Most times, when I see a soldier on the street, I am reminded of a discussion I had with my late dad, a retired soldier himself, years back.
We had the discussion around 1989, in our home in Ede, Osun State. I was then a student of Baptist High School, Ede. He was looking through an old photo album of his time with the Nigeria Armed Forces. In one of the pictures, he was with five other soldiers in military fatigues. I observed that he paused and stared at the picture a little longer than the others, and I also noticed that in the picture, ‘RIP’ had been handwritten on the heads of two of the soldiers.
I asked him who the soldiers were. He said they were his colleagues and mentioned their names. He said the picture was taken few days before they were deployed during the Nigerian Civil War, adding that the two officers with ‘RIP’ on their heads were ‘KIA’ just few weeks after the picture was taken.
I could not fathom what ‘KIA’ meant and asked my father to explain. He proceeded to explain that ‘KIA’ means ‘killed in action’ and is used to describe soldiers who lost their lives during military operations or battle. I remember asking him why he joined the army, knowing he could be killed in the course of his work. His response that day has remained indelible on my mind. He told me that virtually all professions have hazards, adding that even though soldiers know that once they enlist in the force they are duty bound to face precarious situations that might lead to death, their love for the profession emboldens them to be ready and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. He said he believed that people should love their jobs enough to be willing to make any sacrifice it entails.
Over the years, I have come to realise the wisdom in what he said. I have worked as a journalist for over 15 years and, aside from the numerous risky encounters on the road in my travels while working, I once faced a terrifying situation. It was in 1998. As a reporter for The Independent, a newspaper in Accra, Ghana, I was asked to go with our photo journalist, Juliana Laye, to cover a skirmish between transporters and soldiers in one motor park in Accra.
My editor, Mr Richmond Keelson, told me that the transporters were protesting their relocation from the park, which was close to a military zone. I was asked to get pictures and interview the protesters, if possible.
On getting to the park, the whole area was desolate. The motor park, which was always buzzing with activity, was empty and no single protester was in sight. However, I observed that some soldiers were standing not very far from the motor park. I walked close to the park with my photographer and asked her to take pictures of the empty park. She looked fearfully in the direction of the soldiers but had to obey and then she started taking shots. Within seconds, we were surrounded by heavily armed soldiers, with one pointing a gun at me.
I quietly muttered a prayer against “accidental discharge” of the weapon because there had been similar incidents. The gun was just too close for comfort and the look on the soldier’s face was quite unfriendly. Even after presenting my identity card and explaining our mission, the soldiers were still angry. They seized the camera and the bag containing my midget recorder and writing materials. We were ordered, at gunpoint, to move to a corner. One of the officers was livid that I had the effrontery to ask the photojournalist to take pictures of a military location. My explanation that the shots taken were of the empty park fell on deaf ears.
When I observed that they were out of earshot, discussing if they should move us to the barracks, my photojournalist quickly used her mobile phone to call the office and related what was happening to the editor. That call probably saved us. As I learnt after our release, the editor called the publisher, who equally placed a call to a senior military officer, who then intervened and asked the soldiers to release us. The soldiers released us but seized the midget cassette and exposed the film in the camera. They also gave us a stern warning to be careful in our coverage of the military in the future. One of them said he would have loved to discipline us, to serve as deterrents to others like us. Our illegal detention and ordeal lasted just over an hour but I was happy they did not unleash violence on us.
Other journalists have not been that lucky. Two Nigerian journalists, Tayo Awotusi and Krees Imodibe, were unforgettable examples. They were killed while covering the Liberian civil war. Also, recently, two foreign journalists, James Foley, a 40-year-old freelance photo journalist with Global Post news agency and Steven Sotloff, a 31-year-old freelance journalist with Time, were brutally killed by ISIS in Syria, while covering the ongoing war in the region. They were beheaded and their ruthless killing was filmed and posted online.
Since the death, on 20 August, of Dr Stella Ameyo Adadevoh, the consultant physician, who contracted the Ebola Virus Disease while treating Mr Patrick Sawyer, the first Ebola case in Nigeria, I have been ruminating about all that has been written and said about her.
Her brave action of refusing to allow Mr Sawyer leave the First Consultants Hospital, Ikoyi, Lagos, knowing that if the sick Sawyer was granted his patient discharge request, he could infect other Nigerians, no doubt helped save thousands of Nigerians from the EVD onslaught already ravaging West Africa.
Many Nigerians have commended and praised her for her courageous and resolutely professional manner of dealing with the case and, by so doing, putting her life on the line to save the whole nation.
There have also been calls on the Lagos and federal governments to honour and immortalise her by naming institutions after her.There was uproar on the social media recently when the federal government released the National Honours Award list and her name was conspicuously missing. I must say that Dr Adadevoh’s unwavering commitment to professionalism, which made her sacrifice her life, while preventing the spread of EVD to other Nigerians, deserves not just commendation but recognition.
Nigeria needs to honour her and other professionals, who stay resolute to professionalism (sometimes beyond the call of duty) and put their lives on the line to protect the sanctity of their profession. This is the way to transform this clime.
Virtually all Nigerians belong to one profession or the other. I believe that it is when we all stay true to our callings, and are ready to make the ultimate sacrifice in defence of the ethos of our profession, that we can take this nation to the next level.
Adieu, Dr Adadevoh. May your gentle soul rest in peace.