can be no good.’ Am I not one of the best presently? I worked, kissed ass to accomplish this feat.
I command your eyes not to judge me; my intoxication with power is just. I was the sixth child of my father’s third wife. Our house was full of skeletal bodies. We barely could eat after the invasion, as papa liked to call it, yet my father married two more wives. I usually wondered if his brain was ‘correct,’ a man that could not sufficiently provide for his family married more liabilities.
Papa was a proud man; money and women were like an aphrodisiac. When he did not have one of the two, he had nothing to boast about, so his wives allowed him indulge and enjoy his twisted life. My father was also once fat with Naira, camels, goats and farmland. He was the pride of our village until the invasion.
The invasion happened on a Monday morning when the whole village was awakened by bullets. No one had such sophisticated weapons in the village; we had only hunting weapons that were wired and tuned before any bullets came out. Green uniformed men were the source of the uproar; they carried their guns horizontally, ready to shoot anyone that dared disturb their parade. Then they came to our compound and shouted, ‘Orlu, come out now.’ My father went out with pride, believing he was untouchable. That pride was quickly replaced with humility after he was beaten and robbed of all he owned. My father was cheated and mocked by these men. Papa said when I was old enough I will understand that his enemies had gotten a hold on him. I often asked myself what right those men had to do so much injustice, till I wore that same uniform, got the same gun and felt the same power – The Green Gun Power.
After the invasion, Uncle Ikenna, my father’s elder brother, came to the village asking for Papa’s permission to take me to the modernized city to learn a trade. I left the village with the enthusiasm of a sixteen years old boy ready for the world; the Lagos world. Uncle Ikenna swore to take good care of me, make sure I learnt a trade and get lots of money. The thought of making my own money was intoxicating.
Lagos was full of busy people; someone was always buying, selling or doing 419. My uncle took me to Baba Musa, an absurd looking man from whom I learnt how to repair cars. Baba Musa had something I could not place that made him fun to look at. I usually wondered if it were his eyes with its unusually voluminous socket, his fat nose or dreadlocks. He looked like he was formed from different parts of other people’s body parts. Fixed and joined to make an effective car. His looks betrayed his impeccable intellect or better still – his impeccable engine. He taught me the three golden rules of Lagos; be smarter than your neighbour, mind your business and kiss your belongings tight to your chest.
Another lesson I learnt from Baba Musa is the goodness of cars. He had lots of “big men” who came to his workshop to fix their vehicles. In the village, I had only seen a beetle, but Baba Musa’s big men had machines. Sometimes, I closed my eyes, caressed the leather with my palms, adoring its smoothness and admiring the beautiful furnishing. One day, I would have this kind of machine. I could hear my mother’s ‘amen’ echoing after my short prayer. My mother used to say it is the simple prayers God listened to, those uttered in quite unity with your heartbeat, those words that sounded like mere wishes.
These big men came a few times to the workshop and we served them with total respect. One of them took special interest in me and asked that I assist Baba Musa to fix his cars. I usually wondered why his eyes favored me, till he rebuked one of the workers for his disrespectful attitude ‘you rude, little dirty worker, me, Chief Wemimo’, he said; using his hands to adjust his agbada. The mechanic recognizing his own insignificant status prostrated and begged him. Chief Wemimo was one of Baba Musa’s wealthiest clients and held a top position in the army; we couldn’t afford to step on his toes. As for me, my village low self-esteem was still much in me, I was a core servant. Whenever he came to the workshop, I addressed and treated him chiefly, running errands for him with great enthusiasm, not forgetting to ring the gong chief loudly.
I gradually learnt to fix cars but I had passion to do greater things. I wanted power like Chief Wemimo had; I wanted my name to make miracles happen.
One evening, I was in a bar with some friends, when my fellow ‘drinkers’ began to talk about the army. One of them just began training as an army recruit. He said he didn’t want to waste his time going to school while he could be making money. He boasted about the rigorous training and the exercises, I was intrigued. I felt like he had something to conquer and a certain ego. He definitely felt superior, in his eyes we were tiny common men.
His intimidating look made me remember the night my father’s first wife beat me. That day I believed my mother’s saying that she was a witch. She held my father’s belt with such confidence and beat the living day light out of me. She insulted me, my mother and said her favorite words ‘you can be nothing’. I dreamt of the army uniform and her jealous eyes shining with respect. Her and her stupid children were the commoners in my day dream, silly commoners. My passion was aflame… Mr Army.
Some weeks after the Army recruits biting stare, I summoned the courage to tell Chief Wemimo my thoughts about joining the army, asking for his help. He eyed me and said with disgust ‘I will thinks abow it’. Four months later, he gave me a letter and miracles began to happen. In Nigeria big men make miracles happen.
On a wet and bright morning, I got my letter to join the army. This was three weeks after Chief Wemimo had given me his recommendation letter. I wondered what he had written in the recommendation letter. I was overjoyed, jumping, laughing and crying; mtheew, whatever he wrote was his insignificant jawre.
I organized a small party at night, invited my Uncle Ikenna who told my parents of my great accomplishments. My fellow drinkers chanted my name with their voices screeching and their eyes dazing.
Two weeks later, I resumed to the rigorous training that I swore to Nnedem, a fellow recruit I would die from. My body ached all over yet I envisioned a brighter future. No pain, no gain.
I had a room at the army barracks and my first day outside the barracks in that uniform was … (words cannot describe it). I was respected. That day a civilian was beaten blue–black by some higher ranking officers. The man’s face was rumpled with blood, I could literally feel his pain, and he kept groaning ‘please’ with a defeated look in his eyes. I felt pity for him but as the days passed, my conscience became hardened. I became used to bloodshed and beatings.
Two months later, Nnedem and I were deployed to Liberia. In Liberia, the visions of bloodshed always taunted me at night. Some nights I couldn’t sleep, I lay down, smoked and stared at the sky with Nnedem. Nnedem had so much confidence and wickedness. His English was a mockery of the word English. He claimed to be a graduate of Mass Communication; I wonder how he ‘communicated’ with his books. Nnedem graduated with a first class yet his brain had no class. One thing inspired me about Nnedem, he was fearless.
One evening, I told Nnedem that I couldn’t sleep and my nightmares were becoming intense. He went to his room and gave me some white sleeping drugs. In no time, I became addicted to the drugs. He also introduced me to heroine and weed. After a smoking round, we went near the camp where most victims of the Liberian war had been stationed. He told me to stand near the grass, so I wouldn’t be easily noticed. Suddenly, he grabbed a little girl, covered her mouth, tore her dress and raped her. I was too high to save her; I tried screaming, pulling him back, her voice touched my soul. Till today I see her eyes pleading for mercy, mercy I couldn’t give. When we got back to the camp, Nnedem hit me and told other officers that I tried to kill him for playing with one of the girls. For a week, I was called a chicken, taunted, and bullied till the witch’s voice kept ringing in my head, ‘you, you can never become anything significant. All you and your stupid mother have caused is pain, in this house eh…, oloshi”. That voice had been far these days, I had conquered her. I swore that next time; I will show these silly soldiers I was capable of being one of them. I couldn’t wear this uniform and be taunted, abused like a stupid nobody. If I couldn’t beat them, I joined them.
Five months later we were called back home form Liberia. I was glad to leave the bloodshed and get back to my real life. I had changed. My father saw me and said ‘why you hard’. I laughed and replied; ‘only the hard ones survive’. He said to me ‘You need softness; a good woman will do good’. ‘Papa my needs are met, women and their troubles, I don’t need yet,’ I said. Papa shook his head, his way of telling me I was a small man with limited knowledge. Papa kept talking about Nkemdili whom was my childhood sweetheart. I begged him not to call her parents or make any arrangements.
Six years back, her mother called me a rat and said I shouldn’t come near her priceless daughter. Six years later, she was the rat and I was the priceless son. I couldn’t help but wonder how Nkemdili looked. I wondered if her breasts were bigger, her skin brighter, her smile warmer. I remember when I first met her, her eyelashes flickering, seducing my heart. Her subtle, sweet laughter ringing in head as she elegantly placed her pale full of water on her head. These thoughts I pushed down, killing my little kindle of affection. The witch kept bowing and bowing, trying to make amends. Her own children were village nonentities. The irony of life is sweet.
After my visit to the village, I was given an official car, as part of my promotion package. Lagos roads were always busy and I loathed the motorcycle riders; they had little concern for their lives. They were always in a hurry to overtake cars, trucks even pedestrians. Some days ago, I slapped one motorcycle rider for barging into my lane and breaking my head lights. The stupid man thought he could run away. I chased him, blocked him, got down of my car, took out my gun and threatened to take him to the barracks. He and other civilians begged endlessly. I couldn’t let him go scot free, so I raised my palm and hit his black cheeks. He also paid for the damage. The man knew I could make his life miserable. I chanted repeatedly in my mind ‘bloody civilians’.
My fast lane army ride was not to last. In no time, I landed myself in prison. This was after I was court marshaled and summarily dismissed. All it took was a night of bursting pride and madness. That night I had run out of sleeping pills, therefore I lay awake looking at the ceiling. My head was aching with visions when my phone rang and I was asked to report to another base by 7:30am. I reluctantly washed and dressed, admiring myself in my army uniform. A gun, uniform, a powerful man-I sang to myself.
I strolled out, got the keys to my car and began my journey. Around Ikeja one stupid motorcycle rider kept trying to overtake me on the small road. I moved left, right trying to block his way. Didn’t he see I was in a uniform… what insolence? I decided to let him pass and then the idiot broke my lights. I quickly stopped my car, came out of the driver’s corner, held his shirt and slapped him. He struggled with me, trying to fight me. I slapped him a second time and brought out my pistol. I commanded the idiot to kneel on the floor and raise his hands. Many civilians gathered pleading that I should let him go, I was enraged. He tried to beat me! Who does he think he is? The pleadings annoyed me, yet increased my ego. I played the song ‘whose got the power?’ many times in my head. I knew my gun, my uniform emitted power.
I am still not sure if the devil possessed me or the gun power overwhelmed me. “Open your mouth” I said. He kept saying profusely ‘Ema binu sir… Please.., ahhh ejo sir’. ‘Poooooowwww’; my bullet slowly ran into the man’s mouth carving a hole at the back of his forehead. I stood there, transfixed in time, replaying the scene in slow motion. The witch’smockingvoice rang in my head garnished with her evil laughter, ‘Ikechukwu has killed a man in cold blood’.
Death happens when we give weapons to those who are not well trained or qualified to handle the responsibility power brings. When we empower those hungry to dominate and intimate the masses, when we allow just anyone into the positions of service – death begins to wave its power over us.