“Christmas Eve, 1975.
A Nigerian Army soldier goes missing in the village of Ugep, today’s Cross River State.
Soldiers go wild, raping women, and killing 65 people.
The missing soldier was eventually found.
An autopsy showed he got drunk, had an epileptic seizure, and died” – (Cheta “chxta” Nwanze, on Twitter)
The above quote perfectly summarizes the behavior, mindset and disposition of the average Nigerian soldier. One of ultimate brutality, absolute authoritarianism, and ridiculous power-drunkenness. If it was not strange that this attitude persisted through the dark days of military rule, we should be appalled that, nearly twenty years into our democratic dispensation, the mentality of the Nigerian soldier is still so fundamentally flawed.
The soldier is always worthy of honour. He practically puts his life on the line for the peace and security of the country. He defends the territorial integrity of the nation, often paying the Supreme price, with little or no recognition; and is bound to obey the call of duty at anytime, to anywhere, and for however long his superiors deem fit. So, a soldier’s life is all about sacrifice, and for that, we all should be grateful to them. Their many sacrifices largely go unappreciated, while politicians often use them as political pawns. While many of them are brutally killed by insurgents, government rather choose to often paint a rosy picture of the theater of war. The abject living conditions of many of the soldiers battling the terrorists is downplayed, and they are often left to fend for themselves.
However, despite the way our government, or even citizens treat our armed forces, we know the misbehavior we see from them has nothing to do with that. It is rather an unfortunate culture that has been imbibed into the very fabrics of every soldier. It is almost like a creed, a code of conduct, or a behavioral ethic; that suggests that every soldier must be desperately wicked toward civilians, or non-soldiers. For example, it has already been agreed that it is a norm, for soldiers to raid a locality or community, and massacre its residents, once a fellow soldier is attacked, or killed there. Whatever led to the said attack, is never the issue. If I dedicate this essay to rendering examples of soldiers’ reprisal attacks, which said attacks are always an overkill; then I could fill a thousand pages. Zaki Biam and Odi are the most notorious examples. We know however, that there are countless of other examples we see often, of brutality of soldiers.
It is strange that we have come to accept it as normal. We rather pray not to cross their paths. We already have accepted the animalistic attitude, of subjecting civilians to gruesome torture or casual death, for silly offenses, as normal. In actual fact, they are not.
By law, soldiers have rules of engagements. In fact, many of what soldiers do to civilians in Nigeria, are forbidden even in a theater of war. For example, most of the killings carried out by soldiers are extrajudicial. Again, most of those killed for sundry offences, actually were killed while holding no weapons, or while practically surrendering. What’s worse? Soldiers kill many innocent people.
Few days ago, more than twenty people were killed by soldiers in the so-called clash with Shi’ites. The problem with that clash was that the casualties were only on one side: the Shi’ites. According to the army, the Shi’ites were unruly, and had attacked their arms-bearing convoy with rocks. They had no choice but to respond with superior firepower, not bigger rocks, but bullets. Live bullets. The video, which trended on social media, showed Nigerian soldiers hounding citizens, by which time, no one could differentiate between a Shi’ite, and a law-abiding passerby, whose only crime that day, was to be caught up in the unfortunate melee. In one horrific scene, a soldier was seen locating a man hiding in the gutter, and gunned him down right there, in the gutter! Just around there was a woman hiding behind a vehicle. Providence saved her as the officer was too impatient to search thoroughly.
That wasn’t the first time soldiers were clashing with Shi’ites though. In 2015, they had massacred 347 of them, an outrageous number by any standard, because the Shi’ites had blocked the right of way of the convoy of the chief of army staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai. The Shi’ites may not be the best persons to defend in issues like this, because of their own many excesses, but the law is the law. Are soldiers right to kill people for blocking a convoy? No. Or for attacking them with rocks? Still no. Yet, are Shi’ites right to block the convoy of the army chief? No. Just the way it is absolutely a horrendous folly to attack an armory with rocks. But soldiers should know better.
Its almost as if soldiers deliberately want to put civilians in their place, which to them, is infinitely beneath them.
But that is not what soldiers are meant to be. Soldiers should serve with humility. The fact that our past was abused with military incursion in governance, doesn’t mean we must live under fear of soldiers all our lives. The slippery slope of power and leadership is that leaders often get power drunk. That’s why there are checks and balances. But no one checks or balances our soldiers. They are a law unto themselves. They hardly pay bills because they are hardly approachable. Their terror, which should have been reserved for enemies of the country, are unleashed on hapless citizens.
When we travel out of the country, and see how soldiers and armed officers behave, with lots of courtesy and humility, especially when we consider that some of these soldiers are the best trained in the world, then we wonder who taught our own soldiers to equate brutality with competence.