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Okuama 17: Audu Linus and Gloria Matthew as Metaphor

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By Ahmed Yahaya-Joe

“Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die,
They simply fade away.”

With the foregoing centuries-old lyrics Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) opened his farewell address to the US Congress on April 19, 1951.

He then went on;
“And like the old soldier in that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him light to see through that duty.”
But the Okuama 17 unlike MacArthur then 71 who was one of the only five Americans since 1776 to rise to the rank of a 5-star general never became an old soldier.

Remember not to forget.
Back in May 2022, Master Warrant Officer Audu Linus and Lance Corporal Gloria Matthew united in service hoping to be joined in matrimony. They were traveling to the Imo State family home of the Matthews when they were both killed and beheaded by embittered insurgents with a political grudge against the Nigerian state in the South East.
The prospective couple was taken down in a tragic crossfire of an existential battle, not theirs.

Similarly, the Okuama 17 were victims in an ambush of a political chessboard beyond their collective paygrades that have been playing out in the Niger Delta region for decades.
Life terminated for all of them so Hobbesian, “Short, nasty and brutish.”
Perhaps why General George S. Patton (1885-1945) admonishes us, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived.”

Patton nicknamed “Bandito” by the American troops under his command during the Second World War also famously adds, “Lead me, follow me or get out of the way.”
The moral here is obvious. The soldier is the army.
No army is better than its soldiers.
Nigeria is no different.
The fallen officers and men of the 181 Amphibious Battalion had former classmates and surviving course mates including superiors indeed juniors.
Families. 10 widows. 21 orphans.

The Okuama 17 were husbands. Fathers. Brothers. Good friends and friendly neighbours.
None of them had any inkling of their impending doom on March 14, 2024, not only because as MacArthur further went on;
“The soldier above all things prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
But because according to John Hughes–Wilson in his 1999 book entitled Military Intelligence Blunders;
“Every military commander hopes not to be taken by surprise, potential adversaries strive equally hard with every trick and resource to mislead, deceive, and catch their enemy unawares. To avoid being surprised, commanders rely on intelligence and their intelligence staff. Sometimes they are successful, sometimes they are not.”

Despite accumulated collateral damage young Nigerians are still enlisting in droves. Perhaps the lack of opportunity is the key driver as the case of Petty Officer Oriola Aregbesola lately of the USS Mason, a guided missile destroyer exemplifies.
Reportedly, the 34-year-old “went overboard in a non-combat related incidence” at the Red Sea barely a week after his former compatriots were felled at Okuama.

Back in 2020 the newly recruited had tweeted, “I was jobless for so many years, my country of birth (Nigeria, now renounced) failed me, but the US Navy saw potential in me and made me a sailor, working on jet engines.”
Different strokes for different folks.

In the epic movie Godfather: Part II the boisterous Santino Corleone angrily reacted to his younger brother, Michael’s enlisting into the Marines, “Your country ain’t your blood. Remember that,” he thundered.
Sonnie’s tribesman disposition was understandable as he never really could discern his environment beyond the lenses of the Mafia. With such a territorial mindset he just couldn’t get it that every nation is made up of the sum of families – irrespective of creed or background.

The type MWO Audu Linus and L/Cpl. Gloria Matthew wanted to establish full-blown military brats in our clime known as Barracks boys. And girls.

Interestingly, while MacArthur was a military brat. The late Lt. Colonel Ali of Okuama lost a younger brother back in 2019 while also in active Nigerian Army service.
One can only wonder what their surviving mother is currently undergoing.

One too many losses is capable of making the collective conscience of a nation numb.
If so, how can we as a nation fix a problem without acknowledging it exists in the first place?
Hear the Senate President at plenary on the Okuama 17, “I don’t believe these people are from the Niger Delta, those who did the killings.”

While the nation’s Number Three rightly called for a “thorough investigation,” he nonetheless insinuated “mercenaries from outside Niger Delta” being complicit.

Godswill Akpabio’s mischievous attempt to pass the buck through a primordial interpretation of “dog whistle politics” using the North/South divide is the problem.

But would he have had the temerity to exercise such reckless abandon if our army had the institutional equivalent of an ombudsman outside the chain of command?

The office of the Inspector General of the United States Army, “serves to provide impartial, objective and unbiased advice and oversight to the Army through relevant, timely and thorough inspection, assistance, investigations, and pieces of training.”
No doubt within Nigeria’s defence headquarters there is an office tucked away somewhere that looks into issues in our various armed forces – but how effective is it?
The question is pertinent due to many repeated incidences in a nation supposedly at peacetime;

“For instance, at least 50 Nigerian soldiers were reported killed in an ambush in Gorgi, Yobe State, in March 2020. Before then, in 2018 there was another one in Zari village in Borno that claimed the lives of 48 soldiers.

Also, 34 soldiers (and eight policemen) were reportedly killed in June 2022 after being ambushed by gunmen who had attacked a mine in the Shiroro area of Niger State. One year later, in the same Shiroro area, another 36 soldiers were reportedly killed in twin attacks. Just last August, another 36 were killed in Chukuba, Niger State.”
(See details in Punch newspaper edition of March 21, 2024)

In retrospect, Olusegun Adeniyi reminds us of the political consequences of insecurity in chapter nine of his 2017 while harping on “diminished credibility” under former President Jonathan;

“On 10th May 2013, the Nasarawa State Police Command announced that, out of the 90 police officers, excluding other security officers, on a mission to arrest the chief priest of Ombatse shrine, located at Alayko village, about 10 kilometers from Lafia, the state capital, only 17 had returned so far, with various degrees of injury.
Unfortunately, rather than find the culprits and prosecute them, the director-general of the State Security Service (SSS), Mr. Ekpenyong Ita, said he forgave those who killed (his) ten officers.

That prompted (then opposition chieftain) Buhari to react in a tone that rhymed with public mood;
“The SSS boss whoever said he had left everything to God has no right to that.
Nobody should hurt a citizen of Nigeria and then get away with it, not to talk about slaughtering law enforcement agents and then somebody coming out from the system to say such a thing.
It is either that person doesn’t know what he is talking about or he shouldn’t even be there.”
(See details in page 149)

It is perhaps against the background of the “litany of unforced errors” captured in Against the Run of Play: How an Incumbent President was Defeated in Nigeria that President Tinubu made the onerous effort to in-person attend the military funeral of the Okuama 17 at Abuja.
Trust veteran apparatchik, Bayo Onanuga for rubbing salt upon the political injury of the immediate past tenant of the Aso Rock Villa, “It is the first time that a Nigerian president will attend such a solemn event, in honor of our men of gallantry and valor. Two other burials in 2021 and 2018 were not graced by the incumbent.”

Despite his grandstanding as an opposition figure during the Ombatse killings: why didn’t the former President attend the burial of his army chief Ibrahim Attahiru and 10 other military officers?
Hear Malam Garba Shehu, “Because he doesn’t like this idea of closing roads, security men molesting people on the road for the president to have the right of way.”
Little wonder Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821) once concluded, “Every country gets the government it deserves.”

With due respect to Chidi Anselm Odinkalu’s sentinel warning on reported disturbing matters arising from Okuama and environs since March 14;
“It is time to turn the page on this cycle of escalation, retribution, and bloody reprisal that has prospered for 118 years since Satiru.”

The truth however is;
“To protect civilians, the state needs sometimes to do things that are contrary to democratic behaviour.”
– Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal in The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service: Mossad (2014)

Unfortunately, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind.”
– Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

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