How My Friend’s Soldier Son Was Killed

It happened three days ago. Yes, on Friday, 13th January.

The boy soldier and some of his uniformed colleagues were in a hot pursuit of kidnappers in a bush off the Kaduna-Abuja highway, the thoroughfare that has for years become a Bermuda Triangle of sorts. They were pursuing them on motorbikes provided by the Army. The brigands were said to also be riding on motorbikes.

Unknown to the soldiers, some other kidnappers had laid in waiting somewhere on both sides of the bush path. As the soldiers zoomed forth, the brigands lying on the ground opened fire with AK47 rifles, sending bullets into the bodies of the mounted troops, downing them violently. 

The soldiers in the front of the column were hit first. As they hurtled down, those behind them tried to make a swift retreat. It was bedlam – a scene right off a Hollywood action movie.

Four soldiers (two each from the north and south of this country) were killed instantly. Some others were severely injured.

The dead bodies could not be retrieved by a reinforcement of troops until the following day. I was told that there was a skirmish between the troops that went for the bodies and the brigands, who were obviously expecting them.

My friend Saminu’s son, Usama, was one of those killed. When I went to condole with the family yesterday, the atmosphere was sanguine. I learnt that Usama had been in the army for three years only.

Stories of such killings were shared. And regrets, too. You cannot know that such deaths are occurring continuously unless you are affected directly. Undeserved death is lurking and striking on and on and on in the bushes of Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states, bringing sudden and painful grief to families.

One thing I learnt from the discussions at the mourning house yesterday is that while parents are proud that their wards are patriotically helping to secure our country, there is need to re-examine the strategies the authorities are using in the fight against terrorism and banditry. For example, the idea of soldiers on motorcycles riding into the bushes – the playground of the kidnappers – isn’t a great one. The hunter can turn out to be the hunted. They can be easily ambushed, just as it has happened. Shouldn’t there be air cover for such riders? A single soldier on a motorcycle is like a sitting duck for a terrorist sitting in a tree branch or lying on the ground with a rifle; the soldier cannot shoot while riding a bike.

There is also a feeling that the criminals have informants somewhere who alert them about an impending operation so that they can prepare for it. The whole thing is business, bad business, but the criminals are ruthlessly organised for it.

There are other observations that one cannot share in an open forum like this. But the bottomline is that there is need for a change of strategy, otherwise we will continue to pay a heavy price like the one my friend’s family paid three days ago.

May the souls of the departed rest in peace, and may those injured recover quickly. May God console the bereaved families, and may He give our leaders the wisdom to do the right thing.

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