A CRY FOR HELP
Gabriel Ohai was decorated Lieutenant colonel. He was one of the
youngest colonels in the Nigerian Army at the time and a dedicated
soldier. He was based at the military training college in Kaduna.
His wife Jennifer Ohai was an outspoken woman. Having studied
Law from Obafemi Awolowo university, she became his legal
counsellor in most matters.
He was in high spirits when he returned, with the promotion came
the need to move houses, to the larger duplexes occupied by
lieutenant colonels and colonels with their families. Jennifer was
pregnant with their second daughter, so even though she was
interested in the moving activity, she could only supervise the
recruits that came to help them move.
As the last of the furniture was put in the moving van, Jennifer got
into her white beetle and drove while her husband and Mary their
first daughter followed behind in his blue Peugeot 504.
As they looked back at the beautiful bungalow where they spent
the better part of their honeymoon, they weren’t completely sad
because a dear friend of Gabriel’s was moving in. Capt. Micheal
Onira was Gabriel’s best man at the wedding. They were very close
friends and joined the army the same day. Michael however was
still a captain.
It was in the first quarter of 1990 when the couple’s second
daughter Gladys was born. Gabriel was in Lagos on official
assignment when the baby was born and his ever loyal friend
Michael stood in for him. He was elated to be the father of 2
beautiful girls but didn’t fail to tell Jennifer how happy he would
have been to raise a son of his own who one day will be like
himself, a general.
The couple were a perfect example of ‘happily ever after’. With the
economic downturn in the country, they were never affected, they
were even planning a holiday away at the end of the year. And so
on Sunday when the boys came together to drink and chat really
loudly about politics and the impossibility of democracy, Gabriel
was sure to mention that it was going to be a white Christmas for
himself and his family that year. Going over to celebrate in London,
the boys chorused a ‘congratulations’ and he proudly mentioned
that the trip came with his promotion to lieutenant colonel and they
couldn’t go the previous christmas because Jenny was heavily
Jennifer had just put the kids to sleep when she walked into their
bedroom, Gabriel was laying on the bed reading the newspaper as
he always does on Sunday nights. His Sundays are usually too
occupied and instead of being the first thing he does, reading the
paper becomes the last. Since having the second baby, they were
always late to church and upon their return, his friends visit while
Jenny and the maids prepare dinner. Evenings, Jenny insists he
spends with the kids as they hardly see him.
“Darling, don’t you think telling the guys about our Christmas trip
to the UK was a little too much?’ Jenny said as she tied the rope
around her night gown.
Looking up from the newspaper, Gabriel said “Why would you think
“I mean, I know Mike is your best friend and all but you two have
been moving at the same pace until you got to major and he didn’t
and then now lieutenant. I feel he may still be processing the whole
thing. You have 2 babies and himself and the wife have been trying
for years, you got two new official cars and he hasn’t. I mean,
telling him this is a little too much to bear don’t you think?” Jenny
said worriedly as she lotions her hands and elbows ready for bed.
“Come on dear, it has been a year since my promotion, he is over it
and moreover, guys are not girls who will dwell on an issue and
hold a grudge for decades. And besides, even Mike said I deserve
the promotion, given that he is always absent or busy with stuff
not related to work.”
“Okay, I guess I was paranoid because I thought I picked up a
negative energy around him when you mentioned it” She said.
“You were eavesdropping again?”
“Only the politics and democracy bit, I swear” Jenny said a little
too loudly laughing.
The new year rolled in pretty fast as Jenny continued to fall in love
with London, even Mary fell in love and got addicted to the snow
and decided London was her new home, but unfortunately, daddy’s
holiday was over and they were back home.
Soon enough, there was a list of names of captains to be
decorated majors. Only one loyal and hardworking man was
needed from the 5 list of names of which Michael’s name was.
Needless to say, Michael was not chosen and he blamed it all on
Gabriel. That put a strain in their relationship but not anything they
couldn’t iron out.
Through the remaining part of 1991, Gabriel was introduced and
worked closely with the head of state making him the envy of
many. While with the head of state, he recommended Kunle,
another friend of his to him as a trusted confidant when the head
of state asked for suggestions.
In October 1992, Jenny gave birth to a son, much to his father’s
delight, Gabriel Junior was born. The couple both agreed they have
had enough kids.
After the palace coup, Abacha came into power and the country
was in a chaotic state. Mike found favour before this new
government and he moved to Lagos where he worked semi closely
with the then head of state.
Jenny and Gabriel were home one day, when men of the Nigerian
army came and invited him immediately to Lagos that the head of
state needed to see him as soon as possible. He left very
unprepared but he was only going to be there for a day or two.
Until it turned to a week, a month and nearly a year without word
from anyone. Jennifer became a shadow of herself, shuttling
between Kaduna, Abuja and Lagos.
No one could give her a perfectly reasonable explanation as to
where Gabriel was. She moved the kids to their grandparents and
wrote tonnes of letters to the UN and many other organisations she
thought could help.
In order to lessen the trauma of loosing both parents, Jenny’s
mum encouraged her to move the kids to Lagos to be with her.
Jenny watched as the months passed by, and her life shatter like
she was watching through a glass window. She lost weight and
looked like a terminally ill patient. Her mother cried when she went
to visit early 1995 and made her visit a doctor.
Mike was stationed in Lagos as a right hand man of the head of
state, he has been since before Gabriel was taken. Jenny had lost
all hope in him after so many failed promises, she became even
more demoralised when he made advances at her in exchange for
his help to get Gabriel freed.
Everything irritated Jenny, noise, voices, her kids, her mum,
everyone. She hated Gabriel for not trying to contact her and hated
herself for being mad at Gabriel for not contacting her.
Mary turned on the TV and Jenny lashed at her, she came to turn
it off and there were lots of people crying. Apparently the military
junta carried out one of the largest mass executions in the
country. The news said 43 prisoners in kirikiri prisons were
executed by firing squad after been deemed guilty of armed
robbery by the Robbery and Firearms Tribunal.
Everything is wrong with this government. Jenny thought as she
turned off the TV.
She had so frequented the office of the head of state and the PA
Yomi knew her by name. He promised to let her know if anything
came up. Which was why she relaxed her visits but never her
letters to Human right activists and organisations.
Jenny visited the head of state’s office again and still no word. She
sat hours just to get a glimpse of the head of state and to ask him
about Gabriel. He wasn’t in office that day but Michael was, and as
soon as he walked in, he gave her a hug and promised he was
doing all he could to ensure Gabriel’s release. He said he is getting
leads about Gabriel’s whereabout and so far, he assured her
Gabriel was in a safe location working for the head of state. He
said he didn’t know what the mission was about, but it was an
intelligence job meant only for some selected few, they were not to
ever contact their families until the end of the mission.
As Jenny walked away, she was relieved to be in the ‘know’ but
wondered why the Military made them relinquish their home if
really he worked for the head of state. She dismissed the thought
because she was sure the military didn’t know what Gabriel was up
to, they simply thought he absconded.
Jenny had started to recover from the pains she endured the past
one and a half year. She had wanted to return to their Kaduna
house, she was sure that was where Gabriel would come looking
for them. She even explained to some of the generals about the
hidden mission he was working on but they could not understand.
Upon her return to Lagos, she ran into Yomi, PA to the head of
state in a filling station.
Jenny approached him smiling…
“It’s good to meet somewhere outside the office with me not
crying in your face” Jenny joked
“It’s good to be out of there, I am more relieved to see you are not
bitter about the news” Yomi said.
“I was, for a while until I knew there was no way he could reach
me from inside and tell me what was going on. It’s all good.”
“Wow, I love your Spirit. You will have to teach me a thing or two
about forgiveness you know. It’s nice to see you with Mike the
other day at Mr Biggs.“
“He is my husband’s best man and he promised to let me know
when everything is over.”
“So we heard, and we were all shocked too, given the role he
played in your husband’s execution, but with a golden heart like
yours, I can see why he will want you all to himself.” Yomi joked.
“I am sorry what? Who executed what? And who wants who to
“OMG, I am sorry, are we not talking about same thing? I think I
have to go.” Yomi pulled out of the filling station and left as quickly
as those words left his mouth.
Jenny sat in her car, hands across the steering wheel more
confused than she was the evening Gabriel was taken.
She drove as fast as she could, with tears drenched clothes, she
went to the office of the head of state demanding to see Yomi.
“He doesn’t work here anymore,” the words of the soldier on guard
shook her back to reality as she was lost in thoughts.
She quickly remembered Yomi saying he was glad he wasn’t there
Mike, she needed to meet Mike. What special intelligence was he
talking about and what did Yomi mean by she ‘forgiving’ Mike? she
She made a U turn leaving the office and as if by divine
arrangement, she ran into Yomi buying oranges by the side of the
road. She parked her car and ran towards him. She held him tightly
by his belt and interrogated him.
Back at home, she cried and cried. She had telephoned her mum
and told her what was going on. The next day, her mum was in
Apparently, Gabriel was part of the July ’95 killings by firing squad.
The one showing on TV when Mary turned it on.
Life changed for them, she moved to Enugu after getting a fair pay
from an organisation.
Many years have passed and all the dust had settled.
Mary and Gladys were both graduates and Mary was Married, but
For he positioned himself to be the black sheep of the family and
caused heart pain to his widowed mother. She had paid for his
tuition for years only to discover he had been withdrawn years
prior. She will sit him and talk to him, half the time he was high on
weed, the other half, he could only care less what the lousy old
woman was saying.
She keeps telling me my father was a good man, he thought to
himself, does she really think I care? I don’t even know the man
for God’s sake.
As the years went by, Junior went downhill, he became a walking
corpse. His mother developed hypertension. Her daughters
assured her that he would come around, like the prodigal son he
was, he will come back home. They made her understand that
many women wish just one of their kids will be responsible but she
was lucky two were.
But she could only listen. She went to bed soaked in tears and
plastered a fake smile in the mornings so as not to worry her
And so on this drunken day, Junior returned home from a drinking
spree only to behold a large gathering in the house. His sisters,
their husbands and children all dressed in white laces. People
sitting in groups and shaking their heads as he passed.
He looked at Mary and Gladys and he asked “Where is mama?”
They were silent.
“Where is my mother” he barked
Mary slowly pointed to a group of men shovelling sand over a hole.
“Right there, where you put her.”
Instantly, he became sober. He tore the men apart and began to
dig, knees on the ground like a dog, he dug away in tears.
People held him back.
Some consoled him, some cursed him. But his grandmother, on
the same evening called him to her room and told him all that
happened from his parents blissful days in Kaduna to the sorrowful
hunt her poor daughter had to go through in Lagos.
He cried like a baby, never had he felt this way.
“What do I do to make it right?” He asked his grandmother.
“Simple, Right your wrongs. Your mother is gone, there is no
coming back on that, but you can right it by doing what she would
have wanted. She had been through hell, and you never made it
easy for her. She was a frail looking woman, but she was stronger
than she appeared. She survived loosing her husband, but could
never survive loosing you.
Your mother, though a widow had a heart of gold, all that she went
through never broke her spirits; but you did. So today I charge you
to right your wrong. Get up, get cleaned up, get a degree, live like
the son of a warrior that your mother was. You cannot do any of
these while hanging out with same friends and getting high.
Our stories are never the same, never perfect but we work hard to
be the great writers of these stories, hard enough to be the
architects of the designs of our lives, so hard, we become creators
of our destinies. You architecture is in error, your designs are
faulty, your writing is whack, but you can make it better. You can
cease to be tossed back and forth by the wind and take charge of
Gabriel Ohai Jnr, valedictorian of his year, bagged many awards
including a scholarship to Cambridge, he told them his story, this
story. And how it was never late to get back on track.
“I had decided to take back my life, be the pilot, like my
grandmother advised. My sisters had been through enough so, I
disappeared without a trace. I told my grandmother to tell them I
will be back, better and stronger. And today, almost five years
since I lost my mother, my grandmother is here with my sisters to
witness this great day.”
There was a loud applause as his sisters and grandmother waved.
He tried to mask his tears but he couldn’t. He wiped his tears and
“I put myself through school with my own money. I laboured and
worked hard, from construction to selling snacks, I moved to
bigger areas of the city and asked to clean their clothes and
houses for a fee, which I used to pay my tuition. I worked during
the day and studied at night. Don’t pity me, it was a debt I needed
to pay. Today, I am glad I did.
The awards I received today, I dedicate them to the woman I hurt
To my mother,
May she find rest.”
A CRY FOR HELP