Generals Olayinka and Abdulkadir: Boys to men in Nigerian military service

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By Ahmed Mamudu

August of 1981 will remain indelible in the lives of many ex-boys and their families, it sets the stage for an odyssey that will span the next 40 years.

That year, two precocious boys, along several of their course mates received a “call to arms” that provoked the beginning of an adventure that would last a lifetime.

Barely old enough to properly wash the center of their back, trepidation generously mixed with reluctance in their hearts and a natural apprehension for an unknown future clouding their eyes, they off alone.

They off armed only faltering courage as a companion, to the boarding facilities at the terrifying, fear-inducing, nightmare provoking, boys-only military secondary school in the ancient town of Zaria. Their destination? The prestigious Nigerian Military School (NMS), PMB 1012, Zaria, Kaduna State.

Among the intrepid adventurers was a native of Ikorodu in Lagos State and the other tenacious boy hailed from Kontagora in Niger State. NMS their alma mater brought them together for the first time in 1981.

In August, Zaria is chilly but not cold. That famous Zaria harmattan that forces you to avoid baths, dries your lips, and shrinks your privates was on the horizon! The biting northeasterly winds hadn’t yet descended on the ancient Kingdom, which was a blessing because every boy arrives symbolically naked, expected to drop all civilian identifiers and mannerisms as they pass through the NMS school gate for the first time.

A boy immediately assumes the designation and numbers that would follow him for the rest of his life. This design becomes so much a part of who boys are that I bet, if you know any ex-boy, chances are that his NMS number is his ATM or device PIN!

At the time, Company lines (dormitory) in NMS consisted of six companies (called houses in civilian schools) namely Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot company.

So, in 1981 our protagonist from Ikorodu became NMS/81/579 Boy Olatunji Lookman Olayinka of Echo company and the other from Kontagora, NMS/81/588 Boy Idrisu Abdulkadir of Bravo Company.

They were immediately absorbed into school life, adopted into families composed of their “masters” in form 2, form 3, form 4, and the ultimate form 5 boys, who all mentored, molded, and schooled them in everything from personal hygiene to responsibility, respect, comportment, leadership, and patriotism!

They taught and learned other skills from their classmates, such as dodging unnecessary activities, tapping useful items like shoes, provisions, and even pillows. They also learned how to be stoic, to protect one another from harm, to keep secrets or confidence, to trust a brother, and to always cover the back of a comrade, they learned how to nourish the trust and respect of their class/course mates.

The mentoring system in NMS teaches several life skills at a very early age, and by the second year, a boy is already passing on those skills to the next of ‘crabs’ thereby beginning his own training in leadership, which continues until he graduates…

The training curriculum at NMS is divided between academics and military training, such that after five years most boys are dexterous in military skills like marching/drill and weapons handling, while also focusing on academic proficiency. Sacroscant time is also aside for spiritual study and practice, sports, social activities like literary and debate outing/competitions against neighboring schools, and even bush camp to hone the military skills and practice them in an environment conducive for its application.

Under these busy and demanding schedules boys are turned from ‘bloody civilians’ into ‘bootlaces’ then ‘Crabs’ before becoming ‘Baggers’, then ‘Senior boys’ and finally ‘Lords’! Ahhh to be a Lord was a glorious, self-indulgent thing!

As time progressed and their skills became apparent, Boy Abdulkadir excelled in sports generally but football in particular and became known as Alooma – Katako (Libero). He was the last line of defense on the football team, Once Alooma Katako was beaten by an attacker, then all hope of not conceding a goal was lost! Alooma was also good at the triple jump, basketball, volleyball, and handball!

Boy Lookman on the other hand was in the drum corps, he was an excellent basketball player, a gifted handball goalkeeper and a socialite as most people from Lagos are wont to be. He was a talented break-dancer who along six others, surreptitiously know as ‘The Heartbreakers’ unofficially represented NMS at a dancing competition held at Command Secondary School in Kakuri, Kaduna.

Victory! ‘The Heartbreakers’ placed second in that dance competition. Meanwhile, Commandant NMS became aware of their victory from the NEWS and suspension was their reward! Funny things happen when you dodge in NMS!

NMS is the grooming ground for future leaders and boys who progress to the Nigerian Defence Academy are seen as pureblood military officers, because of their early induction into the system. So talented in sports, secure in academics and socially active, Boy Abdulkadir and Boy Olayinka, secured admission into the elite Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) to become commissioned officers in the Nigerian Army. On successful completion of officer training, both of them were commissioned as officers of the Nigerian Army and posted to the same Corps, the Nigerian Army Corps of Military Police. Their brotherhood was cast!

Destiny had made brothers of two strangers! Love does not see North and South, it doesn’t see Ibo or Fulani, these two became fast and loyal confidants, encouraging one another through a fantastically dangerous yet beautiful career and a life of sacrifice and patriotic service.

Rising through the ranks from subalterns to the envious rank of Brigadier-General in the Nigerian Army, both of them served within and outside Nigeria. Their postings and missions to different locations traversed the length and breadth of the country. They attended several courses and seminars at home and abroad, and lately emerging as commanders in their own right.

Their final postings:

From humble beginnings as Boy Olatunji Lookman Olayinka of Echo Company, emerged Brigadier-General Olatunji Lookman Olayinka, Acting Provost Marshall, Army.

And Boy Idrisu Abdulkadir of Bravo Company blossomed to become Brigadier-General Idrisu Abdulkadir, Chief of Staff, to the Chief of Army Staff, Nigerian Army.

Inna lilahi wa Inna ilaihi rajiun ~ From Allah we come & to him is our return.

They met in 1981 so that when they forth on their final journey 40 years later in the fatal air force plane crash on the 21st of May 2021 at Kaduna airport, they wouldn’t be alone. They would be in the company of each other, and 9 other brothers at arms. And so, perhaps in the last moments when they entered that ill-fated aircraft together, they might not have been sure of anything, except their loyalty to God, their country, the President, the Chief of Army Staff, and to one another…

Rest in peace, Sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins, warriors, heroes, and patriots:

1. Lieutenant – General Ibrahim Attahiru
2. Brigadier General Idrisu Abdulkadir
3. Brigadier General Olatunji Lookman Olayinka
4. Brigadier General AU Kuliya
5. Major LA Hayat
6. Major Hamza
7. Sergeant Umar
8. Flight Lieutenant TO Asaniyi
9. Flight Lieutenant AA Olufade
10. Sergeant Adesina
11. ACM Oyedepo