But those were not the words of an excited young bride tossed into delirium by a momentous opportunity to tell an enchanting love story. Instead, they were the words of a young lady already matured by emotional adversity; they were the reflections of someone who had experienced both the illumination and darkness of love – someone who, at just 24, had become an epitome of the for-better-for-worse language of love.
Joy Johnson may have had only one man all her life, but the man she married in 2015 wasn’t the man she met and began dating in 2009. Seven years ago, she met a young, handsome civilian who rode a motorcycle for a living in daytime but trekked long distances with her at night for their daily routine of sharing sweet nothings. But one year ago, she was left with an amputee, a man who could no longer mount a motorcycle or walk a minute without aid, a man with whom sharing the rest of her life represented more of a burden than paradise. Yet she chose to marry him.
Johnson had just finished serving breakfast to her husband and his army of equally-injured friends when she sat down at the 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital, Kaduna, to narrate how she embarked on a journey that continues to test the resilience of her love. As she spoke, it was impossible not to admire the see-through beauty percolating from her face to her heart.
“He hadn’t joined the army then; he was a motorcycle rider. He joined the army in 2011, then this tragedy happened to him in 2012.”
By “this tragedy”, Joy was referring to a raid by Boko Haram on Giwa Barracks, Gombe state, during which her husband suffered multiple gunshot injuries, the most severe of which led to the amputation of his leg in 2014. By that time, though, her husband had already done enough to convince her she owed him nothing but unfettered loyalty in his moment of tribulation.
“He won my heart with his character; I liked his way of doing things,” she says, casting a gaze at him as though wishing for the emptying of their past into the present.
“He was very calm and measured in his ways. If I asked him for anything, he never got angry; he never rebelled against the things I liked. He was always soft with me and he treated me really well.”
Joy says that back then, when Nwibani had his legs, he was a “very sweet” lover who broke bounds to please her.
“He was very caring. He would wash my clothes and even cook for me,” she adds, her face lighting up with positive emotion.
“He still does it, but surely not as often as before because even me, I won’t be able to bear it watching him wash my clothes in this condition.
“Back then, there were times when I was in the living room and he would be in the kitchen cooking for me — that time when his legs were intact. But now, all he can do in that regard is that if I’m in the kitchen, he’ll come and stay with me, playing with me and supporting me.”
The lovebirds were both in their Kana Gulle village in Ogoni, Rivers state, at the time. But when Nwibani joined the army in 2011, he was posted to Gombe state. This rendered their romance long-distance, but the fire continued burning as fiercely as it did back when they saw every day.
In October 2012 after he was shot in the leg, Joy literally became a nurse overnight, devoting several hours of her every day to tending to her husband’s wounds. The setback of the time didn’t seem like a dead-end; the army had promised him a prosthesis. In fact, Kenneth Minimah, a retired lieutenant-general and former chief of army staff, had visited him in hospital and a photo of the duo graced the 2015 calendar of the Nigerian army, as proof of the army’s preparedness to “go to any length” in looking after injured soldiers.
“Immediately the tragedy happened in 2012, they told him they would give him an artificial leg,” she recalls. “Last year, the army took him to Lagos for an artificial leg, but the one he was given is actually fake. It’s not something he can use.”
“Some people told me to leave him, saying I should not marry an amputee and I should find another man, but no way!
“My mind didn’t work that way. There was absolutely no chance of me going for another man. My mind didn’t tell me to leave him, and I cannot do anything my mind doesn’t tell me to.”
As the endless wait for original prosthesis continues, Joy continues to serve her man as both wife and caregiver, helping him run the home, run errands, fetch water — helping him do everything a man with two legs would have done for himself, or what a prosthesis would have helped him do.
“I don’t have a job and I can’t have one yet because taking care of him is itself a full time job,” she says.
“Now, I help him fetch water when he needs to bathe or use the toilet. I prepare all his meals and wash his clothes. I do everything that he can’t do or that he can only do at great physical cost.”
Asked what she would be doing had her husband been given a prosthesis, she says: “You know, if I got some help, with just N500,000, I could set up a petty provisions business with which I can support him more.
“But, of course, even the business would be meaningless without prosthesis for my husband.”
Nwibani himself does not regret the choice of woman he made several years back. Without her, he says, it would far harder to cope with the loss of his leg and the army’s failure to redeem its pledge of a prosthesis.
“Now, there are so many things I cannot do by myself and when I tell her to, she does them without complaining,”he says with a smile in appreciation of his woman, which quickly thins out into a frown betraying his helplessness.
“The truth is I can no longer meet up with taking care of myself; she is the one who runs errands for me — up to the simplest of them such as buying odds and ends for me. Personally, I am not happy with my condition; I’m not happy that I can no longer fend for myself.”
Take Joy out of Nwibani’s life, and there isn’t much to be joyful about. His father died back in 2010, leaving his aged mother and two sons. He has never had a sister. His only brother was shot dead in January 2016 during the bloodily-contested Rivers state legislative rerun. All these mean he is grateful for life.
“When I look at all I have experienced, I probably should not be alive by now; I should have died,” he says. “I know the pains I endured on the day I was shot. It was like dying every day – dying every morning and night. But I told God to promise that I would not die, and God preserved me.”
But they also mean he has “no one else to turn to”, which explains why neglect by the army hurts him that much.
“I am happy with God – but not with the army,” he says bluntly.
“Look at me? Should I be in this condition for four years? Would it happen if I were their son or if my wife were their daughter? We don’t need their money; it is just to pay us our salary and allowance, and give us good treatment. If all these happened, nobody will grumble.
“But with the state of things, do you think anyone who knows me will be willing to join the army? When I travelled to my village, people were discussing me in hushed tones, wondering why a soldier should be in my sorry state.”
Nwibani reiterates that he asks for only one thing from the army: the chance to get as close as possible to his pre-attack physical state.
“All I need from the army is my leg – original artificial legs,” he says.
“I cannot continue using these crutches because they hurt me and leave marks on my ribs. If the army says move and you don’t, you are dismissed. But they told you to move and you did… you are now injured but the same army is not ready to take care of you. That is not fair.”