After several years of military harassment and dictatorship in Nigeria, a period which is often painted as Nigeria’s darkest moment, it is blindsiding to learn that the men in camouflage still believe that ‘bloody civilians’ (whatever that means) should continue to fall at their feet in worship. Whilst growing up back home in those dreadful days, I witnessed the horrifying public degradation of young ladies by military men who sometimes stripped these ladies naked for the offence of wearing trousers they purchased with their hard-earned money!
Even at that young age, I recall vividly that they were wild street jubilation in my hometown upon our return to democracy in 1999 as the people thought that the terrible days of brutality would naturally die with the ruthless and excessively corrupt military administrations. But that has not been the case. The men in camouflage have continued to harass and assault people on Nigerian roads, most times with stupendous impunity.
As recently as February of 2017, two military officers meted out the most horrendous treatment to a crippled citizen in Onitsha for wearing a camouflage. So spine-chilling was the attack that even onlookers could not intervene for fear that they might be killed by the bloodthirsty men in camouflage.
In early 2013, military men from Bonny Cantonment (popularly known as Bonny Camp) humiliated another citizen on a scorching afternoon in Victoria Island for urinating into a gutter. Not only was he brutally beaten to the point of bleeding, he suffered the ignominy of getting buried into the virulent gutter and was asked to swim from end to end, in what was an eyesore. As if the above was not enough, the victim was further pushed to climb a nearby tree with his head facing downward.
Both incidents as narrated above violently violate the fundamental human rights of the victims.
Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides as follows:
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Corroborating the above provision, Article 5 of the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights echoes thus:
“Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man, particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.”
Maddened by the injustice meted out to the young man for merely urinating into a gutter, I wrote to the Commanding Officer (CO) of Bonny Camp at the time, protesting against the cruel treatment and asking him to properly educate his men, most of whom lack the basic understanding for joining the Force.
On the morning of Sunday, 19th February 2017, less than two weeks after dehumanising the disabled citizen in Onitsha, this writer had a direct confrontation with the Bonny Camp soldiers, which almost resulted into assault. The incident occurred under the bridge directly facing their barracks’ gate. The military man, walking so unconcernedly on the road, was alerted by the sound of our vehicle’s horn to remind him that he was on a public road. Rather than leaving the road to pave way for vehicles, the Lance Corporal, so full of himself, got infuriated and said that he would deal with us “for blowing horn on top of his head”. So serious was he that he made several efforts to smash the window glasses of the vehicle.
I alighted from the vehicle to address the Lance Corporal and tried to make him understand that there was not a scintilla of justification in the way he had behaved. But no sooner had I alighted than I got surrounded by several of Buratai’s armed men, as if the erred Lance Corporal had sounded a whistle for their intervention. And without asking what happened, Buratai’s men faced me with ferocious aggression, asking where I got the guts to challenge an officer on uniform. One even said, brandishing his rifle with vicious looks:
“I can kill you here now and nothing will happen.”
And just when they were on the verge of launching an assault on me, some military women on mufti from the same barracks, along with some concerned citizens who witnessed the incident, intervened and strongly resisted the attack, and subsequently blamed the Lance Corporal for his unruly conduct. This writer learnt that later after the incident, infuriated Bonny Camp soldiers subjected one of the women to severe threats, to the extent of denying her access into her house for stating in clear terms that the Lance Corporal was wrong in the way he had behaved.
There is the urgent need for the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, to call his bloodthirsty men to order and have them properly educated. Cruelty against citizens by men in camouflage has become pervasive in Nigeria. The uniform and gun given to some of these men, most of whom are illiterate, make them feel as though they were demigods.
In January of 2016, The Punch newspaper published an editorial under the title: Military Brutality Should End Now. Part of the editorial reads:
“Incidence of assaults by military personnel against civilians is rising again, leaving a stain on Nigeria’s march to a truly free society. From Lagos to Abuja, the federal capital, to the east and north, reports are frequent of military personnel brutalising the citizens they were recruited, trained, equipped and paid to protect. Leaders and civil society at every level should take a resolute stand today to end impunity by undisciplined soldiers… The lawlessness of some officers and soldiers is so pathetic. Last week, one soldier with the name tag, Emmanuel B.J, brutally beat up a commercial bus driver at Ojodu-Berger, Lagos, ostensibly for “disrespecting” him. In August last year, a newspaper photograph graphically captured a group of soldiers battering a man in Mararaba, Nasarawa State, leaving him half-dead in the mud. Such “perks” have apparently attracted sadists into the officer corps. A video clip trending online shows a group of NA cadets, including a female, torturing a young man in Abuja, while in December, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State rescued a truck pusher from the brutal assault of two NAF cadets who had already loaded their battered victim onto their car boot…”
It is worthy to note that Boko Haram have been destroying innocent lives and properties in the North East of Nigeria since 2009 or thereabouts, to the extent of declaring a caliphate on Nigerian soil, yet the Nigerian Army has been unable to unleash similar brutality on these demons. In fact, the Army fled from Boko Haram’s attack to neighbouring Cameroon a few years ago and shamelessly called the escape a “tactical manoeuvre”. Below is the extract of a report published by Premium Times in August of 2014:
“The Nigerian military has admitted that hundreds of government troops have fled heavy fighting with Boko Haram, but said their apparent escape to neighbouring Cameroon was a ‘tactical manoeuvre’”.
The question therefore is, does the Nigerian Army now run away from enemies of our country but enjoy/prefer brutalising innocent citizens they ought to protect? Well, my answer is quite simple. As an African child, I have learnt from my people that one is not said to be a warrior when he abandons the battlefield in terror and resorts to chop off the heads of children and women in a bid to show off the depth of his strength. Only cowards do so.
Elias Ozikpu is a literary author and an activist. He was almost attacked by armed soldiers at Bonny Camp, Victoria Island, Lagos, before eyewitnesses stepped in and resisted the attack.