Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tribute To Lt. Kyom Leo: Young Soldier Killed Weeks Before His Wedding By Boko Haram

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Lt. Kyom Leo was billed to marry his fiance Miss Angela Gaiya on Saturday the 30th of August, 2014 in Kaduna. The young army officer died fighting in a counter insurgency campaign against Boko Haram.

Now, one of my friends and favorite writers, Lulufa Vongtau, pens a tribute to his memory and to all those lost in the fight to contain Boko Haram in the North East of Nigeria.

Lulufa knew Leo as a child and was there as the young soldier was laid to rest on the 17th of July. Making his tribute more poignant is that Lulu also served in various capacities in Borno, when it was still peaceful.

Read his tribute below...

Three years ago. I am in the office. My feet are on my desk. Sweet thick and cold fura da dambu making me drowsy. Should I drink coffee or not? A knock on my office door. A colleague from my home town, but married to a Kaduna man, passing through my airport, my 'sister'.

Larai enters closely followed by a young man. I sit up. Do you know this young man she asks? I look at him. He says morning sir, in a deep voice. He's a head taller than me, courteous, sharp piercing eyes. He looks smart. I shake my head negatively.

She smiles, enjoying my curiosity. Don't you remember Leo? I shake my head negatively although I have heard of many Leos. But not this one. I look into his eyes, those windows of the soul. It is almost cosmic when I exclaim. Leonardo, her son!

The young man smiles. I stand up, walk round my desk and envelop him in a bear hug. The last time I saw him, he was as tall as my table! Hes in town for some training. I look at him again. His bearing is military. We make small talk, I escort him to the tarmac for his flight to Lagos.

Cue forward three years, its a windy Saturday in Kaduna south as the coffin of a young captain brought down keeping the peace in the Maiduguri corridor is lowered into the earth. I try to console Larai, who was dry eyed. She had cried so much she could not cry again. I cannot contemplate the grief of a mother.

Later in the day I'm at the Mess. Moody. I am thinking. A very long time ago, in another life, I lived in Biu, I lived in Damaturu, and I lived in Baga. The names Damboa, Buni Yadi, Kwayar Kusa, Gulak, Shafa etc were rustic villages spread across the horizon like broken china in the sun. They have memories for me.

It was in Buni Yadi I and Jacob Okpeje independent of other sales depots invented the practice of hiding the 'country route' sales proceeds deep within empty Coca Cola crates. It was in Baga I first learnt to drive on sand. Damboa was where I saw innovative kerosene powered fridges for the first time in my life. They were once real. I cannot imagine what is going on there these days.

I think of Leo, I imagine him dressed in camo, holding a TAR-21 bullpup, and remember him trying to force me to play musical chairs in his parents living room. I think of the song 19 by Paul Hardcastle and the lines .."destruction of men in thier prime.."

Having courage does not mean we are unafraid. I raise my glass in silent gratitude and appreciation to those who together with their families serve and sacrifice every day for the safety and well-being of our nation and its citizens. It seems inadequate but it seems the right thing to do.

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