UNPERTURBED by their insalubrious reputation, it appears that the Nigerian military are not ready to change their ugly ways. For this, their personnel have come under accusations of killings and attacks in Taraba, Abia, Ondo and Lagos states. Even as soldiers maltreated youths in Aba for their hairstyles and sexually molested an undergraduate in Akoko, new cases of killings in Abia and Taraba states indicate an undying culture of impunity in the ranks of the Armed Forces and the pitiable indulgence by a weak civil authority.
In a bloody encounter on the Ibi-Jalingo Highway in Taraba, soldiers murdered three police officers on anti-kidnapping operation and a civilian at a checkpoint, say police authorities. Force spokesman, Frank Mba, lamented, “The police officers were taking the arrested suspect, Hamisu (Wadume), to the command headquarters in Jalingo (state capital) when they were shot at by the soldiers despite sufficient proof that they were police personnel on legitimate duty.” This is outrageous. What happened to coordination among the security agencies? This underscores the scant regard the military have for sanctity of life.
The police stated that the Intelligence Response Team of the Inspector-General of Police, led by Felix Adolije, one of the victims, had been credited with the arrest of suspected kidnap kingpin, Chukwudumeme “Evans” Onwuamadike, and 22 Boko Haram members who abducted the Chibok girls, among other feats. In an era of grave insecurity, this is a national tragedy. With President Muhammadu Buhari’s order of an official inquest into the matter, government has to get to the root of these killings expeditiously.
For the average Nigerian citizen, it is catastrophic. If the lives of police officers are wasted so easily, the citizens have no security bulwark to fall back on. Although the Nigerian Army had earlier defended the soldiers, with the claim that they shot at the entourage because they thought they were kidnappers, the missing peg is that the suspect, a wanted man, “escaped” from the scene, despite being in handcuffs and leg chains.
A few days earlier, a lance corporal, Johnson Ajayi, attached to the Forward Operations Base, Ohanze, Abia State, had tragically shot dead Chimaobi Nwogu, over the refusal of the motorcyclist to part with a bribe of N100 at a military checkpoint in the town. Ajayi reportedly trailed Nwogu, who had two children and a pregnant wife, to his home, where he slaughtered him. Initially, the Nigerian Army stated that Nwogu was a secret cult member who wore an army fatigue, but it later admitted that he was killed in a disagreement over a N100 bribe. This plumbs the depth of inhumanity. Soldiers are meant to protect citizens, not murder them.
Early this month, the media were agog with the dastardly rape story of a 300-level undergraduate of the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko. The soldiers had singled her out in the bus she was in and allegedly took turns to defile her. After the initial uncertainty, the Army has dismissed Sunday Adelola (a corporal), one of the soldiers allegedly linked with the crime. The police are set to prosecute him, which is commendable.
These incidents bring to the fore again the perennial assault on the civilian populace by the military. In shocking circumstances, masked soldiers arrested, flogged and shaved some young men wearing dreadlocks and tinted hair in the commercial city of Aba recently. Eyewitnesses recounted how the soldiers used scissors to cut their victims’ hair, and hauled them into their barracks. This is illegal. There is no law against dreadlocks or tinting of hair in Nigeria.
By law, soldiers can make arrests. Nevertheless, it is unlawful for them to assume the role of the prosecutor and judge in civil cases. Procedurally, they should have handed over the supposed offenders to the police for prosecution. At about the same time, two Nigerian naval ratings reportedly molested two journalists on tenuous grounds in Lagos. The offence of Abiola Oduola and Segun Ojo was that they parked their car in front of a building. When they returned, the ratings had deflated the tyres. Instead of offering an explanation, they beat up the reporters. Nothing justifies this. If they had committed an offence, a case should have been filed with the police. Impunity by soldiers, naval ratings and airforce men thrives partly because of the reflexive denial of their misdeeds by military spokesmen and leaders.
It is exasperating that 20 years into the Fourth Republic, the military are still guilty of extensive rights abuse and killings. In 2014, soldiers went wild on Ikorodu Road in Lagos, burning down no fewer than eight BRT buses following the controversial death of their colleague on a dedicated BRT lane. They shot indiscriminately and harassed passersby. Earlier in 2011, soldiers stormed the Badagry Police Station, where they killed the Divisional Police Officer, the Divisional Crime Officer and six others. With most of these cases not properly handled and the culprits punished, soldiers will persist in committing such atrocities.
Elsewhere, the military are disciplined institutions that obey the law and defend the interest of citizens. The British Army code states, “All soldiers are subject to the law wherever they are serving. The Army needs to be tough and aggressive and in doing your job, you will face people who break the law. This does not mean you can break the law. You must always keep your self-control, however angry or provoked you might be, because no soldier is ever above the law.” In an instance in 2012, a Welsh Guards officer on a military base in Afghanistan, while loading his rifle before a patrol, accidentally fired a shot. He was tried by a court-martial and convicted of “negligently firing a weapon.”
In Nigeria, the military abuse their authority with reckless abandon. In the traffic, they are notorious: harassing, flogging and driving against the traffic during gridlock. They flagrantly disobey traffic laws and regard themselves as above the law. There is, therefore, an urgent need for the military to reform themselves. The rules of engagement and procedures need to be constantly updated and enforced. The military are too involved in civilian affairs, being in joint security operations in many states; this should reduce gradually and the police empowered to do the job. To rein in their excesses, soldiers who commit infractions must not be spared.