He went into an eerie state, after a hard day’s work, stretching himself on his camp bed. His heart shook violently and beads of sweat covered his forehead, but eventually, he fell asleep.
The theatre commander in Maiduguri, Gen. Charlie was furious all day about earlier events, as he sat for dinner in his half-lit shack before retiring for a short rest.
He tried as much as possible to cast his mind off the unfortunate violent encounter between some of his men and the police in Dama.
“We are all here for a common mission; to protect our people.” “So, how can we be fighting ourselves?
“What would Madawaki Soja think; what impression have we created about us to him?”
Entirely in another world, Captain Sabo knocked and entered. “Evening Sir,” he greeted, standing erect in the usual military fashion.
Gen. Charlie stared at him in the face and replied almost inaudibly, “Evening, and what can I do for you, officer?” he asked.
“Permission to make bonfire in the camp, sir,” the Captain replied.
His boss waved at him gently, signifying his approval. The junior officer saluted and hurried out.
Gen. Charlie relapsed back to his sickening thoughts. “Perhaps, we have over stayed in this Boko Haram insurgency war,” he thought. “And we are still scheming to execute the last part of this national assignment; to capture their leader, Abubakar Shekau.”
“But he cannot escape us,” “We shall capture him and parade him alive to Nigerians before we hand him over for prosecution,” he said with arms in the air.
This feeling gave Gen. Charlie some relief. He imagined how excited Nigerians would be at his capture. They would be happier than the day the notorious armed robber, Anini was captured. We shall get him and soon too.
He now remembered that a little boy had hinted that Shekau was badly wounded during soldiers’ invasion of Sambisa forest. But he escaped and was receiving treatment at the home of a local herbalist in Timbulo village, a border community in Niger. He was secretly trailed, but had relocated to an unknown destination.
“We shall intensify the search, this week,” he muttered aloud.
He stood up, grabbed his pistol and headed for the door, as his body guards rushed behind him. He went to the venue of the bonfire carnival in the camp and addressed troops. He sent various battalions out on night surveillance and patrols in different locations.
When the first batch of troops returned the next day to replenish; the second had already taken over from them.
The Battalion led by Col. Asabo strayed into the neighbouring Niger republic beyond Timbulo village under the cover of the MNJTF. A local resident had informed of a suspected terrorists’ camp, some 60 kilometers east of Timbulo village. But Nigerien soldiers refused to accompany them.
Timbulo itself was a deserted, swampy, greenish mesh of vast lands in the desert nation. For hours as they traversed the fields, only birds in the air whispered. Trees and grasses blossomed all year round. It was difficult to sight a hamlet, much more a settlement. These isolated hamlets were shelters of professional hunters, who sometimes spend months in the forests hunting game for money. Each of the hamlets had foodstuff and stockpiled meat, occasionally exported into town.
Col. Asabo met a hunter in one of the hamlets and engaged him in a friendly discussion.
“Sanu, Mai gida,” the Colonel greeted.
The hunter, answered, “Sanu fa, yayah aiki?”
The discussion continued in Hausa. Through it, the soldiers were made to understand the village was called Bolu and aside hunters, even government forest officials dreaded the terrain and never bothered to enforce the law on game reserve in Bolu. It is a complete hunters’ paradise.
But through him, Nigerian soldiers were made to understand there was a great medicine man further down the valley. He was not easily accessible, but once you reach him, it was the end of whatever predicament. Soldiers pleaded with him to lead them to his home. He accepted.
Soldiers sensed that approaching the place in daylight might cause any prey to escape or fight back tenaciously. So, tactically, they delayed the journey till dusk and had refreshments with the hunter. The old man in his late forties was enjoying the company of the soldiers.
Col. Asabo had a feeling that if Shekau was really wounded, he might possibly be in the herbalist’s home. He radio messaged the theatre commander in Maiduguri about the new mission and requested for extension of time for the return of back-up troops. Gen. Charlie granted the request.
At dusk, the hunter led the soldiers. The advance team decided to go on foot to a certain point, while military trucks trailed behind at a distance. Though it was like a life journey in the thick darkness of the night to get to the great herbalist’s home, the journey was energised and shortened with the lively tales of the hunter.
A kilometer to the herbalist’s yard, its occupants sensed the approach of alien bodies, as powerful torch lights beamed in their direction. A gunshot was fired in the air and Col. Asabo instantly decoded its strength as beyond what mere hunters would possess for game hunting.
He barked orders to his troops to spread round the hamlet. The soldiers instantly complied with military precision. He safeguarded the hunter by putting him in one of the military trucks.
In no time, they surrounded the hamlet, while shooting from the antagonistic forces intensified. Soldiers replied, and the occupants who numbered roughly 15 knew they were in danger. Some attempted to escape but ran into the ambush of Nigerian soldiers.
Within 40 minutes, soldiers had captured and demobilised scores of the shooters, invaded the hamlet, and arrested the herbalist and the five persons with him. Behold, they were terrorists and among them was Abubakar Shekau, recognised by his trademark Osama Bin ‘Ladenic’ beard.
Col. Asabo held him by the throat and pointed a gun to his forehead to pull the trigger. Shekau pleaded passionately, “Dan Allah, please don’t kill me,’ it’s not my fault.” “Whose fault then?” asked Col. Asabo.
Asabo overcoming his anger remembered killing Shekau in battle would amount to something extra-judicial and rob Nigerians of the opportunity of seeing their tormentor alive in confession. So, he restrained himself and ordered his arrest.
Mission accomplished, Shekau was bundled into a waiting military truck and ferried away. An hour later, a military helicopter was waiting in the fields and the suspects were hurled into it and flown into the Command Centre, Maiduguri.
The camp erupted in wild jubilation as Gen. Charlie addressed troops.
“I think this assignment is over now,” he yelled.
“Yeeeh!!!! Yeeeh!!!!!,” soldiers shouted.
“But before anything else, I have informed the COAS, our Leader, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai,” he revealed.
“He is on his way to this place now,” he said.
“Sai Madawaki, Sai Shogaba soja!” the soldiers echoed.
Already, news headlines by both local and international media began flashing about the arrest of Abubakar Shekau. CNN flashed; “Nigerian Soldiers Capture, Abubakar Shekau, Nigeria’s Most Wanted Terrorist Kingpin;” Al Jazeera said in news briefs: “At Last Boko Haram Leader, Abubakar Shekau Captured Alive by Buratai,” Another said, “End of the Road For Abubakar Shekau; and a rider added, “To be paraded in Abuja Soon.” Social media buzzed crazily with the news of his capture.
At the Command theatre in Maiduguri, Buratai addressed troops. “I salute your gallantry, your courage and bravery. We are proud of you; Nigerians are proud of you,” he said.
“Our Commander-in-chief of the Naija Armed forces, President Mai Geskiya has sent his compliments to all of you. And he has given us the permission to parade Shekau before Nigerians in Abuja to confirm his capture,” Buratai hinted.
Gen. Charlie led his boss, Gen. Buratai to where Shekau and his commanders, arrested along with him, after a fierce battle in Bolu village were cooling their heels.
On sighting Buratai and even with his knee cap injury partially healed, Shekau summoned the last reserve of energy in his body to sprawl on the spacious floor remorseful and beggarly.
“General, I am sorry,” Shekau said in a very weak voice.
Buratai stood watching him in awe. He said to himself, “so brutal killers dread death this much?”
Feeling that his plea for mercy had not gotten the desired attention, Shekau crawled and knelt down before Buratai, bending his wounded knee in pains. Groaning in pains, he said, “It’s the work of the devil.”
Tearfully, he continued, “I am sorry for killing my own brothers and sisters. I was so brainwashed into this evil Islamic ideology. Please forgive me. Tell Nigerians, to forgive me. From the bottom of my heart, I am really sorry.”
Buratai and his commanders only listened in utmost shock. None uttered a word. Before his capture, they pictured a brave warrior, but the tormentor Shekau was not one. When Shakau saturated himself with the pleas, Buratai, barked orders; “take them to Abuja.”
A week later, a parade ground had been prepared in Wuse, one of Abuja’s busiest areas. Roads were closed kilometers before the market. Security agents were everywhere and only Naija people on foot were allowed access. The afternoon weather was light, breezy and cool. And Shekau and his commanders were laid on a large podium at the centre of the market.
Nigerians struggled to catch a glimpse of him. There was a surge of people. An aged woman, whose only son was killed when terrorists bombed the UN building in Abuja, got to where the disempowered Shekau stood with his gang, muttering some inaudible words, as she spat at his face.
Gripped by the emotions of pain, the woman moved to hit Shekau, but was held back by security, as she sobbed loudly.
Buratai saw the drama and beckoned to security to allow the pensively aggrieved woman to come to him. Buratai bent down counselling her. “Mama, please I know it’s painful, but may you…”
Alas, Gen. Charlie kicked himself to wakefulness on his camp bed. His body covered with streams of sweat. “Oh! So it was a dream after all? He exclaimed. But I know it will happen one day. Dreams are realities. Shekau will not escape us. We shall capture him alive, he assured himself.
- Kolawole, PhD is a University teacher and contributed this piece from Keffi, Nasarawa State.