My brother and I are really close. We’ve always been close. Maybe it’s because I am a tomboy and he’s the only boy. Maybe it’s because I’m the only one who makes the most effort to understand him. Maybe… I don’t know why. But we’re the closest of the four of us. He is six years older but you’ll never know unless we tell you. My brother is my best friend. Even his girlfriend knows it.
My brother has always had a bad temper. He doesn’t get angry easily but when he does, he literally hits the roof. The day my brother heard that some guy beat me up, my brother slashed his arm with a knife. It’s not exactly something we’re proud of. But it’s just one of those things.
My brother is fiercely protective of the people he loves. Our father is late, so it’s just mum, my two sisters, my brother and myself. My brother will go to the ends of the earth for us. That’s just how important we are to him. And then his girlfriend too. They’ve been together for three years and even though he’s mostly away, she remains loyal to him. She visits every weekend, even when he is out of town.
More than anything else, my brother hates injustice. He cannot stand people being mean to other people. He really can’t stand people being unfair or nasty. It gets him really angry and when that happens he errr, tends to go a bit overboard.
My brother is a soldier in the Nigerian Army and I haven’t seen my brother in almost a year. The last time he was home, he spent only about a week and then he was deployed to Maiduguri to fight the Boko Haram insurgency.
I remember one of our many late night conversations that week. He shared stories of the guys in his battalion who had become his second family. He spoke of the thrill that came with being in a life-threatening situation and I shook my head. How would that thrill or excite anyone? He spoke of the nights spent drinking with his guys, spoke of the chain of women most of his friends kept and how he thought it was really amusing.
I asked if he kept a string of girlfriends like his friends and he shook his head. There was no need, he said. And then he revealed to me his plans to propose to his girlfriend on his next return home. That information warmed my heart. I really like her. She’s cool. He made me promise to keep it a secret and I agreed.
The following morning, just before he left, my brother told me to pray for him. The Boko Haram insurgence was getting intense and several soldiers had been deployed to fight them. He told me to pray for his safety and with tears in my eyes and a bright smile in his, I said a short prayer for him and made him promise that no matter how bad things got, he would find a means of staying in touch. He laughed and said
“Don’t worry, I’ll call you in the heat of battle to tell you how many of them bad guys I’m taking out.”
We both laughed but my laughter did not stem from anywhere other than my lips.
You see, the thing about being related to someone in the armed forces in times of crisis is that, you are constantly on edge, living in the fear that you could get a message any minute informing you that your loved one would not be returning home. I stopped reading or listening to the news a long time ago. Mum said I was silly to not be aware of things going on around me but I told her life was sad enough as it were. I did not need more of that.
My brother kept communicating with me. He sounded light and hopeful each time we spoke and even though I knew things were really bad, it was somewhat of a relief to not hear the tension in his voice.
Sometime in May however, I began to notice a change in his tone. I knew something was wrong. He sounded distant and somewhat reserved. And it did not get better in the months that followed. He sounded like something had died inside of him. Like he had given up and that frightened me terribly.
Several times, I asked what was wrong and always, he said
“We’re at war sis, how should I sound?”
“I want you to sound hopeful. One day, all this will be over.
You’ve got a woman to come home to and marry. Don’t forget that. Even if you won’t return for my sake, ensure you return for hers.”
That was the last thing I said to him.
It was almost a month and I had not heard from my brother. The tension at home was palpable. You could feel it crushing everyone in the house. Mum snapped at us for the silliest reasons. The girlfriend kept visiting and would stay for up to three or four days. I could sense she was hurting and worried but so was everyone else. Every time my phone rang around her she would look at me expectantly, willing the caller to be my brother. Everyone was going crazy with worry.
The phone call came at night. I did not recognize the number but even before I picked, somehow I could sense it had something to do with my brother. The voice at the other end was gruff and cold. He first confirmed my identity- my brother had used me as next of kin- then he went on to say my brother had been charged with mutiny and sentenced to death by firing squad.
I was dizzy.
The person at the other end repeated himself and said he was sorry.
I did not hear anything afterwards. The phone dropped to the floor and I let out a scream that was sure to shatter all the glasses in the house. Everyone came running. I could almost see their hearts pop out of their chests. My eyes were round and my breathing too fast for me to measure. One of my sisters grabbed me and shook me.
“Is he dead?!”
I shook my head but the tears were already pouring from my eyes.
It took me a while to gather myself together and make a coherent statement. My house that night was a garden of emotions. All sorts. All forms. All shades. Pure madness.
The following morning, I surfed the net for news.
This was the story.
My brother and his battalion were sent on a special operation to some local government in Borno state, part of the fight against Boko Haram. When they were done, their GOC insisted they return to Maiduguri even though it was late at night. The soldiers pleaded because it was risky but their GOC was adamant. My brother and his battalion embarked on the road trip and halfway into their journey, they were ambushed by Boko Haram. More than 10 of them were killed and the following morning, my brother and some other soldiers rebelled and fired shots at the GOC. They blamed him for the deaths of their friends. The soldiers were tried and found guilty of mutiny and attempted murder and were sentenced to death by firing squad.
Just like that.
And what was their crime again?
They lost friends and brothers in a manner that could have been avoided. Human as they were, they went crazy and rebelled. They took out their frustrations on the person responsible for the deaths of their colleagues and now they would be killed. Simply for venting their anger.
My heart was shattered into a million fragments. There would never be a piecing back together.
The GOC did not die, just so you know.
Maybe if the GOC had died, I would try to understand. A life for a life. Or 12 lives for a life? That would not add up. But I could try to make sense of it. However my brother and 11 others have been sentenced to death for trying to avenge the deaths of their colleagues.
My brother is fiercely protective of the ones he loves. He lost friends that night. Their deaths could have been avoided. But some commanding officer sent them to their death. I wasn’t surprised that my brother went on a shooting spree. He is fiercely protective of people he loves.
The commanding officer has walked free, yet my brother and other officers have been sentenced to death.
I’m still trying to make sense of it all. Boko Haram did not kill my brother. But the Nigerian Army wants to kill him. Like the number of dead soldiers are not sufficient.
My eyes are red and swollen. I have been crying for three days. Mum is in the hospital. My brother’s girlfriend is home with me and my sisters. We have cried together and we are tired. Our voices are broken, just like our hearts. No one says anything anymore. There is nothing left to say.
So I sit here and think about the sound of his voice, the sound of his laughter, the way his eyes narrow in concentration when we’re having a serious conversation, the way his eyes twinkle when he gets up to some mischief. I think of how much he loves his girlfriend. I think of how I promised him I would be the coolest aunt to his children…
My only brother. My best friend. He is everything to me. He is the light of my life
The light is about to be taken from our lives. Our symbol of strength, might and bravery. My brother is about to be taken away from us.
Can I send a plea to the Nigerian Army? Can they please not take the light out of my life?