By NBF News

Major Richard Chimezie Chinaka (rtd) calls himself Testimony and Miracle. Some refer to him as the officer who cheated death. Others brand him the cat with nine lives. From the incidents that brought about the names, all these sobriquets fit the combatant soldier perfectly because he practically battled with death and refused to be knocked out. It would be better said that whatever forces that brought this man back to life would not be adequately captured in words. They are simply beyond human conjecture and knowledge.

When you meet Chinaka, you would see the evidence of the duel; you would see a half chopped right ear and scarred body: hints at his extraordinary and poignant story. While on duty in the difficult terrain of Ilela, a community bordering Nigeria and Niger Republic, he was involved in a ghastly automobile accident. And while trapped in the wreckage, the drum of petrol at the back of the Land Rover SUV in which he was traveling with a colleague exploded. Consequently, he was roasted like a barbecue or some form of burnt offering for the gods. According to medical reports, he suffered 83 degree burns, a condition rarely survived by fire victims. However, being a gallant soldier, he fought doggedly to live.

Indeed, this indigene of Nkwere in Imo State had a taste of hell fire, knocked on death's door and bounced back to life. His is a story that melts the heart, freezes the blood and stops the breath. It is a story that brings tears to the eyes, numbs the senses, evokes images of pains and anguish. But, ultimately, it is an experience that manifests the awesome power of God to deliver His own in time of trouble.

It is only divine providence that would make a man who was burnt all over and draped in bandage from head to toe, fed like a baby when he started recovering consciousness and mangled and gummed together like a piece of paper soaked in water and pressed into a ball to live again and tell the story that though shocking and chilling has a very great and lifting ending.

'I served in the Nigerian Army for 24 years and retired honourably as a Major in 2005. I was a combatant officer. I was involved in a ghastly automobile accident in 1984 while on official assignment in Sokoto, precisely at Ilela the border between Nigeria and Niger Republic. We had left the barrack with our official vehicle, a Land Rover with a full tank and a drum filled with fuel kept at the back so that we can refill the tank when the need arises while on patrol. About 18 kilometers to our destination, one of the tyres of the vehicle burst. We were descending a hill at the time and the driver struggled to control the vehicle. Eventually, he lost control and we crashed into the bush hitting trees in the process.

'On hitting the first tree, the vehicle caught fire immediately while still in motion. On hitting the second tree, the vehicle stopped but those two impacts squeezed the vehicle and we could not come out even as the fire raged. While we were trapped inside the vehicle, the drum of petrol also exploded and there was fire all over the place. My driver and I were the only people in the vehicle. We struggled to come out of it to no avail and there was no rescue because it happened in a lonely place. It occurred at 3.00pm.

We were there burning and there was nothing we could do. We were looking at death but we couldn't help ourselves. I still had the presence of mind to look at my wristwatch as we waited hopelessly in the vehicle.

To the best of my knowledge, about 18 minutes later, in the face of imminent death, I muttered that God should accept my soul. Immediately I made that statement, I heard a small still voice urging me to make another attempt at getting off the vehicle.

On hearing the voice from nowhere, I fell to my left side, that is driver's seat and I found myself on the ground. That was when I knew that my driver had escaped. While I was lying beside the fire that was burning as well, it was then that God sent a rescue team in form of Fulani herdsman, who pulled me away from the burning tyre. In the course of trying to pull me, I suffered serious injuries because my burnt body peeled off as a result of dragging me on the ground.

From there, we were rushed to the General Hospital, Gwagwalada, Sokoto. From there, we were taken to the Usman Dan Fodio University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto.

After about one week, my condition worsened and I was airlifted to a military hospital in Kaduna, where I spent nine months. The management of the military hospital did its best to save my life. There, I regained my stability and consciousness.

Unfortunately, the powers-that-be at that time turned down all the medical reports that recommended my being evacuated abroad for proper treatment in view of the non-availability of equipment required for the proper handling of my case. After about 10 months at the military hospital, Kaduna, I was referred to the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu, where I spent another five months undergoing local plastic surgery. Thereafter, a kind-hearted commander of zmine, then Lt. Col P. N. Azizia, who was my commanding officer at the 35 Battalion, Sokoto, but was not my commander when I had the accident, took special interest in my case. And he pursued it to a logical conclusion by taking me to the Army Headquarters then in Lagos for proper consideration of my case.

Thereafter, though, there was an embargo on medical treatment abroad, the Army headquarters viewed my case with serious concern and, with the assistance of the Director of Medical Service in the Nigerian Army, the late Brig. Gen. Rimi and the then Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, my paper was approved for onward medical evacuation abroad. In December 1985, I was evacuated to Britain for a proper plastic surgery. When I got to Britain, that was a year and a month after the accident, the medics observed that I was brought late. At that time, the skin had already thickened and caked with a lot of contractions. Notwithstanding all these, they promised to do their best to make me look acceptable but not to the state I was before the incident.

At Wellington's Hospitals, St John's Wood SE London, I had series of surgeries. I spent six months there and came back to Nigerian in June 1986 and resumed full military duties. Actually, when this thing happened to me, I was a Second Lieutenant, barely four moths after commission from the Nigerian Defence Academy. I had never even tasted kobo as salary. Then fate played a fast one on me and I saw myself hospitalized for two years. While my mates were in the field displaying and practicing what we were taught at the NDA, I was languishing in pains. However, I thank God that at the end I am alive to tell the story.

After my initial treatment, another attempt to go back for a proper medical review was turned down by the authorities in the medical field again. However, I continued with my duty. While I was in various hospitals within and outside Nigeria, my fellow officers, mates and juniors were of immense assistance. They kept on encouraging me, praying for me, visiting me and doing certain things on my behalf until I eventually came out from the hospital. Actually, what happened to me only affected me psychologically but physically it did not affect me. I am still my normal self. In fact, I discovered to the glory of God that certain things I could not do before the accident, I now find them easy to do. It now looks to me like a blessing in disguise. I have discovered I have more strength, may be it is because of what I went through. I now have the stamina to do hard things that make me wonder. It was after the accident that I attended various risk-bearing courses in the Army. And other operations such as the jungle warfare and combat survival, which is about the most difficult course in the Nigerian Army for Infantry men. I also did amphibious course, another energy sapping course.

Under this condition, I was able to go to Liberia as a member of the ECOMOG troops between 1989 and 1991. I also took part in the Bakassi operation when I served at the 73 Battalion Jos. In 2003, I went on UN peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone. I spent one and half years there before I came back. Incidentally, while I was expecting to do more in the noble profession that I cherish so much, I was retired based on age on a particular rank. They said that age had caught up with me on a particular rank because combatants have specified age bracket for a particular rank though, I never exhausted my promotion chances remaining one but the authorities placed much emphasis on age catching up with some of us and they insisted that we must go. That was in 2004 and I was a major. I was 47 years old.

I had wanted to contest my retirement because there is the provision that you must exhaust all your three attempts in promotion. The reasons for retirement included age catching up with one on a particular rank, medical and disciplinary grounds. On these areas I was never found wanting but why the emphasis on age? But based on good advice from parents and loved ones, I decided not to take it up and accepted it in good faith as an act of God. If I had done otherwise, I may not be in a position to determine what would be my fate. I thank God for His mercies.

I call myself testimony. I also call myself miracle the officer who refused to die, the officer who saw death and conquered death, the officer that saw death and cheated it,

I am the officer with nine lives. You can imagine somebody burning in a vehicle for several minutes. It is only a miracle that I am alive telling the story. People who see the pictures of the scene of the accident will not believe that someone can survive in such circumstances.

After leaving the Army, I decided to have some rest and acquire further education. I just finished my masters degree programme in International Relations and Strategic Studies from the Lagos State University (LASU) last year. At present, I don't know if age is still against me to secure an employment but definitely I am not tired. I am hoping to see anything worth doing to augment the little the Army is paying me as pension.

I have two children to take care of plus other dependants. I was not married before the accident but barely two years after I got married in 1988. My wife is from Bayelsa State. In fact, she is God's gift to me. All along I had been away on assignment or courses, she actually took good care of the home. She never gave me any problems and throughout my trying periods, she stood by my side. It is only the good Lord who will reward her for love, kindness and everything.

I must not fail to add that it was while in Britain that it was discovered that I suffered up to 83-degree burns, which contrasted with 65 degrees I was told in Nigeria. There, they arrived at that after about seven days of scientific examinations by some of the best medical hands. The told me that any victim who suffered up to 35 degrees burns will most likely die. In my case, I think it was the Lord's doing. I could not see while I was in the military hospital. My eyes were open and flicking but I could not see. But with time, I started regaining my sight. Initially, everything was blue but gradually it started improving. It was in Britain that they did proper plastic surgery on me. After the ones I did at Enugu with crude equipment, the contractions still came back, my chin was gummed to my chest and my right arm was gummed to my right side. There were burns all over my face and body after treatment in Nigeria as a result of infection. But the story of my condition changed in Britain and above average, normalcy returned to my body.

I want to use this opportunity to encourage people to have faith in God in any situation they find themselves. I know that it was God who saw me through, but I had unshakeable faith that I would make it. People had written me off, saying that I would not survive but my strong will (faith) refused to accept death as an option.

'I was unconscious for three months after drinking water, which I compelled the doctor to give me. Some of the things I am narrating were actually related to me after regaining consciousness. My experience has shown that God does not fail those who trust in Him. He is God of impossibilities. And he saves those he wants to show mercy.

Today, I am a private security operative/adviser owing to my military background and a better educational qualification after exit from service.