Wild, wild Nigerian soldiers, By Dele Agekameh
Nigerian soldiers are known for their penchant and proclivity for violence.
It has become a recurring decimal in our national life; I mean, the satanic practice of armed security agents unleashing terror on the populace and destroying public property at the slightest provocation. And there is no security agency – be it the military, police, civil defence or what have you – that is left out in this perennial ‘madness’. But the worst culprits are military men.
Last Friday, they were at it again as Ikorodu Road, Lagos, was turned into a ‘theatre of war’ by soldiers who were said to be protesting the death of one of them, a lance corporal, who allegedly died in an accident involving his power bike and a commuter bus belonging to the state government.
According to reports, the soldiers went on the rampage in the early morning of that day around Palmgrove and Onipanu areas of the ever-busy Ikorodu Road. They were said to have destroyed buses belonging to the Bus Rapid Transit, otherwise known as BRT, owned by the Lagos State government and brutalised residents.
At the end of the melee, several buses were allegedly set ablaze. Apart from the burnt buses, many others were said to have been vandalised with their windows smashed and tyres punctured. That was not all. Journalists and curious residents who attempted to take photographs or make recordings at the scene of the mayhem were not spared as phones, cameras, tablets and iPads were confiscated and smashed by the rampaging soldiers. The soldiers also ordered the people passing along the route to raise their two hands in the air, as if they were in Sambisa Forest.
But trust our security agents and their inexorable capacity to concoct and manufacture lies. Pronto, Rightman Ogeh, a spokesperson for the Army formation in Yaba, Lagos, denied that the soldiers from the unit were responsible for the mayhem. Instead, he blamed the ‘area boys’ for the escalation of the problem. Though Ogeh admitted that the soldiers from the unit were aggrieved that the soldier who was knocked down was allowed to die because no one took the initiative to rush him to a hospital, he still exonerated his men.
According to Mr. Ogeh, “A soldier, who was passing through the bus stop saw the soldier and called the office… By the time we got there, we realised that our colleague was inside the bus already dead. He was riding a licensed motorcycle. So, why was he not taken to the hospital until he died? Of course, our men were angry and we decided that no BRT bus would be allowed to pass through the road”.
While denying that the soldiers burnt the BRT buses, Mr. Ogeh puts the blame on miscreants, who, he said, perpetrated the act.
“When things like this happen, you will hear different versions, but I can tell you that soldiers did not burn the buses. It is possible that some ‘area boys’ carried out the act. No one was harassed by soldiers; we only stopped some people who were taking pictures and wanting to film the area,” he said.
In the same vein, the 81 Division of the Nigerian Army also exonerated his men. In a statement signed by the Deputy Director, Public Relations, Lt. – Col. Omale Ochagwuba, the army alleged that one of its personnel was killed by a BRT bus, but claimed that soldiers did not carry out reprisals.
According to Mr. Ochagwuba, “…when the other soldiers who witnessed the incident rushed to the scene, the driver of the bus ran away with the key. The soldiers then secured the vehicle which was later towed away to safety in our custody. ‘Area boys’ then took advantage of the incident and started attacking BRT buses… Our personnel were immediately dispatched to the scene to restore normalcy so that traffic could flow.”
Both Messrs. Ogeh and Ochagwuba’s claims were quickly debunked by the management of the BRT buses.
Nonye Onwumere, the Public Relations Officer of the company, said, “On Thursday night, a red LAGBUS, which is run by Mutual Assurance and marked Mo63 broke down on the Ikorodu Road before Palmgrove Bus Stop. Early in the morning, around 7.15am, a soldier on a bike, driving on top speed, rammed into the stationary bus. After the accident, three female and two male soldiers going to work alighted from a vehicle to help their colleague. After seeing the extent of the accident, they gathered and became violent, stopping all BRT buses and ordering the passengers down. They beat some of the passengers and the BRT personnel, and then set some of our vehicles ablaze. They did not even care to know that our BRT are different from the red buses.”
From these narrations by Messrs. Ogeh, Ochagwuba and Ms. Onwumere, it is not too difficult to decipher who was telling the truth and who was just cooking up stories to cover their tracks.
Only those who have ever fallen victim to all forms of brutality visited on hapless Nigerians in the past, especially in a situation like that of last Friday, can appreciate the depth and extent of inhuman treatment usually meted out on people by our uniformed men. While many witnesses insisted that the violence was coordinated and carried out by soldiers, their spokespersons have laboured hard to wriggle out of blame. They were simply economical with the truth. I am sure they are conscious that the undisciplined act exhibited by the soldiers in their moment of temporary insanity that day clearly negates the ethics of service discipline that the military should be known for.
Mr. Ogeh’s explanations cannot hold water. If, as he claimed, the soldiers were angry but no one was harassed, what method did they employ to prevent people from taking pictures and filming the incident? Was it by persuasion or brute force that the angry soldiers prevented people from recording the event? In any case, why was it important to prevent people from recording the event when the soldiers could have used such recordings to prove their innocence? That is why I believe that all these cock-and-bull stories are clever ways to pull cotton wool over the eyes of Nigerians and sell them a dummy about what actually transpired on that day. Even Mr. Ochagwuba’s claim that soldiers did not carry out reprisals is hollow and falls flat in the face of rational thinking. Why didn’t the other soldiers who witnessed the incident and rushed to the scene convey the lance corporal to the nearest hospital? In other words, what was more important: securing prompt treatment for the wounded soldier or securing the bus that was allegedly involved in the accident?
Assuming it was ‘area boys’, as claimed by the Army, which took advantage of the incident and started attacking BRT buses, what efforts did the soldiers make to checkmate them? They also claimed that their “personnel were immediately dispatched to the scene to restore normalcy so that traffic could flow”. Was any effort made by the soldiers to alert the police? Are soldiers now traffic wardens?
Indeed, there are too many questions begging for answers. Moreover, in the history of such incidents in this country, soldiers are known for their penchant and proclivity for violence. So it is easy to conclude that what happened that day was a well-beaten track and behavioural pattern our soldiers are known for.
This is quite unfortunate. The fact that four out of the more than 17 buses either vandalised or torched were barely a month old in the BRT fleet shows that these soldiers don’t even value public property and the hardship they would cause commuters who have apparently been groaning that the buses were not even enough to cope with the demand. Apart from this, huge revenue was lost as the BRT buses were quickly withdrawn from their routes to prevent further damage to them.
At any rate, if and when investigations finally identify these vandals, the appropriate thing to do is to demand compensation for the cost of damages to public property. We cannot afford another ‘unknown soldiers’ episode. Neither would we accept to trade ‘area boys’ for ‘area soldiers’. Chikena!