LT Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru is dead but his good deeds will live almost forever. That is a likely conclusion a reader of his biography written by Niran Adedokun may come to.
The book, The Man, The Soldier, The Patriot , is an eye opener on this illustrious son of Nigeria who died in active service as Chief of Army Staff.
In the opening chapter, Adedokun recreates Attahiru’s last day relying on details from his wife, Fati, and others who were with him but the presentation is done in the ubiquitous third-person narration used by the novelist.
We find out, for instance, that when he woke up that morning, Fati, the mother of his three daughters, was on the prayer mat. After smiling at his praying wife, he looked at the clock beside his bed, which showed it was almost six in the morning. He was out thirty minutes later, fully dressed as a three-star general. He left for the office, sorted out a few things and returned home to prepare for a journey he didn’t know he would return from a dead body.
We also find out that Attahiru enlisted in the Army at a time military tribunals were prosecuting the civilian government functionaries of the Second Republic. He was in the Abyssinia Company at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna as part of the 35th Regular Course. There, he had discovered a different life, where on arrival, parents, guardians, family members, were turned back at the gate of the academy. The other three companies are Burma, Dalet, and Mogadishu.
We also find out the interesting details of how he met, fell in love with and married Fati. He experienced cadets being made to walk into the academy with luggage on their heads or hunker down on their haunches with their luggage on their heads and move uncomfortably from the gate to an assembly point not less than one kilometre.
Chapter four of the book is about his time as the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, the counterinsurgency operation of the Nigerian Army.This assignment once again separated him from his wife and children who had been enjoying their time in Enugu.
After Lafiya Dole, he was back in Abuja and had plenty of time for family again. Then came his appointment as Chief of Army Staff. Though the Defence Headquarters is in Abuja, Attahiru was always on the move. Many a time he joined his men to battle insurgents.
Aside from chronicling Attahiru’s life, it also provides vital information about the military. Of the Presidential Guard, the author writes: “In addition to protecting the President and his family, the Presidential Guards Brigade provides security for the President’s guests. It also works with the Nigerian Police Force and other security agencies to ensure security in the Federal Capital Territory. Members of the Brigade also perform ceremonial duties such as raising and lowering the national flag during ceremonies and parades, ceremonial change of guard and mounting the guard of honour during national events like Independence Day and the reception of leaders of other nations.”
There are also significant details about life at the Defence Academy: “For the first three months, the new entrants were given an orientation on what the next three years would hold for them. They would be stones in the hands of second to sixth termers and were even made to sing a song affirming their lowly status. The song, which they sang in parts sonorously as possible, went this way:
I am a stone; I am stone
I am a putty material.
I must obey rules and regulations,
Given to me by my seniors.
“For most of these three months, cadets’ uniforms remained just white inner vests and shorts. This outfit itself further exposes the cadets to the reality of the endurance and discipline that a military career demands. Kaduna, the Nigerian Northwest city where the NDA is located, experiences harsh cold, windy, and hazy conditions during Harmattan. The first three months of the admission of cadets fall into that climatic period, yet the new intakes must go about in this bare clothing!
“With time, cadets are issued jungle hats, which they are sometimes forced to wear with vests and shorts, most of them feeling very uncomfortable with the incongruity. Yet, no exercise at the academy is without purpose. By the gradual process, would-be officers are trained to understand the importance of patience, resilience, and delayed gratification. Cadets receive lessons on how to wash and iron their hats. After that, before they are issued their uniforms, they learn how to clean, starch, and iron them. Finally, they are taught how to polish and shine their boots, a routine that they are told must be performed daily.”
Though he died at 54, Attahiru packed so much into his years and Adedokun lays them bare in easy-to’-read prose. The book’s epilogue beautifully captures the last moments before the plane and the people it was carrying became history. It is a fitting climax to a well-written work.
There are also tributes from prominent Nigerians on the patriot who died in active service.
Adedokun, who is the author of three other books, has delivered a biological gift that everyone and those in the military will find to be of inestimable value.
-Olukorede S Yishau is the author of In The Name of Our Father, Vaults of Secrets and United Countries of America and Other Travel Tales