“Good evening bros. How Abuja and your work? I been wan call you in the morning but I no fit control myself as everybody here just dey cry. You remember that Fabian daughter wey fire burn? She died yesterday.”
This was a phone conversation around 11.00 pm few days ago between our reporter and Emmanuel Nnaemeka, younger brother to Fabian Nnaemeka, a soldier deployed to Borno State in the counterinsurgency war, who has been missing for 10 months.
Fabian’s family and loved ones have been left devastated as no one has heard from him for nearly a year. Our investigations revealed that not even the military can say what has happened to him and it has no idea what to tell the family.
“They have refused to tell us anything about him. For the past 10 months we have asked and demanded to know what has happened to our brother but the army keeps tossing us about,” Emmanuel lamented, apparently frustrated.
What has made matters worse, according to the family, is that Fabian is not one to stay a week without a single phone call to his wife, mother or neighbours at the army barracks, 244 Recce Battalion, Saki, Oyo State.
“Since I got married to him, this is the longest I have stayed without hearing his voice,” the wife, Josephine, said. “Even when we had the normal husband and wife quarrel, he would still call even if it meant pretending that he called to talk to the children.”
Emmanuel confirmed this, adding that Fabian, a Lance Corporal, who joined the army as a member of 41 regular intake in 1996, regularly called his mother while away on duty.
“The last time we spoke was May 6, 2015 and he told me they were going for an attack where there was no phone network,” he noted.
According to Josephine, her husband also called her that day with the same information, including the names of some of his colleagues.
“That was typical Fabian. Whenever they were being deployed for an assignment, he would tell me some of his friends with whom they were going, most of them from this barracks. He was doing this so that I would know that he was not alone but in company of familiar faces,” Josephine recalled.
The sudden hiatus in phone calls has led to suspicions that he might have been killed in battle and this has further fuelled his wife and mother’s emotional and mental instability.
The last time Josephine said she saw her husband was August 2014. That is 19 months ago. He was on leave then and she was seven months pregnant with twins.
Two months later, after he had returned to Maiduguri, she was delivered through caesarean section but lost one of the twins. Unable to be by his wife’s side, Fabian increased the frequency of phone calls.
“He called regularly after I gave birth to know how we were doing but around May 6, 2015, the calls stopped and I have not heard from him since,” she said tearfully.
Josephine accused the army and the soldiers, whose names and phone numbers her husband provided her with, of deliberately keeping her in the dark.
“Some of the women here, whose husbands were deployed together with Fabian, receive calls from their husbands but Fabian has not called and some of the soldiers who came on pass would not tell me anything. They would only say they were attacked and they all ran in different directions, so they could not say about the whereabouts of Fabian,” she explained.
More worrisome, she said, is the army’s silence to her enquiries. Having been to the headquarters of her husband’s unit, 244 Recce Battalion in Saki, she was asked to submit his details and the name of the battalion he went to Maiduguri with, which is 81 Battalion in Ibadan.
Despite the information she provided, she got nothing from the army. Rather, she was asked to go and pray.
“After I submitted these details, they asked me to come back on Friday but when I went, it was the same story and they said I should pray.”
When contacted on phone, army spokesperson, Sani Usman, a Colonel, asked the reporter to send Fabian’s details through a text message but after the message was sent, he replied that the message be sent to the media coordinator of Operation Lafiya Dole, the counterinsurgency slogan, Mustapha Anka, a Colonel.
Anka told the icirnigeria.org that Fabian’s wife should find out about her husband from 81 Battalion, the unit to which he was attached before he was deployed to Maiduguri. He admitted, however, that it was the responsibility of the army to make such enquiry on her behalf but advised that she could do it on her own instead of waiting for the army.
He also asked for the details of the soldier and phone number of the wife, which the reporter sent through text.
More than a month after the details were sent, the army has not said anything or even contacted the family.
Josephine is angry that the army has tacitly allowed speculations about her husband. When she walks in the barracks, she said she feels that people are talking about her and when other women come to her house, the way they try to console her makes her want to give up hope.
Her children have also had to cope with the pressure.
“My children are always asking about their father and crying, especially when they go out to play with their friends,” she said, as she fought off tears, adding that her oldest daughter, 17, has refused to come back to the barracks from the village since rumours started making the rounds that Fabian is missing.
“The other day, my daughter rushed to the house crying because another child told her that her father was dead. You can imagine what she went through that day. I could only tell her not to believe what she hears outside.”
This website got in touch with some soldiers, who said they were together with Fabian at Pulka, a town the military announced in March of that year that it had liberated from Boko Haram, when they were attacked but they all refused to say what happened to him or give any hint about his whereabouts.
Fabian’s aged mother, according to Emmanuel, is now mentally unstable and spends most of her time in churches and prayer houses praying over Fabian’s picture for his safety and reappearance.
Josephine is struggling as well to take care of her remaining four children alone. But apparently, it is a huge struggle for her. A month ago, her five-year-old daughter was playing close to burning refuse and got badly burnt. The girl died last week at the hospital and the family has decided to keep the news from Fabian’s mother.
“We don’t want the news to worsen her health issues,” Emmanuel said.
As Josephine pondered what the future holds for her and her children, she only had unkind words for the army.
“The army is wicked for treating troops’ families with disdain. It was the same thing they did to other women. They kept their husbands’ disappearances for a year and then issued them with death certificates.
“Is that how to treat your employees? All the army knows how to do best is order its men for an assignment but when it comes to their welfare, they are not concerned,” she said angrily.