By Nneka Obi*
The last time I visited Nigeria was in 2013. My husband approved my request to visit home to celebrate the Christmas and New Year. I came with our three children, Chidi, Okey and my lovely little daughter, Amarachi.
It was the second time I would make a trip home since we relocated to the United States of America (USA) in 2005 in search of greener pastures and safety. The heightened insecurity in Nigeria, which also exploded more dangerously in the Southeast, the region of my birth and where we were domiciled, compelled the imperative to relocate to safer havens.
Unbridled acts of criminality and violent agitations from separatists movements in the region caused anxiety and unrests too frequently. It crazily caused deaths, tears and sorrows all too often for comfort. So, America was our choice destination.
We have since lived in America and visit home once after a long time. A place of birth has its charm, fondness and memories, incomparable to any other place. Sometimes, the feeling of nostalgia would grip us so strong, but shall dissipate, once you read online news, only to be assailed with more daring, reckless and indiscriminate exploits of armed criminals on hapless citizens.
In 2013, when we last visited home, we spent two days in Abuja and eagerly proceeded to the village, at Abakpa , in Enugu state. We had six weeks to spend at home all through the New Year. But the excitement vanished after the first week. I enjoyed the company of granny, old friends and neighbours.
But we could not endure the horror of attacks and killings. By the second week, senseless and violent armed robberies, kidnappings for ransom, targeted at foreign- based indigenes who came home for the yuletide, cult clashes and other allied crimes gave us enough phobia and psychological trauma. We had to immediately move out of the Southeast.
I cried out to my husband about our fears and restlessness and he advised us to relocate to Abuja to spend the rest of the vacation. I complied instantly. When I narrated our ordeal to him, he was shocked beyond words and almost vowed, it was the last time we visited home again.
But almost five years after, and with a new political leadership in Nigeria, with President Muhammedu Buhari, at the helm, we kept reading about the insecurity situation not just in the Southeast, but the whole of Nigeria has improved positively. And that even Boko Haram insurgents were given lethal blows by the Nigerian soldiers and defeated.
We learnt in the case of the Southeast, like anywhere else, the Nigerian military conducted various operations to flush out armed criminals. It again, revived the home-like feeling in me like no any other time. My husband protested, but I insisted the security situation has improved tremendously, based on what we read in the news and the confessions of relations and acquaintances we sought confirmation back home.
Eventually, my husband again, reluctantly approved my request to visit home for the 2017 yuletide and New Year celebrations. We arrived in the early days of December and had an almost instant passage to the country home in Abakpa. The nearly eight hours journey on the road from Abuja to Enugu-Abakpa were quite revealing especially from Ogbadibo in the neighbouring Benue state to Enugu.
We did not encounter the usual intimidating security roadblocks at every turn of a kilometer on the road. Vehicular traffic flowed much freer with less interruption. Travellers or commuters wore excited and nostalgic faces. No intimidation or harassments from masked criminal gangs. We travelled blissfully until we got to the village. This was the first hint I got that the haunting insecurity of our people has improved for the better.
In the village, with my family, the usual fun with people was not short-lived by the feeling of fear on what next would happen as was our experience in 2013. We hardly heard of kidnappings, armed robberies and agitations from restive youths and other criminal elements. Alas, the Southeast was from from the siege of criminal gangs? I wondered aloud! We exchanged visits and frisked all corners of the villages and the state without any attack from the armed gangs.
It was at this point it dawned on me clearly that the positive reports I read about improved security in Nigeria was true. I didn’t hear of bomb explosions on Christmas day in any big city in Nigeria, as had been the tradition a few years back. I felt so relieved. And when I made contacts with my kith and kin in other parts of the Southeast, they confirmed similar stories of violence-free twin celebrations in 2017.
This reality ignited my interest and restored my confidence in the Nigerian Army. I was told the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) was Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai. I also learnt Mr. President appointed him some years back. I have never met him physically Gen. Buratai before, but was encountering him through his good works in my region of birth.
It is unbelievable that through him Nigeria has regained its dignity on security. Through these inquiries, I was made to understand the clean tap water we were consuming in the village came from the Abakpa military Cantonment under the 82 Division, Nigerian Army.
I was marveled and pleasantly surprised, to discover a Nigerian Army could project itself with such human face by executing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects in any community in Nigeria.
Abakpa is a community that has never had pipe borne water since its evolution and it is the first time it is enjoying the privilege of being a host community to the Nigerian Army. I got to know, Army Resident engineers at Abakpa Cantonment in Enugu, constructed a gigantic water treatment plant, with a capacity of treating and supplying one million litres of water daily, which has been extended to host communities.
I tried to find out from my people why it appeared too easy and in a jiffy to have such relief, after decades of suffering over water. They opened up into more goodies the current leadership of the Nigerian Army under Gen. Buratai has extended to the Southeast region.
I was informed the Army launched the “Operation Python Dance I & II” to cleanse communities of armed miscreants, hooligans and criminals at different times. And each time, the Python, an ancestral reptile, which signifies peace, came to dance, communities in the Southeast benefitted from water, medical assistance and other numerous CSR projects for the people. They were unanimous that the Nigerian Army has reached new heights in civil/military relations, courting the friendship of communities, but very harsh on armed gangs.
I felt enthralled and had almost resolved within me not to go back to our base in USA anymore. But it was a decision I could not take alone. I needed to discuss it with my husband and obtain his consent. I reached out to my husband and informed him of the changes at home, especially on insecurity, which marooned us away in foreign lands for years.
I told him the armed criminals who erroneously thought Enugu could be their permanent operational base; those who threatened and frightened everybody at sight have been uprooted from the state, including the notorious billionaire kidnapper. My husband was quite happy and shocked at the same time. But relocating back home was not an easy option either. We had all established in America and that sort of movement is planned, before execution.
However, I felt my joy incomplete without contributing my small quota in assisting the Nigerian Army sustain the tempo of its humanitarian works and security in the region. I instantly resolved to reach out to Igbos in the Diaspora to explore the possibility of throwing our support and weight behind Nigerian Army to see that our ancestral places remain conducive homes for all. It’s a message I have taken back to the USA and I pray God to help me actualize this plan.
We look anxiously to when the Python would stage another dance at Enugu again. And if my mission to mobilise Enugu sons and daughters in Diaspora becomes fruitful, the next time the Army under Buratai stages a comeback, our shadows would be right behind him in support to assist us construct roads, build some schools and electrify communities.
This would provide more relief to communities, since it appears some of our State Governors have abandoned their basic developmental obligations to people for politicking. So, when the Python comes to dance again, we hope to dance together. This is a time to be proud of Nigeria and the Nigerian Army.
*Obi, a Nigerian based in the Diaspora contributed this piece from New Jersey, USA. The views expressed are hers.