Fresh in the minds of Nigerians is the unsightly incident of February 7, 2017 at New Market Road in Onitsha, Amambra State, where the physically challenged Chijioke Orakwu was manhandled and brutalized by two military police officers for allegedly wearing army camouflage. Though happy that the Nigerian Army swiftly moved to douse public outrage over the unwarranted battering of Orakwu, our man, AWESOME EKENE said bitter lessons from past Military’s viciousness have left sour taste in the mouths of many innocent citizens and must henceforth be curbed at all cost.
Popularly branded the ‘Unknown Soldier’, Soldier Idumota is a monument built and erected by the Nigerian government in Idumota, a suburb of Lagos State in 1948 to celebrate soldiers, who died during World War I, World War II and later the Civil war. Though January of every year is fixed to specially honour these military heroes, the ‘Unknown Soldiers’ label has over the years come to connote ugly and tainted chapters of life encounters for many.
From the unprovoked destruction of late Afrobeat icon Fela Anikulapo Kuti ‘s Kalakuta Republic in 1977, to the Odi massacre of 1999, Zaki Ibiam invasion of 2001 and several other unfortunate episodes in communities across the country, the stories are that of unsavory experiences and events many victims and their sympathizers wished never took place.
In their unmitigated pains, occasioned by the perverse and dangerous irony of being maltreated by a military that statutorily is expected to ensure their safety and security, the wounded and human rights defenders are quick to argue that the reason the typical Nigerian soldiers have severally been accused of brutalizing civilians is due to idleness occasioned by their non-involvement in typical military or productive activities, which primarily are the reason for their recruitment or commissioning into the country’s armed forces.
According to many sound arguments, since some of these soldiers are hardly engaged in combats and other related military actions, they are left with no option than to transfer aggression and sometimes experiment their several years of military trainings on the innocent and ‘bloody’ civilians. Many victims of army’s rough treatment will surely align with the above submission. Indeed, while some may have been lucky to escape with their lives after being subjected to all manners of torture and intimidation, many others were not that fortunate to live and tell their stories.
On one occasion, I witnessed this horrific sight where some commercial motorcyclists, operating in a satellite town within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), were subjected to severe torture by some belligerent Nigerian soldiers. This scene captured these unlucky cyclists being ordered to crawl through a culvert massed with stinky drainage waste materials because they allegedly failed to procure and wear reflective jackets imposed on them by the ‘powers that be’.
Sadly, it was claimed that some of the affected cyclists died few days later, having been exposed to mordacious odour from the filth-infested gutter. Such regrettable episode is just one of numerous instances depicting the Nigerian army’s brutal disposition towards helpless civilians (most of which are never reported); the latest being the repulsive incident involving Mr. Tobias Chijioke Orakwu, the physically challenged man in Onitsha, the commercial city of Anambra state.
Without a doubt, this particular incident would have died ‘naturally’ and buried like many others, but for the amateur video clip posted by an eyewitness, one Prince Ifeanyichukwu Emmanuel. As expected, this clip was greeted with wide-spread public outrage after it went viral in the social media. The consensus remains that the victim’s physically challenged condition, which the ‘blood-thirsty’ soldiers brazenly ignored while throwing caution to the wind, may be largely responsible for the profound displeasure the issue generated. Of interest is the report by one national daily that a check on the video author’s Facebook timeline as of 5pm the following day indicated that in less than 18 hours of posting the clip, about 4,965 persons had already reacted to it.
Apparently in a move to save its near badly-battered image, the Nigerian Army was among the earliest respondents as it quickly swung into action. The first step was to identify and arrest perpetrators of this dastardly act of professional misconduct by the Division after a careful study of the video. This was followed by the culprits’ trial at the unit level before being referred to higher authorities that eventually applied fitting punishment for the offence committed.
Away from the hurting past where the nation recorded a prevalence of ‘unknown soldiers’ for crime against innocent civilians, the Nigerian Army, which spoke through its Deputy Director Public Relations, 82 Division, Colonel Sagir Musa; described the action as “uncalled for, unwarranted and should be condemned by all civilized people or organizations.” The Army’s official statement on the issue said, “It is our position that their action does not reflect the attitude of today’s Nigerian Army soldiers under the leadership of Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai.”
The statement reiterated the Army’s resolve to always advocate forbearance, respect for others and peaceful coexistence, as well as consistency in maintaining zero tolerance for indiscipline and human rights abuse, assuring the public that appropriate sanction will always be meted on perpetrators callous acts to serve as deterrent to others. In making good its promises, the Army, in less than 72 hours, descended heavily on the culprits, Corporal Bature Samuel and Corporal Abdulazeez Usman of 82 Provost Company, sentencing them to 21 days imprisonment with hard labour after being summarily tried and found guilty on a two-count charge. Furthermore, the two were also demoted from Corporal to Private Soldiers while also forfeiting their 21 days pay packet to the Federal Government of Nigeria. This is even as the Army offered a public apology, clothing materials and undisclosed cash gift to citizen Orakwu.
It is instructive that Colonel Musa, who presented the items to Chijioke, popularly called C.J or Commander of Edgerton Street on the New Market Road, Onitsha, said the gesture was not compensation for the inhuman treatment but only a show of solidarity and demonstration that the Nigerian Army not only cares but is people’s friendly and also respect the rights of individuals. “All we did was not an issue of compensation but to show Nigerians and the international public that the Nigerian Army is disciplined, responsive and responsible, and that we are caring,” the Army image maker said.
To many Nigerians and social commentators, the Army’s quick response to this ugly incident is quite touching even as Colonel Musa urged the public to view the case as an isolated one, assuring that any such occurrence in future will be treated with even greater despatch. The spokesperson further explained that though the Nigerian Army volunteered to treat the victim in any hospital of his choice, he turned down the offer with an excuse of not subjecting himself to western medicine. Happily lending a voice to assure Nigerians and the international public that the Nigerian Army is ‘disciplined, responsive and responsible’, the Commander, 302 Artillery Regiment, Onitsha, Colonel Idongesit Akpan, also pledged that such repulsive episode would not repeat itself.
Though the victim, who hails from Ikwo in Ebonyi State, teasingly told guest at his ‘reception party’ that the only compensation he would accept from the military authorities is to be decorated as a colonel, one cannot ignore his kindheartedness in letting the matter go with no bitterness against the Nigerian Army. Despite being dehumanized by the ‘known soldiers’, the attitude of Orakwu is commendable and should sign-post a new outlook in the anticipated amiable military-civilian relationship.
For any Nigerian to abuse military uniforms the army holds in high esteem is an action that should not be encouraged by well-meaning citizens; but it is important the Military authorities convince the public that it will no longer condone gross professional misconducts and human rights infractions by its officers and men.
Going forward therefore, Nigerians demand that the Military, in promoting its legendary avowed zero tolerance for indiscipline and human rights violation, should always preach decency, tolerance, peaceful co-existence and respect for the civilians within its ranks and file.