For a few seconds, Abimbola Davies gazed at the portrait hanging on the wall opposite where she sat in her home in Lagos, and the memories came flooding back.
It was in 1975 when Enitan Ransome-Kuti, her 11-year-old precocious son left home, traveling northward across the country to enrol at the Nigerian Military School, Zaria.
Thereafter, he joined the Nigerian Defence Academy, before enlisting in the army.
In the portrait on Mrs. Davies’ wall, Mr. Ransome-Kuti, who had risen to become a Brigadier-General, managed a thin smile, his full-grown frame bedecked in a military uniform.
But Mrs. Davies, 72, said her family would hardly smile again, not after Mr. Ransome-Kuti had been convicted and jailed for his role in the fight against Boko Haram – the first senior army officer to be so treated.
”I wonder why they singled him out, and treat him in this manner,” the old woman, who retired from the Army Signals, said during an interview last Friday.
“He has been wearing army uniform when he was 11 years old. You can imagine somebody that has been serving the nation for 40 years, that they now come to give this kind of judgment. I don’t know why.”
On October 15, a military court-martial sitting in Abuja, convicted Mr. Ransome Kuti, 51, of alleged offences during the war against Boko Haram – a sentence that earned him a six month prison term and a dismissal from the army.
According to the General Court Martial, Mr. Ransome-Kuti was awarded the following punishments:
• The first count charge, which was “cowardly behaviour” was struck out but he was found guilty on count charge number two which was “failure to perform military duties” and was dismissed from the Nigerian Army.
• He was equally found guilty on count charge number 3 which was “miscellaneous offences relating to service property” and was awarded six months imprisonment.
When the news of the military’s verdict was broken to her at home, Mrs. Davies said she wept.
“It is his brother and his wife that were begging me, because I don’t know how my BP (blood pressure) just spring up immediately I heard the news,” she said.
“I was shaking, that how come? How can Boko Haram issue come and spoil somebody’s career? Somebody that has been serving the nation for 40 years.
“Right from NMS (Nigerian Military School), he was Drum Major there. And he’s one of the best students there. Many people liked him, teachers, everybody.
“He does the work as if the work belongs to him. That is why I wonder why they would come and judge him this way. I felt bad, I cried, I wept bitterly.”
Mr. Ransome-Kuti, who was the Commander of the Multi National Joint Task Force, was blamed after the Boko Haram insurgents overran the Baga on January 3.
The brigadier-general, his chief of staff, Lieutenant-Colonel GA Suru, and some other senior officers were arrested for failing to repel the terrorists’ attack on the headquarters of the MNJTF.
During his trial, the officer denied all the charges, with his lawyer arguing that the Nigerian Army failed in its duties to provide the necessary equipment in the war against insurgency.
A military source told PREMIUM TIMES that before the attack, Mr. Ransome-Kuti had warned about the danger of keeping officers at Baga without adequate protection.
“It was too dangerous for them to stay at Baga. They were sitting there like lame ducks, too exposed,” said the source who preferred not to be named.
“Because of the danger, Chad were the first to withdraw from the MNJTF in May, followed by Niger around November.
“It was after the attack in January that they now moved the base from Baga to Ndjamena.”
The MNJTF was created by defence and military chiefs from the six countries that make up the Lake Chad Basin – Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroun, Central African Republic, and Libya – to combat arms trafficking, terrorism, and related cross-border attacks.
There are different accounts as to what actually transpired in Baga on January 3 which led to the Boko Haram insurgents dislodging troops of the MNJTF as well as those of the 134 and 174 Battalions.
At the time of the incident, a military source had told PREMIUM TIMES that the military hierarchy were especially angry with Mr. Ransome-Kuti for his inability to lead his troop to counter the Boko Haram onslaught despite the high calibre of ammunition at his disposal.
The Brigadier-General was also said to had gone underground for four days after the MNJTF was dislodged.
“Nobody was able to reach him and nobody could tell where he was,” a source said.
“The suspicion is that he was roaming around Maiduguri in mufti while his troop were in disarray. He and his officers have to account for everything.”
But Mrs. Davies insisted her son would never abscond from his duty post, adding that Mr. Ransome-Kuti had been fighting the insurgents since 2009.
”He doesn’t come home often, because they post him from one end to another, far in the north there. They don’t bring him to Lagos, it’s that north that they have been taking him to,” Mrs. Davies said.
“And when this thing started, when he was the commander of one unit at Nguru, he was the one that led his men that they drove these people away. They faced them and drove them away from Potiskum.
“He was the one that fought that fight and those people went away. Before they came back in full force. And they even called him to army headquarters to commend him for doing that work.”
Mr. Ransome-Kuti’s court martial lasted over six months, and his mother said she never summoned courage to attempt attending any of the proceedings or watch news of the hearing.
“I’ve never attended the court since the case started,” she said.
“I can’t stand and be looking at my son in court. I just sit down at home, waiting for whatever they said they should tell me.”
As military duties moved Mr. Ransome-Kuti around northern Nigeria, from Yola to Biu to Kainji, Mrs. Davies maintained a steady presence in her son’s family, sometimes spending up to eight months in one year.
“I used to stay with the wife, so that I’ll be keeping her company,” she said.
“He’s always traveling, they always post him out to go and work. That’s why I use to follow them about to stay with the children and the wife.”
Asked if she’d rather her son’s judgment was commuted to a mere dismissal from the army, Mrs. Davies insisted reinstatement is the only option.
She appealed to Yoruba leaders to intervene in the issue and help save her son.
”I’m just appealing to the military authority and Nigerians to help us beg them to send him back to his work,” she said.
“To give him back his rank and let him go back to work, because he doesn’t deserve this kind of judgment.”
In addition to Mr. Ransome Kuti’s portrait, other photographs, including wedding photos, adorn the walls of the poorly lit room where Mrs. Davies took turns to respond to questions from two journalists.
“He’s the one taking care of me and he has a wife and three children,” she said.
“And there are some other family members that he is taking care of. In fact, I will say he is a pillar in the family. Since he was detained in Abuja, everybody has been down and everybody is praying that they should release him because he’s our breadwinner.”