Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Depressing Command by Feyisayo Anjorin

Feyisayo Anjorin's powerful insight into the entrapment of command in a sadistic African dictatorship.

Major Benson exhaled deeply and entered the office of the supreme commander. The bulgy eyed general was seated on the throne-like burgundy chair behind the mahogany desk, with the day's issue of the Salone Times covering his face.

His desk was littered with files and papers, and the ashtray on it was filled to the brim with cigarette butts.

General Abolade was reading the article written by Fati Samuel, Major Benson was certain.

Nothing else in the newspaper would have ignited the intense hate that he had noticed when the general gave him a brief glance of acknowledgement. Major Benson was sure.

He kept his eyes on the giant coat of arms of the Sierra Leonean government that was on the wall behind his boss.

"Who the hell is this moron? This idiot had the audacity and the the... the..." The general snorted and the Major's heart pounded like a jungle drum.

Fati Samuel is the daughter of Kamir Samuel, Benson's favourite teacher in his secondary school days. The older Samuel would give him extra lessons in Mathematics and Physics without asking for any reward. He offered to do this when Benson's grades started declining in the beginning of his senior secondary class.

Benson would not have been able to pay him if he had asked.

His father was a poor farmer who lived most of his life paying debts; he gambled religiously because of his rosy dreams of sudden wealth; he drank alcohol as if he would be rewarded for it; and died with some outstanding debts that took Benson's mother six years to pay off.

Kamir's help was instrumental to the Major's success, it led to the scholarship that saw him through his years in the military academy.

But nothing in Benson's expression would show his fear for the daring journalist's likely punishment, he would not express any hint of sympathy or any sign of his debt of gratitude for the Fati's father; definitely not in the presence of an enraged dictator.

"This is... this is treasonable felony!" the general barked; for a moment Benson thought he saw a spark in his eyes. "Major Benson, have you read this?"

"No sir," he replied, standing straight like a wall. It was a lie.

"This is sheer incompetence! You should look out for things like this. I was the CSO for eight years and there was no coup or uprising during those years. That didn't happen by some sort of magic, I didn't allow this kind of rubbish." He lifted up the newspaper and rested his eyes on the Major for a moment.

"Yes sir!"

Major Benson had been sad for a week. It had been his state as soon as the Supreme Military Council appointed him as the Chief Security Officer to the Supreme Commander. It was his duty to rid the country of real and imagined enemies of the government.

Most of the journalists, lawyers, politicians and concerned citizens who said too much about human rights and justice had been silenced. Some had been assassinated, some had been imprisoned, a few lucky ones had gone into exile.

It was easy to be guilty under one or more of the three main charges: Treason; conspiracy to commit treason; and accessory to the fact of treason.

Major Benson had thought himself a military intellectual; and he was comfortable with his position as a learning coordinator at the military academy before the Supreme Military Council thought he was the best person to hunt its enemies for cruel judgment.

In seven days he had ordered the assassination of two journalists and one lawyer, he had imprisoned eight lawyers. He thought it a good record.

The former CSO killed six journalists, three human rights lawyers and one politician in his first week in office. After a month in office he was as hated as the Supreme Commander who loved him dearly. Freetown citizens celebrated cautiously when he died of heart complications three weeks ago. The taverns filled up and there was much to drink, even for the extremely poor. But they avoided energetic dances and loud music. Military tanks and armored vehicles could flood the street with destructive fury.

"This moron is calling for an uprising and she has the audacity to print this in a government platform!'' The general exhaled, folded his arm and leaned his back on the chair.

Benson held his breath and waited.

''I gave specific instructions about the appointment of editors for government newspapers!''

''Yes sir.''

''Don't just stand there and say yes sir yes sir as if its the only word in your zombie brain!''

''She was not appointed sir,'' Major Benson said, his eyes were focussed on the floor. ''She did this on her own.''

The supreme commander closed his eyes slowly and reopened them. Benson felt a knot tightening in his stomach. ''Who gave her the right to do things on her own?''

The Major kept his eyes on the floor.

''I will give you two minutes to read this," he raised the newspaper, "and twenty minutes to come up with a solution that will make me happy."

The door opened as the general was speaking. It was Major Saidu of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. He saluted the general with seemingly exaggerated gestures and handed him a large manila envelope.

"At least someone is working with swiftness. You wont find defence strategies in the textbooks, Major Benson, maybe that's where you've been looking! Salone is protected by the watchfulness of an eagle eye, not by bogus intellectual schemes."

He opened the envelope and brought out two glossy pictures, eight by ten: A short, slim woman with a protruding stomach. The bulge in her stomach could only be pregnancy, she could be in her late twenties or early thirties. Fati Samuel.

Benson wondered for a moment why the DMI boss had brought the pictures to the Supreme Commander. It is the usual practice for the DMI to report to the CSO.

Benson was sure he had it figured out in his mind: his position was a coveted one, Major Saidu could be trying too hard to get some favors.

The concern that weighed him down was the inevitable evil he was expected to do in twenty minutes. Giving orders for execution was not new to him, but he did not know the victims in the past. They were nothing but enemies firing against his unit from a distant trench. He had been able to convince himself without much difficulty that they deserved the doom that came on them.

He would remain distant from the executions and the assassinations; he would avoid the torture chambers and the wounds, and the blood, the screams of distress and the tears.

He would give orders from the glass and marble office and wait for the news. Words would shield him from the ugliness of his orders. A man is missing, a man has been shot, a woman has been assassinated, another has been raped, another kidnapped; news, words that were inadequate in the sting of feelings.

General Abolade snorted, "A pregnant woman?" his eyes widened and they seem to pierce Major Benson like injection needles. He handed the pictures to him. "Major Benson, I don't want to deal with these kind of issues any more, okay? If you can't be proactive on this job, you can be replaced."

"Yes sir!"

The general glanced at his watch, stood up suddenly as if propelled by some force on his seat and made for the door; the Majors saluted, but it was Major Saidu who followed him with swift paces.

Major Benson knew the solution that would make his boss happy. Fati Samuel wrote: "A clique of insensitive officers without the slightest clue of the responsibilities of good governance can not be trusted with our commonwealth and the future of this country. It is our responsibility as citizens to rise in unity with every platform we have and speak against the oppression and arrogance that has chained us to the past and has hindered our strides towards freedom."

She has called for a million citizens protest march on the twenty seventh day of April; articles of lesser severity have brought death to their writers.

Major Benson could call the woman and beg or threaten her to leave the country for the sake of her life; he could drive to her house and force her to leave the country by personally driving her to the Liberia/Sierra Leone border; he could kidnap her and provide a mangled body from the morgue as an evidence of her death.

But he was given twenty minutes, he was under surveillance like every other army officer; his plans whatever they become, could not be carried out without some help, such help could be traps of death; and he was the CSO, the man who moves around with hordes of security agents waiting to act on his command.

Thirty-two military officers had been killed by the General Abolade-led administration over alleged treasonable offenses. Officers who had thought their sneaky resistance to the policies of the military government would remain unnoticed; and some officers had been implicated on the strength of baseless allegations, suspicion and speculations. In this administration one could be killed for his secret activities, and one could lose his life for creating the wrong impression.

Major Benson felt his head could explode from the rush of thoughts that offered no relief. He closed his eyes, rubbed his temples and sighed.

He knew that the Supreme Commander would not be back soon. He had gone to commission a rural electrification project in the Northern Province.

He would not think of a fragile-looking pregnant woman with stinging words for the next two hours. The Temne people would line up by the roadside with flags and cheers and dances to welcome his convoy. There would be anthems and speeches on nationalism and patriotism.

Traditional rulers would declare their eternal loyalty; they would say anything to please to their guest.

He stretched his arms above his head, yawned and cracked his knuckles.

Major Benson switched on the television on the wall cabinet and sat on the sofa, hoping for something that would make his life easy.

Some form of entertainment, some form of relief, some distraction. Maybe this cup of bile would just pass away. Maybe the world would come to a sudden end so that Kamir Samuel would not have to weep over his daughter and the grandchild he would never see. Maybe the pregnant journalist would be struck by lightning and make his life less complicated.

A Nigerian film was playing: some pastor was on the screen, casting out demons, moving his fists and head as if the demons were in the air and could be hit by his exertions.

The Major rested his elbow on his knees, covered his face with his palms and thought about his favorite teacher in his secondary school days: The hours he had spent teaching him mathematics and physics under the mango tree beside his house; the times when the lessons would end when the sky had darkened; he thought about Mr Kamir's kind words on that sunny afternoon when he sat under an Iroko tree in the school premises and cried over his poor grades.

He remembered the meals Mrs Samuel served on certain occasions: the pounded yam and fishy okra soup. He remembered the beautiful young girl that would help her mother set the table; he remembered the pink ribbons that held the girl's hair together.

If there was a God, he had to help him, Benson was sure. Nothing but the miraculous could save Fati Samuel from death. Benson was certain.

His eyes rested on the phones on the Supreme Commander's desk. He could use the intercom of the wall cabinet, a direct line to Special Operations, a secret arm of the army with gunmen trained in Russia.

His eyes flooded with tears and he covered his face with his palms again.

He began to say a prayer, but a phone on the general's desk rang before he could get intense with his spiritual quest. His eyes rested on the television for a moment and suddenly the phone did not matter. He increased the volume; there was a news headline and the footage was interesting: smoke was rising from wreckage surrounded by ragged peasants and a few police officers with gloves and body bags.

It was a plane crash; flight SCSL B1, the presidential jet. The Supreme Commander and six members of the Supreme Military Council, including the DMI boss; all dead.

Major Benson blinked and increased the volume again to be sure he was not watching a part of some movie with good visual effects.

He remembered the scowling face of General Abolade; he imagined him dismembered, unidentifiable, burnt to a crisp. A sigh escaped his lips; he felt like singing, he wanted to dance, he wanted to speak in a strange language, he wanted to stand on the same spot and wonder.

The phone call was from Lieutenant Colonel Idris Momoh, the only surviving member of the Supreme Military Council. His voice said he was too shocked to think and decide what to do without some help. He wanted to know what was necessary to maintain law and order.

Major Benson gave orders and instructions. The State house was flooded with questions and condolence messages; he handled them with calmness and diplomacy. He was the most senior military officer in a political post. At noon he was before the cameras and lights on the television service of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service. He assumed office as the Supreme Commander of the Republic of Sierra Leone.

3 comments:

  1. An intelligent and important story about the obscene webs of the powerful cast over the lives of their subordinates. Can we hope that Benson will do better in his turn? In a way we are let off too easily, because in reality Abolade may well have lived and continued to exact his bloody revenge; but it is thankfully in the gift of the author to give hope - thank you,
    Ceinwen

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  2. absolute power corrupts, the king is dead Long live the king? power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absoluitely? who knows what power does to People. we always hope for the best. Well written and as always current theme.
    well done

    Mike McC

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  3. The prose is alluring.
    Akin Dowole

    ReplyDelete