Mallam Shehu Ahmed Bida may be the oldest living ex-soldier at 111 years old. After being drafted at the age of 25 in Zaria without the knowledge of his parents, he served in the Colonial Army for nine years. He laments that the kind of sincerity in the army he served in back then, could be lacking in the country today. ABU NMODU caught up with this remarkable man at Kwangila in Minna, Niger state
He may be blind, but still as strong as a horse,and always willing to demonstrate with his walking stick how he performed during his soldiering years with 54 other recruits at the time. Mallam Shehu Ahmed Bida fondly called Baba Shehu recalls his experiences with nostalgia:
"For me, the journey started from Minna where I set out for Zaria. Although uneducated then, I was ready to ply a trade other than farming and I actually found the army to be the best option."
According to Baba Shehu, when he went to Zaria, they were taken to Lagos where he and 54 others were recruited into the colonial army and later confirmed to travel to the Gold Coast (Ghana) where they were first given tutorials by a surveying company in army formation. "That time was when the world war was ending; I could not speak English then but we were taught all the military command language on how to operate as soldiers".
The 111 year old soldier stated that there was discipline then as there was emphasis on basic training as soldiers. Bida said that they were taken to different parts of the world but the one he could recall vividly was when they were taken to East Africa and India.
He also remembered his company commanders then- Major Moore and Chin who led them to various places.
He said though they did not spend much time before they were taken back to Ghana, he was impressed by the sincerity of the superior colonial officers. "We used to be recognised by our numbers; my army number then was 98883 and even in my sleep I will still remember it."
"We were paid 30 shillings and we were okay but there was a law then that if you were married, they would divide the amount into two and send half to your wife and if you were not married, they would send half to your mother. That was how they taught us to be responsible.
"Mine was sent to my mother, because at that time I was not married. The funny thing was that I did not tell my mother that I was joining the army because she would not have agreed to it, but I had to give my address for 15 Shillings of my 30 shillings to be sent to her," he recalled.
According to him, when eventually she became aware of his venture into the army, despite the money being sent to her, she still did not approve until they came back to he Nigeria and was posted to a military formation in Ede, now in Osun state.
Baba Shehu heaved a sigh of relief because he was closer to home but eventually had to quit the job because of pressure from his mother after nine years.
"My most cherished moments were the way we were treated with sincerity by the colonial superiors in the army. That has stayed with me to always be disciplined and sincere".
He said that he was not in touch with his contemporaries, but when he left the army then, his love for the Uniform also made him to have a shot at the Dan Sanda work (colonial police) but the colonial officers were sincere to him and told him he would not be a good police man.
" When I told the officer I wanted to be a police man, they used their pencil, hit me on my head thrice and told me I could not be a police man, rather they paid me off to start a business, a venture I knew my people would like," he said.
Consequently he said he came back home and invested the money he was paid off with and his little savings into farming, which was the main and most profiting venture at the time.
Baba Shehu took to farming because his Commandant told him that even his own father in Europe was a farmer and he was also into farming before he was drafted into the army and became an officer. He encouraged him because there was great future in farming.
One thing was clear, Baba Shehu abhors corruption and would not allow any of his offspring to go close to any ill-gotten wealth. With only one surviving son and many grand as well as great-grand children, Baba Shehu would not want any of them to join the army. His reason is simple: "Now, they (military officers) go after money without caring about discipline as gallant soldiers we used to know. What they do now is steal. For as the long as I live, I would not want any of them to be a soldier because the work is not like before."
He said discipline was the hallmark when he joined the army but could not be sure of that now. "We were taught then standards where we don't engage in ventures except allowed by the command system".
"The activity I liked most in all my nine years in the army was shooting range (demonstrating with his walking stick). You see, by the time I set my gun on my shoulder like this and I get my target, I will always be pleased; it shows that one has imbibed the discipline involved" he said.
Reminded that the Military was still the same one he knew back then, the old man asked, "What of sincerity?" Saying that the kind of sincerity of the colonial army he served may be lacking in the country today.
He said that he enlisted out of his free will, nobody lured him into the army nor was he in the army because he did not have other options but for the passion to serve then; they were honest soldiers.