We came we saw and we conquered, Happy 15th Anniversary Nigeria Defense Academy Course 1 Officers and RIP our fallen colleagues
After the disbandment of the then Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF), the herculean task of rebuilding the army rested on the shoulders of one of the best soldiers to come out of Africa; Brig Gen Mitikishi Maxwell Khobe (RIP), Nigerian Army. Then Colonel, Brig Gen MM Khobe visited universities and schools to encourage the best brains to enlist into the new army. Things took a different turn on 6th January 1999 when marauding RUF and AFRC rebels entered unleashing one of the worst calamities mankind has ever witnessed. Thousands of us answered that clarion call to take up arms in defense of our people. In what was and is still described as the fairest recruitment process the army has ever done, the 1985 census report was used as the basis to quota officer cadets from across the country thereby giving chiefdoms and district to be represented based on population. Some districts scored higher pass grades than others but still couldn’t make it due to the quota system. No two cadets were selected from the same chiefdom. People failed in other districts but made it to the final list whilst others who scored high marks didn’t make it. Long and short of it all 81 officer cadets were selected amongst them 9 ex rankers and 72 civilians.
Newly commissioned officers, NDA 1999
Our recruitment was a huge step away from the old card or patronage system wherein people had to be connected to politicians or relatives of military personnel. I remember one day in Murray Town I asked my uncle the then Foreign Affairs minister, Dr S S Banya to help me secure a slot (by the way I was staying with him); his response in his usual soft tone was “ehhhh Sama dis nor to politics biznes oh”…. I had to go it the hard way. The exams were set by FBC lecturers and at the end of the day continuing students, 6th formers, teachers and young graduates got the nod to be trained at the prestigious Nigeria Military Academy (NDA), Kaduna Nigeria.
In NDA because we were trying to be launched into war, the training was extraordinarily tough to a point that some cried out of self-pity. Some of us questioned what we were actually doing there…. some wished they had stayed to do their masters. From frog jump to sitting on the head to forward roll to eating under stress you name it. We were told the training was not meant to punish us but to toughen us for what laid ahead of us. We were placed in Tamando and Colito Companies to breed competition and sense of belonging. By the way the commandant was called Maj Gen Bashiru Salihu Magashi hence my nick name BS MAGASHI owing to the fact that I am also Bockarie Sama (BS) Banya. From map reading to tactics to field crafts to drill and firing, we went through a very rigorous training in a very short space of time because we had to come back to pursue the belligerents. Most Nigerians couldn’t believe we turned out such an outstanding passing out parade saying that regular cadets must have been used. But no we had such a high assimilation rate that our instructors used to call us book men. I was fortunate to be part of colour party. On 22nd May 1999, 81 of us passed out as Second Lieutenants in the presence of our then Ambassador Joe C Blell. I wish to use this opportunity to thank the former Ambassador Blell for all the support he rendered us during our stay.
|Turning civilians into fighting machines is not easy|
Back home we returned to a hero’s welcome owing to the fact we were the first batch after disbandment and the largest number ever at the time. We were celebrated as celebs and respected and back in Bo and Kenema people queued up to watch our passing out and training videos at Rio cinema and other outlets. In the barracks community however, the situation was quite different. We were taunted and jeered and called all sorts of names from kamajors to kabbah sojas to whatever derogatory names came to mind. Some of us who worked in Freetown felt the brunt of their anger at us at every given opportunity but we held on and never gave up.
Colonel Mike Dent, the first British detachment commander and the brain behind IMATT formation always gave us hope saying that “you are the bed rock of RSLAF”. As young officers we were in such a haste to see the bed rock thing come to past that we felt he was just raising our hopes little did we realize that he actually meant in the short to medium term. This reminds me of a song we all sang in NDA, which we have managed to pass down to Officer Cadets that have passed through our hands at the Armed Forces Training Centre…”little tender cous cous do not cry you will be a senior day by day… day by day!” Indeed we have become seniors day by day as we have colleagues who have either become Commanding Officers, top notch staff officers or attended senior staff college. Naval Lieutenant Commanders Hassan Conteh (China), JD Bangura (China) and LK Jabati (Ghana) were the first in our course to attend staff course. Maj MM Kposowa is currently attending Staff College in Bangladesh. Majors B Demby, K Kanu, AL Matturi , MA Kamara,MM Kposowa, MBS Kamara, RR Gbondo Lt Comdr H Conteh, etc., have all commanded units. We have also contributed to world peace in troubled countries in UN or AU peacekeeping theatre. Esteemed peacekeepers of our course be it in Darfur, South Sudan, Lebanon, Mali or Somalia are; Maj AM Kargbo, Maj MBS Kamara, Maj MA Kamara, Maj RS Bockarie, Maj FA Silikie, Maj LT Amara, Maj J Coker, Maj AD Adu, Maj AR Bah, Maj AB Munu, Maj EL Smart, Maj K Sellu, Maj T Kanu(late), Maj A Kamara,Maj MM Kanu, Maj B Marah, Maj AMM Gbassa, Maj MO Gordon, Maj AB Keita, Maj WT Pessima, Maj KG Morsay, Sqn Ldr VA Konneh, Maj EM Jones, Maj SM Turay, Maj JP Koroma, Maj HJ Conteh, Maj Demby, Cap A Foday, Maj B Farmer, Maj TF Maturi, Maj M Jawara, Maj BAS Kamara Maj AW Kamara (late) and my humble self. Others have made RSLAF proud by their contributions to university and tertiary education. Maj RR Gbondo is now a senior lecturer at IPAM (he was my lecturer during my MBA course), Maj TF Maturi, Maj (rtd) F Gevao, etc., are also contributing to FBC and UNIMAK respectively. Others members of this great course have retired from service and seeking greener pastures in the diaspora; Capts (rtd) F Kargbo, EG Koroma,Flt Lt AR Mansaray, EY Koroma and R Ganda, Lts J Sallu and P Bona and myself amongst others. Others are serving Sierra Leone in other capacities; Lts(rtd) SI Bangura, A Jabba, AB Conteh and Konobundoh, Capt SA Boima and Maj F Gevao.
Back in the academy instructors used to tell us our bodies were war department properties. Whatever that meant we didn’t know the gravity of until some of our colleagues were launched into battle. Soon we started losing buddies in the battlefield. First amongst our fallen colleagues were 2Lt Ojumerie Walker (died Kabala) and 2Lt Deen-Jalloh (died in Freetown) then we had Lt Conteh missing in Action in Lunsar and Lt MA Lamin (aka common man). Along the years we lost other colleagues to war and natural death; Lt(N) EJ Kandeh, Capt Kabbia, Capt PH Sandy, Capt D Sesay, Capt JM Mustapha, Capt FJJ Vandy(Labooty), Capt MK Sesay, Lt PK Turay, Maj Sengeh, Maj AK Koroma, Maj T Kanu and Maj AW Kamara. All of these fine soldiers died in the defence of their motherland and we all started this journey to the top together, unfortunately they have left us to continue with the dream of becoming the bedrock or RSLAF. Be rest assured brethren that our dream still lives on and those serving will see to it that the dream is kept alive. Rest in peace and continue to take your rest whilst we accomplish a mission all of us started.
|Train hard fight easy, Jos Plateau State|
As we commemorate fifteen years of service to Sierra Leone, I wish to congratulate living members of our course and to also thank the families who supported us all through difficult times. A minute of prayers for those rugged and robust departed comrades of ours with who we started this mission, adieu brethren continue to take your eternal rest till we meet again on judgment day. Indeed we came we saw and conquered even if without full strength to the finish line but you all played your part by laying your precious lives for Sierra Leone. The saying that as soldiers “we sacrifice our today for their tomorrow” couldn’t be more apt. R.I.P comrades till we meet again.
By Bockarie Sama Banya
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