The military in a military nation is the military all over the military. Military
TWO MONTHS LATER
THE CITY OF EXCELLENCE, LAGOS, SOUTHERN NIGERIA
It was just another Thursday evening.
Alex closed work for the day at exactly 5.30 pm, signed out and left the huge warehouse where he worked as a foreman. He walked up Innoson street where the warehouse was situated, turned onto the busy Johnson street and stopped to wait for a commercial motorcycle to pass by.
This was Apapa, the largest and busiest business and warehousing districts of the sprawling, highly populated city of Lagos. Thousands of people and vehicles were always on the move on all the major roads here and during rush hour periods like this, things got really crazy. It was a time when people who didn’t have cars of their own were really glad because they had the alternative of a commercial motorcycle ride which ensured they wouldn’t get caught up in the terrible traffic jams that were a regular affair.
It took several minutes, but Alex finally got a commercial motorcyclist to take him home.
He lived in Satellite Town, or rather, the rapidly developing suburb behind Satellite Town, Ijegun. It was a twenty-minute fast ride and as usual, he made the cyclist drop him off at the G & N restaurant which was only two streets away from where he lived.
The G & N restaurant was a classy little place that served delicious local meals and cold drinks at a fair price. Alex was a bachelor who lived alone, without a woman in his life, and he didn’t like cooking at all so he took his meals at restaurants, but only quiet ones like the G & N restaurant which was never crowded and its different sections guaranteed he always got a private table where no one bothered him. Alex was a man who liked to keep completely to himself, this wasn’t so much a result of his somewhat quiet nature as it was a result of his special military training and the demons now hunting him.
After a quiet meal, Alex left the restaurant and leisurely walked the short distance home.
It was going to seven o’clock now and the atmosphere was cool. The sun had set completely and the night was coming fast.
This was one of the nicer parts of Ijegun. There were decent apartment buildings and private bungalows lining the streets here and it wasn’t densely populated nor did the streets get flooded once it rained either. Alex had moved down to Lagos, to this area, only four months ago, and so knew no one. He was always careful to keep his distance from people and so made no friends, not even with his neighbors.
As soon as Alex turned onto the quiet street where his apartment building was his trained eyes noticed the big jeep at once. It was a glittering black Range Rover Jeep and in a middle-class neighborhood where most people drove mid-range cars or had none at all, the expensive jeep looked very out of place.
The other reason Alex noticed the jeep so fast was that it was parked directly across the street from his apartment building.
There was still daylight enough, but the jeep had solid black windows that made it impossible to see through into its interior. As Alex drew closer, his sharp eyes picked out the two men in dark business suits sitting quietly in the front seats of the jeep. He could barely make them out through the dim glass of the windshield, but they were certainly watching him. Alex couldn’t see into the backseat of the jeep at all, but any number of people could be there watching him too.
Alex hated being secretly watched and, due to his special training and very recent occupation, when such was being done from a parked vehicle, it made him very uneasy. Outwardly, he pretended to be calm and take no notice of the stationary jeep at all as he walked on but inwardly, all his senses and every muscle in his body was already keyed and ready for trouble.
Alex walked right up to the gates of his apartment building and went in without anything happening. He tried to shrug off the deep sense of unease as he walked through the deserted compound to the stairwell, after all this was a big neighborhood and the occupants of the jeep could have come looking for any of the several people living in the other apartments and buildings.
But even that reasonable excuse didn’t sound too convincing for his highly trained instincts.
This apartment building Alex lived in was a decent one-story affair containing eight separate two-bedroom apartments, four upstairs and four down. Alex’s apartment was upstairs and he took the stairs quickly, two at a time, up to his front door. He fished out the keys quickly from his trouser pocket, got the metal Swiss door open and went in, locking it firmly again behind him. Only then did he begin to calm down.
After a quick shower, Alex changed into a pair of long shorts and T-shirt then settled down in his modest living room to watch a football match on the large wall-mounted 45-inch flat screen TV.
He hadn’t been there for up to five minutes when the knock came at his front door.
Alex was instantly on his feet and at the wall. He took down the big wall clock fast and got out the pistol from its hollow interior through a wide hole in the back. Running soundlessly across the room on the balls of his feet, he was at the door in a flash. One look through the peephole and his fears were confirmed.
It was the occupants of the Range Rover Jeep at his door!
The knock came again.
There were two of them, but only one was in a black business suit and he was the one knocking firmly on the door. There was no sign of a third person anywhere which meant that the driver of the jeep was probably still sitting behind the wheels of the vehicle out on the street. The man in the suit was of average build, definitely in his thirties and looked more like he belonged behind an office desk rather than behind a gun. He didn’t look dangerous at all, definitely not a bodyguard which was odd because the other man with him was a middle-aged man who clearly looked very wealthy and important, the kind that simply didn’t go anywhere in this country without at least two or more people to provide proper protection and keep ordinary people away.
He must have been sitting in the back seat of the Range Rover where he hadn’t been able to see into, thought Alex. The man was a well-fed, thickset man of average height with a big pot belly that couldn’t be hidden even by the voluminous white Agbada he wore. The rich white material of the Agbada, the matching decorative hat and shiny white shoes coupled with the man’s authoritative, even arrogant, bearing spoke clearly of someone well used to wealth and power. A lot of both. The man could have easily passed for a powerful politician from Abuja or a very wealthy northerner.
Yes, thought Alex as he eyeballed the fat man carefully, he was definitely one of either if not both.
Alex looked the two men over very carefully through the special lens of the peephole which captured all angles and detail well enough on the well-lit landing outside the door. He sensed no danger this time, so he put the gun away in the small of his back and cautiously got the door open on the safety chain. He looked through the narrow opening at the two men
“May I help you?” he asked.
“Yes indeed, you may, sir,” said the man in the business suit, his British accented English, perfect, his entire manner very businesslike. “You are Mr. Alexander Chike Okoye, ex-Lieutenant of the Nigerian Army Special Forces, are you not?”
Alex instantly became apprehensive. Strangers appearing at his door with full knowledge of his name and military identity wasn’t a good sign at all. He eyeballed the men again, smelt the money and decided to play along.
“Yeah, what’s the problem?” he replied
Mr. Suit smiled politely. “There isn’t one, sir, at least not on your part. We are here because we have a certain problem of our own for which we would like to solicit your expert advice and assistance,” the smile broadened and he gestured at the door. “If you would just let us in for a few minutes, we would explain things further. My name is Basil Audu and this…” he gestured respectfully at the fat man who stood slightly back, watching quietly. “…This is my boss, Alhaji Mustapha Usman, CEO, Goldfield Holding International.”
The name of the men didn’t ring any bells in Alex’s brain, but that of the company sounded distantly familiar. He quickly wondered where he had heard it before.
“I have abandoned important business in Abuja to come all the way here just to see you personally, Mr. Okoye. My circumstance is that desperate,” the Alhaji adjusted the huge sleeves of his voluminous white Agbada as he spoke, lifted them onto his shoulders in a flamboyant manner. He too spoke perfect English with a slight British accent. “I have a most unusual offer to make you and if you will just let us in for a few minutes so we can sit down and talk things over properly, you could find yourself making a lot of money in a matter of days.”
Alex stared at him a moment, then made up his mind. He got the door off the safety chain and opened it wide, stood back and waved them in.
“Come in,” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Okoye,” said the Alhaji and walked through followed by his assistant.
Alex pushed the door closed, locked it quickly by depressing the button on the knob before following the men into the living-room. He waved at the leather sofas.
“Please be seated.”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Suit politely for both of them and they took seats. The fat Alhaji and his voluminous Agbada overflowed the big armchair in which he sat while his assistant sat down on the sofa.
Alex picked up the remote control from the low coffee table in the middle of the room and turned off the television then went to sit down in another armchair, so he faced the two men directly across the modest-sized living room.
“Firstly,” began Alex carefully. “I want to know how it is you people come to know of me and exactly where to find me?”
The fat man sat comfortably relaxed in the armchair with his arms on the broad armrests. His hands made a careless gesture. “I am a very wealthy and resourceful man with a lot of powerful connections in this country, both political and military,” he said simply, matter-of-factly. “There is hardly anything I want that I can’t get with a phone call or a personal visit, money always buys the rest. I approached two different parties at the highest levels in the Army to recommend probable solutions to my present predicament and your name came up on both occasions” He pointed a finger at Alex. “I now possess a copy of your military file which contains every information about you from the day you joined the Army to the day you left, and then provided a forwarding address which is here. I also possess the full records of the case and court-martial that led to your being booted out of the Army and in it you will find the identities, reports, and testimonies of everyone involved, what was said and what was done in all the high level, closed-door sessions and meetings you were not allowed to attend. If you accept my offer and accomplish the tasks required, all these documents will be yours as well as a great deal of money.”
Alex stared at him and felt anger well up within him. He had never ever seen his personnel file before, not while serving in the military or after being kicked out. No soldier could ever accomplish such a thing as take a peek into his own personal file because such a file was classified well above him, accessible only to one’s commanding officer and above. It was where they entered the reports that either made or unmade your career. For a civilian to be in possession of such a file at all, classified military property, was highly illegal and technically impossible, more so in his case as an officer who had worked for the Military Intelligence Agency. The civilian would need to have at least a two-star general kind of connection because not even paying someone high up in the Army personnel department a lot of money to steal it was an opinion, such a file was classified so high it simply didn’t exist.
Alex stared at Alhaji Mustapha Usman and his anger swiftly turned to respect. One thing was for sure, thought Alex, he would give his right eye to see those documents, every last one of them. He was already dying to know who and who stabbed him in the back, and then there was that constant hint of a lot of money at a time he had big money problems. Alex relaxed in the armchair and kept his entire manner calm and controlled, his face completely expressionless. It was never a good thing to let anyone see your emotions.
“What is your offer and what is the task required?” said Alex calmly.
The Alhaji sat forward at once.
“Four months ago, my brother, went missing while on a private business trip to the northern part of the country, Maiduguri to be exact. He seems to have just disappeared into thin air along with his jeep, driver, and bodyguard. I have had the help of both the police and the Army, even the civilian JTF, in searching for them since then, but so far no traces of any of them have been found anywhere,” the Alhaji took a deep breath and continued. “About a month ago, my niece, my brother’s only child, became dissatisfied with all the efforts being made to find her father and, against every advice, decided to take matters into her own hands. Without even informing me, she hired four men to help her and flew right into Maiduguri three weeks ago, to find her father. Four days later, the bodies of all the four men turned up dead in a canal on the outskirts of Maiduguri and my niece was nowhere to be found. Having been there yourself, you should know exactly how crazy and dangerous that city can be with the terrorist insurgency problems besieging it. Once I heard of the bullet-riddled state of the corpses of those four men, I had very little hope of ever finding the girl they were supposed to be guarding again, certainly not alive and unharmed. At first, I thought it was only a matter of time before the police or JTF found her corpse somewhere, but that never happened in three days of intensive searching. I was beginning to lose hope of ever finding my niece again, and then a week ago, right out of nowhere, I got a phone call through her line, but it wasn’t her, of course, I spoke to a man that claimed to be her abductor. Mr. Okoye, my niece is now being held for ransom by the terrorist group, Boko Haram”
“Did you get proof of life and well-being?” asked Alex at once.
“Proof of life, yes, I was allowed to speak briefly with her, but what do you mean exactly by proof of well-being?”
“Photos that prove she’s fine, tactical questions and answers that show she hasn’t been hurt in any way. That is the universal basis for demand and payment of ransom, the victim must not be hurt in any way.”
“I’m not a professional at handling terrorists or critical negotiations of this nature like you are, Mr. Okoye, and I am certainly at a loss as to how to tackle kidnappers as such a thing has never occurred in my family before. I was only allowed to speak to my niece for about two to three seconds. She sounded terrified but very much alive”
“How much are they demanding?” asked Alex.
“One million dollars.”
Alex was surprised but hid it well. “And you are prepared to pay that kind of money to get your late brother’s daughter back?”
The Alhaji spread his hands. “Have I a choice? This girl is an only child and that complicates this issue a lot. The Chibok girls were kidnapped only two months ago, three hundred of them and the entire military forces of this country can’t find them, not even the sophisticated US intelligence agencies watching from satellites in the sky above, have a single clue as to where the terrorists took them to. No one can do a thing about anything and those girls make up a very large group that is impossible to hide or overlook. My niece is just one unimportant person.”
Alex didn’t have an answer for that one so he changed angle. “Even with all your connections and justifiable circumstance, neither the government nor the Army will permit you to hand over that kind of money to those terrorists, that would be practically arming them to wreak more havoc on this country. Once you get the authorities involved in any manner, which you must have to do anyway, this will become a strategic decision of sacrificing the life of a single citizen against that of so many others. You will definitely lose.”
“I’m not stupid, Mr. Okoye. I realize only too well how delicate and sensitive a matter this is, which is one reason I came all the way down here to meet privately with you myself. I’m not bringing the government or the military into this, just a few well-placed friends who will secretly lend me all the help I require to get this done, from a few loyal soldiers to all the necessary documents required to send them right through our lines into enemy territory to meet privately with the terrorists. The whole thing will be kept very secret from start to finish and everything is already set, but there are, however, two problems in the way, and that is exactly where you come in. The first is that these soldiers assigned to me, though highly trained, are completely new to the north-eastern territories, and second, I need someone who can adequately fill up the position of a professional negotiator. My military contacts tell me you have fought in the north-eastern territories for over two years and I was led predominantly to understand that not only does your unique military training and war experiences make you ideal for this mission, you are the best man to lead it. But most importantly, you already have some kind of history with the leader of the Boko Haram faction holding my niece”
Alex wondered yet again where this man could be getting all this high wired information but he was also intrigued.
“He calls himself El Soldat.”
“El Soldat?” Alex sat up at once. “That bastard is one of the smartest and most elusive war criminals there has ever been in the history of mankind. I hunted him for four months and only caught up with him once. He got away by taking an entire village hostage, slaughtered an entire family just to make his point and I ended up bargaining my head off to save the lives of the rest. El Soldat is an Arab fighting with the insurgents, but he operates on a slightly higher level, which suggests he has some form of advanced military training. If your niece is with him, then God help you and her too because that man is proper bad news even on a good day and his second-in-command isn’t far behind. I know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“Which is why you will be the one handling negotiations with them.” said the Alhaji at once.
“I haven’t agreed to take the offer yet.”
“The whole thing won’t take more than a few days of your time and I’m willing to pay you very handsomely, ten million naira.”
“No, sir, so sorry.” Alex shook his head firmly. He was a bit unsettled by the large amount, even tempted, but he wasn’t stupid and he was thinking with every cell in his brain right now. “First of all, that entire state is now a full-fledged war zone. With El Soldat within fifty miles of any point, that area automatically becomes even more dangerous than the rest. That bastard is a mass murderer who, in typical Islamic State style, would blow up a crowded marketplace just to prove a point or get at one single person. Secondly, your niece is most likely held somewhere to the south of Bama, all that area is Boko Haram stronghold right now and that’s where the kingpins are to be found. Their supreme headquarters, Sambisa forest, is right there, twenty-three miles to the south-east of Bama.” Alex moved the index fingers of his hands in an arc, drawing a wide circle. “Getting in and out of that area safely is as good as impossible not to talk of highly dangerous, they behead Nigerian soldiers and Christians on sight down there and I fall into both categories. If they find out I’m within the vicinity of their stronghold, they’ll come after me like bats out of hell and if I’m caught, I’m finished. Thirdly, hostage exchange situations are not as simple as they sound, particularly not with trigger happy terrorists. It’s always a tense affair that could turn into a full-blown gunfight in a second, I’ve seen it happen too many times than I care to remember. Lastly, the operation is definitely not legal, which means that if I get caught by the Army handing over hundreds of millions of naira in hard currency to terrorists, I’m finished. I’ll be thrown into jail without even the grace of a fake trial, that’s if I don’t get lynched first, there’s very little tolerance for terrorist sympathizers up there.” Alex shook his head again. “I can’t accept your offer, sir. I still like breathing as it is and I’m beginning to enjoy civilian life too.”
“You and the other men will be issued special military documents that will get you pass all checkpoints without any harassment and legalize your presence anywhere in the region,” said the Alhaji.
Alex was amazed. “How are you going to pull off a thing like that?”
“That will be my problem, Mr. Okoye, and like I’ve already proven to you, I do have the necessary connections. As an ex-Military Intelligence operative, you will, of course, be able to testify to the legitimacy of any military document you receive. I will pay you thirty million naira, half up front and the other half after the operation is completed. If all goes well and according to my wishes, you will get a one hundred percent bonus, bringing your total take to sixty million cash. And, of course, your military files too.”
Alex was stunned. His brain made the quick conversion. The money was like a quarter of a million dollars!
“You don’t have to give me an answer right now,” said the Alhaji quickly, holding up his hands and getting to his feet. “Think about it and sleep on it, but you only have twenty-four hours to give the reply because the deadline I was given by the terrorists expires eight days from today. I will be flying back to Abuja first thing tomorrow morning to make some final arrangements. If I get a consenting phone call from you within the time frame, arrangements will be made at once for you to come to Abuja as well. If I don’t get the phone call, then I will assume your final answer is still a, no, and pick my second opinion to replace you.”
The man in the suit had already gotten to his feet too. He dropped a white calling card on the low furniture table in the center of the room before them.
“You have a good night, Lieutenant,” said the Alhaji and walked off for the door.
The man in the suit nodded once to Alex and followed his boss. He hurried ahead to get the door open for him.
Alex stayed put in his seat, the door would automatically come unlocked once the knob-like handle was turned from within.
Mr. Suit got the door open easily and held it wide for his boss. Both men walked out and the door closed soundlessly after them.
Alex got up at once and went over to relock the door. He replaced the gun in the wall clock and hung it back up on the wall, then went and sat down again in the armchair to think.
Alex had joined the Army five years ago, right after completing his one-year National Youth Service Corse which was mandatory for all university graduates in Nigeria. He had scaled through Army cadet school with flying colors, and then, right after that, became one of the few soldiers selected for advanced training to become part a new special commando group being formed to counter the growing insurgency problems facing the county in the northeast. When the training was completed, he had been posted directly to Adamawa state, another northeastern state being affected by the serious insurgency problem. There in Adamawa state, he had formed part of an elite commando unit that did battle with the insurgents, day and night for nearly a year until he was selected for even more special training which turned him into something else entirely…Special Forces. Once the new training was completed, he had promptly been sent back to Adamawa state, but this time, as part of an elite unit of Special Forces Commandos that ran covert operations directly for the Nigerian Military Intelligence Agency against the Boko Haram insurgents. These covert operations went on for nearly six months until the ‘insurgency problem’ became a full-blown war. Alex’s unit had been transferred swiftly to neighboring Bornu state, the forefront of the war, and there he had served his country with all his strength, his might, and his blood. Even when the bloody politician wouldn’t provide adequate weapons for them to effectively counter the ever-increasing firepower of the insurgents, he had still continued with the fight, went on for nearly two years until all the senseless killings and sufferings of thousands and thousands of helpless innocent souls finally got to him. The whole thing suddenly just became too much for him to bear. It started eating away at his mind and brain in a way he couldn’t quite understand or control. He had handled most of the physical kickbacks of the problem well enough, he had nerves of steel, but he was helpless against the nightmares, the headaches, the constant anger and shortness of temper. And it was the last two that led to the incident which ended his career completely.
Alex remembered it all like it was only yesterday, but it all happened over six months ago.
Feeling the mixed emotions return, Alex inwardly cautioned himself yet again as he had done so many times since, that he had to let go of the past and move on with his life even as it was.
It had turned out that all he needed, after all, was just a prolonged period of rest and peace for both his mind and body to pull themselves together again. Six months of no war and blood had worked the miracle. His health was fine again and even the nightmares had gone away.
Yes, his health and his mind were completely restored to normal and that was the good side of things, but the bad part was that he was almost broke.
As an Army officer, he had spent most of his income in taking care of his poor family. His father had died less than two years ago, after a prolonged illness that had eaten up money like dry ground soaked up water, nonetheless, his mother and two siblings still had to be taken care of too. His younger brother was now in the university with four more years to go while his younger sister had recently gotten married and it had fallen to him to set up her semi-educated husband with a car to work as a taxi driver. They all lived happily in the nice house he had built back east in his hometown of Imo state, and they still thought he was an Army officer, still believed the money was there. Alex wasn’t about to enlighten them anytime soon, no, that bit of information alone would kill his ailing mother who had been so proud of him from the very first day he came home in full military uniform and people began to fear him. He still sent them money regularly now, as best as he could, but the burden was beginning to tell greatly. The income of an ordinary warehouse foreman was by no means the same as that of an officer in the Nigerian military. He was, of course, planning to get another job soon, but it was so hard to get anything in this terrible economy, even with his university degree, which was why he had accepted this job as foreman in the first place.
Alex thought long and hard. At a point, his eyes went to the wall clock and he saw that it was almost eleven o’clock. He got to his feet and moved around the apartment, turning off all the lights and appliances to save some money on the incredibly expensive electricity bills, then went into his bedroom to sleep.
Tomorrow would be a very busy day at the warehouse and he would need to get there early. He was already tired for today as it was.
CONTINUE READING >>>>>>>CHAPTER 3
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