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Nigerian Army I knew would’ve ended Boko Haram war in one day – Civil war veteran, Ture


A World War II and civil war veteran, Pa Mele Wamlara Ture, who claims to be 106 years old, relives his experiences in this interview with CHIMA AZUBUIKE

Where and when were you born?

I was born in Ture, the present-day Kaltungo Local Government Area of Gombe State in the year 1915. I was born when our people were settled on the rock where they migrated to due to war.

How did you know your birth date; was it written somewhere?

There were some of my mates whose parents were educated. For instance, the elder brother of the former district head of Ture was a clergyman. The family received Christianity early enough, so they were enlightened enough and they were my contemporaries. They were the ones who told me my birth date. Back then, we used the last month of the year (December) and the last day of the month (to determine our birth dates).

Who were your parents?

My father’s name was Wamlara and my mother’s name was Kalo. They were both peasant farmers.

What was your childhood like?

My childhood was a regular one. I usually accompanied my father to the farm. My late dad had two wives and three male children. But it was a polygamous family with a difference. To a large extent, we lived very peacefully; we loved one another.

Can you tell us about the schools you attended?

I never attended any school. My father died very early when I was about 15 years. Most of my mates were in school because their parents or traditional leaders enrolled them, because some of them were Christian families. My late father didn’t accept Christ. So, the orphan kind of life that I lived was a major barrier against my going to school and that was the major reason why I joined the military. I think that lack of education cheated me in life. This was the reason I ensured my children are well educated.

What was your late father’s religion?

He was a traditionalist.

How did you learn to communicate in English language since you didn’t attend school?

It was through daily interactions with others. I learnt to speak pidgin English in the military barracks.

Where did you serve as a soldier?

I was on the (Nigerian) military contingent to Burma, and the civil war. Invariably, I’m a World War II and civil war veteran. I heard that there was recruitment in Gombe. I trekked from Ture to Gombe; it was a journey of about 55 kilometres. I trekked all the way with my brothers. When we got there, we met the district officer, who wondered what brought us to Gombe.  We told him we came because of the recruitment and he immediately referred us to the recruitment unit, where we were tested medically. There was no question of paper qualifications; our being physically fit was for them the most important requirement for recruitment. I was recruited then as a private military officer.

How many of you got recruited from Gombe?

I can’t remember the exact figure, but in this town (Ture) we were about 10. In fact, my brothers and I went for that war.

What was your experience during the war?

I was recruited under the British military because Nigeria had yet to gain independence then. I was commissioned in 1941; from there we went on training for six months at Gombe after which the British government requested the trained military personnel to be brought to the war front. So, from Gombe we were taken to Lagos and from Lagos we were shipped on the high sea to India; we spent 14 days to get to our destination in Burma.

How was the atmosphere in Burma like compared to Ture in present day Gombe State?

 The difference was clear; the atmosphere there was very different from the one we left at home. We were divided into units, we kept advancing. We got reinforcement when our personnel reduced due to one casualty or the other, until the Japanese surrendered.

What is your assessment of that war?

It was very successful; our contribution made the Japanese to surrender. There was this saying that the Africans died twice. Not that we exhibited mystic powers but they assumed we were the same because of our semblance, according to them.

Did you have any near-death experience?

Two of my brothers that I left Gombe with died at the war front; I saw one die. It was rumoured that all of us had been killed; so my family received condolence messages for seven days. At that time, I was the orderly to our team lead. At a point we were at a rock at the theatre of war. We wanted to climb down in order to move to the other side; we were about 250 personnel that were conveyed to the point and as we were landing the Japanese were alerted, thereby clearing (killing) most of us. We were scattered, so my boss was caught in the crossfire, his intestine came out; I managed to use my uniform to reduce the bleeding. I called the doctor to give my boss urgent attention but when he arrived he injected (euthanised) him because his case was serious. We removed his badge and saluted him. Out of the 250, over 100 were nowhere to be found.Many persons fell into running water; they claimed it was best to be swept away by the water than to be hit by bullets. We spent about a month in the bush.

Why did you spend such a long time in the bush?

We lost our map reader because it was a helicopter that dropped us and our map reader had passed away. So we were lost in the bush. We were just wandering about in the bush; we survived by eating any fruit and even leaf that that tasted good in the month. Eventually, we came across the helicopter that identified us. We were packed to camp. On camp we were kept for good two weeks, fed well and given medical attention. Fortunately or unfortunately, the day we planned for revenge was the day (Adolf) Hitler surrendered.

How did you and your colleagues take it?

 We could not eat because we were unhappy that Hitler surrendered; we wanted them to feel our action.

How did your family know nothing had happened to you?

It was when we were found and brought to camp. They signaled to Nigeria that the following soldiers they assumed were dead had been found.

How did your family receive the news that you were still alive after mourning you for seven days?

(Smiles) They celebrated that I was alive. My fiancée said she was the happiest family member but she added that she was unsure until she saw me.

When did you retire?

When the war ended we were brought to Lagos. We were asked how many were retiring. I opted to return home, so I retired. The year was 1946, I returned home to start farming. I planted maize, guinea corn etc.

Why did you return into the army after Nigeria gained independence?

 For me, lack of education was a barrier.

Was it because of the civil war?

We were recruited again into the Nigerian Army during the civil war. We didn’t go through any training; we were just handed rifles because we had the experience.

What was your experience during the civil war?

We were taken to the South-East border which used to be their conventional point. We were dropped there before we advanced on foot to the areas we were expected to launch attacks.

Where was that?

Ours was Nsukka; we captured Nsukka. We camped in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka before advancing further.

Can you draw any comparison between your experience in the WW2 and the civil war?

The world war was hotter than the civil war because for the civil war I considered it as a brotherly fight. I didn’t see it as a war but as a game because most of my colleagues did not die much in the civil war. Most Igbos died of hunger, not bullet. I sympathised with some of my Igbo brothers in the face of the attack; I saw it as killing my brother; unlike the white man who I didn’t know.

The like of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), former President  Olusegun Obasanjo and others participated in the civil war; did you come across any of them?

 No, I didn’t; but I knew of (Gen. Yakubu) Gowon, (the late Gen.) Murtala (Muhammed) and some other senior officers.

As someone who participated in the civil war, what do you make of the current agitations for secession in the country?

 (Laughs) I have no comment on that; it is left for the government; if they feel it is just to divide the country that’s for them. I don’t support the break-up.

After the civil war, what did you do?

I retired again into farming.

How regular is your pension?

It comes regularly; they don’t owe me.

How did you meet your wife?

I married only one wife, the late Mrs Rebecca. She passed away this year. We had seven children. My grandchildren are about 46, great-grandchildren about 35. I met the late Rebecca, a long time ago, before I left Gombe. I had her in mind. After I survived the war I wedded her on my return. We married in 1947.

What is your favourite song?

Songs don’t really bother me; even as a young man, I had no special interest in songs.

What is your favourite food?

Things have really changed. During our days there was no rice. No one farmed rice, all we knew was beans and guinea corn. Now, I like taking tea; there is hardly anything I eat without taking tea. I usually take it three times a day.

Do you feel fulfilled?

Yes, I went to defend the country especially representing the country in the Second World War. My interest was Nigeria; not about the British because we were under their colony. So, if they captured them, Nigeria would have been under the Japanese. In the case of the civil war, if Igbo captured the country we would be under them and Nigeria would disappear.

What were your happiest and saddest moments?

My happiest moment was in 1978 when I received Christ, just immediately I retired from the Nigerian Army. There is nothing that will interest me more than encountering Christ.

What about your saddest moment?

 I can’t remember any at the moment.

Do you have any regrets?

There are two things I regret – my lack of formal education and the collapse of my historic house, which I built with my pay in the military. If God grants me the grace to rebuild it, I will be happy; the building comes with memories.

What was unique about the building and do you wish someone rebuilds it for you?

I wouldn’t mind if someone rebuilds it for me; it will be my utmost pleasure. Nothing much, except that I built it with my salary in the Army, which creates lovely sweet memories.

What is your advice for the youth?

All parents should ensure their wards go to  school. Even if they will be farmers, they require education to be better farmers.

What advice do you have for Nigerian leaders?

Had it been our leaders paid attention, by undertaking a critical evaluation of the bombing of facilities by the (Boko Haram) sect, a solution would have appeared; this war wouldn’t have stayed this long. Right now, it has become a pandemic to the country. I call on governors and the president to find solutions to all these issues. The leaders should improve the well-being of both medical doctors and teachers. For the military, the motivation mechanism is there already.

What has kept you looking youthful and healthy?

(Laughs) I live a life of contentment; anything presented to me, if it is presentable, I will eat it but if it is not, I won’t eat it. It is not about what you eat; God takes good care of His own.

How do you relax?

When my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are gathered around me.

Will you say the situation in the country today represents the Nigeria of your dream?

It is unfortunate that Nigeria has turned to something else because it is beyond imagination that Boko Haram will stay for this long, as if we don’t have leaders. It portrays the military like there are no personnel to stop them. For me, ending this is a matter of one hour. Right now I don’t know what has gone wrong

What are some of the professions your children are in?

I have a veteran journalist as a son, three of my other sons are professional teachers; one of them retired as head of personnel, deputy education secretary. One of them is a headmaster.

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