By Joke Adeniyi-Jackson
My love for the Nigerian military dated back to my days as a youth corps member serving in Bauchi State 2000/2001. I had very close contact with the rank and file of green uniformed men at the Shadawanka Barracks by virtue of my stay in the Corpers’ Lodge therein. The trepidation I used to have at the sight of a soldier fizzled out as I interacted with the uniformed men and women and realised that behind the stern facade lies a human heart. I readily erased the notion that soldiers are brutish from my mind. I recall my stay in the barracks with nostalgia; the Tombola, golfing, picnics and excursions with the military officials etcetera made youth corps days worth its while and memorable. In relating with them, however, I admired the deep, rich culture of discipline among the rank and file. They proved to be courteous and earned my respect for their humility. Even the then General Officer Commanding, Division 3, General Titus Akande who made frequent visits, had no airs about him. We (corpers) and the military officials had a seamless relationship. From my study of the Bauchi military cluster, I drew a conclusion that the Nigerian Army is a disciplined force. I learnt so much about the military culture during the period.
But the recent assault of civilians by men of the Nigerian Army in Ilorin, Kwara State in recent times cast a dark shadow on my renewed perception of the force as civil, friendly and professional.
A colleague some few weeks ago witnessed how an unidentified soldier and three of his colleagues descended on a middle-aged woman within the premises of the UBA, Unity branch in Ilorin.
The soldiers had gone berserk at the slightest provocation and threw decorum to the winds and vent their spleen on their victim. Even, a policeman; who tried to mediate had a taste of their brutality.
Coming closely was also the clash of the military men and phone repairers at the GSM Village, Challenge area, in the state capital recently, with seven people sustaining different degrees of injuries.
There was a similar case last year in the same area when soldiers engaged men of the Nigerian Police Force in gunfight in what seems a battle of supremacy.
The clash broke out between the operatives of the Nigerian Army and the policemen attached to ‘A’ Division of the Kwara State Police Command after a traffic warden allegedly accosted a military officer for violating traffic rules. The soldier was said to have called for reinforcement from Sobi Cantonment and the soldiers upon their arrival engaged the policemen on ground in shootout, causing pandemonium in the area.
There also abound cases where minor altercation between the uniformed men and civilians turn bloody.
These, one can say are unfortunate situations which have painted the army in bad light. These ugly development is fast becoming commonplace as the media is nowadays awash with report of abuse of human rights of civillians by men of the Nigerian Army. Not only that, they disrespect and abuse law of the land. This is indeed a sad narration. I wonder if there are still fine breed of military men like the ones I encountered in Bauchi. However like the saying that bad apple spoils the bunch, I want to believe that there are operatives with sterling qualities in the Army, who are not antagonistic of the civil populace. It is heart wrenching that the military men show utter disdain for the public they are meant to protect.
Surprisingly this is happening even with the existence of Human Right Desks in major divisions.
The army more than ever before need to inspire respect, love and admiration of the public, which cannot be achieved by force or instilling fear in the minds of the civil populace.
It is high time the Nigerian army authorities called erring soldiers to order and change their warped mindset about ordinary citizens whom they refer to as ‘bloody civilians.’ It should be made to understand that they are doing great disservice to the military institution by engaging in brutish act against civilians. In addition, officers who fails to adhere to the rules of engagement while relating with civilians should be sanctioned appropriately, to serve as deterrent to others. Soldiers must understand that respect is reciprocal. Nigeria can parade the best breed of soldiers who exhibit a seamless relationship with the civil populace; it is achievable.