Stanley Azuakola: The Nigerian Army I saw today

  First, an apology: I am sorry for all the times when despite
overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I have tried to give the
Nigerian Army the benefit of the doubt.
When satellite images released by Human Rights Watch showed
the destruction in Bama last year after soldiers razed over
2000 homes, I still gave the benefit of the doubt. “What if we
are wrong? Let’s support our military!” I told people.
I was touched but did not care much about the 32-year old
fisherman interviewed by Human Rights Watch who said, “We
had heard the soldiers say before the attack that since you
people are not cooperating with us and are hiding your
brothers, we will treat you as one of them. Everyone heard
them say this. They were saying it in the open.”
That man lost his uncle who had a bad leg and could not escape
when soldiers attacked and burnt the houses after a Boko
Haram attack. But I still tried to make excuses.
Even when my Twitter friend, Salihu TankoYakasai (@dawisu)
shared stories in April last year , claiming that soldiers in Kano
have turned into “an even deadlier enemy than Boko Haram…
and had become human exterminators,” I silently accused him
of exaggerating. Somewhere in my mind, Bama and Maiduguri
and Kano… were all too far for me.
In the last few months, I have become more critical of the
army. After their ridiculous lie that they had released the
abducted Chibok girls, and the back story which led to the
mutiny at the Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri, I knew my
support could no longer be unconditional. I began to take
anything the army said with a pinch of salt.
Today, I saw firsthand the Nigerian Army in action in Lagos…
I have never seen anything like it in my life.
A soldier was knocked down and killed by a BRT bus in Lagos.
Soldiers in army green stormed Ikorodu road where the buses
ply and first thing they did was to close the road from
Palmgrove where the accident reportedly happened. The closure
immediately caused a massive traffic gridlock. But that was
just the beginning.
The soldiers began attacking BRT buses on the road. They
vandalised the buses, broke the glasses and windscreens, and
deflated the tyres. I got a call about the incident and
immediately went to see for myself . The first scene that greeted me at Palmgrove was a journalist
being viciously beaten by the soldiers. “Please I’m a
journalist,” he kept saying, pleading with them. They did not
care – a female soldier led that attack. The offence of that
journalist was that he was bold enough to take photos of the
vandalised buses. His ipad was seized and he was so badly
brutalised that he had to be rushed to the hospital.
Soldiers demanded that Nigerian civilians passing along
Palmgrove raise their two hands in the air, as though we are in
a war situation. No one was permitted to hold his phone in his
hand or receive a call. Not even those driving-by in their cars
were spared. A young soldier slapped a man making a call inside
a bus because he disobeyed an order he was not even aware of.
Things got even worse. Some of the onlookers told me that a
senior officer came by and directed the soldiers on ground to
burn the parked buses. I did not see that officer but I saw
soldiers as they went into two nearby petrol filling stations,
ordered the attendant to fill some kegs with petrol and carry
it to a spot where one of the buses was parked. I watched as
soldiers got into the bus and emptied the keg of fuel inside it
right there by the side. Then they struck a match and it was
in flames.
On either side of that burning bus, there was massive traffic
and cars (including fuel tankers) were moving slowly. The
soldiers did not care and commuters prayed as they moved
past. They did not even have the luxury of turning back as the
road was blocked. I was there when a Peugeot car with a tinted glass and plate
number NA-911934 arrived the scene and two young-looking
officers stepped out. I do not know much about army ranks but
a friend by my side saw their stars and cap and told me that
one was a captain and the other a Lt-Colonel. I went close to
see if I could get their names but they had removed their
name tags of course. The other officers recognised the
presence of their bosses with the usual greeting as the two
men strutted calmly away from my spot.
I am sharing the entry of those officers because some people
are currently trying to frame this story on social media as
though it was something that was done by a few “disgruntled”
soldiers in the rank and file. That is not and cannot be true.
Those soldiers could not have been so bold to stay there for
over 5 hours and all that time, there was not a call from their
superiors asking them to desist. All of Lagos had heard the
news, yet people who push this theory of a “few disgruntled
soldiers” want us to believe that the bosses had not heard and
could do nothing. That’s illogical!
At the Palmgrove bus stop, four BRT buses were parked, just in
front of the MRS filling station. I saw a female soldier shout,
“We suppose start one smoke from there.” I reached her and
said, “Aunty please I beg, this is so close to the filling station,
it might cause an explosion.” She couldn’t believe what she was
hearing from this small, uniformless person: “If I send you slap
ehn. Gerraway from here,” she told me, and I ‘gorrawayed.’
The soldiers got petrol, emptied it inside the middle bus and
set it on fire. Before long, the four buses were on fire. Myself and a few friends wanting to know the exact spot the
incident happened, went to speak with security men guarding
the entrance into the Palmgrove estate. They told us that they
did not know what happened but that all of a sudden they saw
a crowd rushing into their estate (the crowd was being chased
by soldiers.) The guards quickly rushed to close the gates
against the onrushing crowd. Apparently the soldiers believed
that the BRT drivers had run into the estate and the guards
were attempting to close the gates to shield them. They beat
up the three elderly guards. One of them told us he had pains
on his arms and legs, the other was still in shock, the last one
was in the hospital.
We immediately left for the Ultima Medicare Clinic at 2A
Cappa Avenue, Palmgrove where the third guard was admitted
but we were denied entrance. According to them, “Chairman
says it is an internal matter.”
By 1pm, when I left the scene, the soldiers were still there,
most of them now seated in their Hilux vans with “OP MESA”
written on them, others controlling the traffic, others seizing
cameras, and others pushing back onlookers. Their colleague
had died (some people I spoke to said the dead soldier was
supposed to get married tomorrow and some said he was a
colonel; I don’t believe either). Either way, he was gone. His
colleagues will never see him again, but as I left, I noticed a
group of soldiers, huddled together, laughing – it’s been a good
day’s job. They had put the ‘fear of god in hapless civilians.’
On a final note, as I was writing this, I saw an update from
Musiliu Obanikoro, the minister of state for defence (who was
not at the scene), saying he has been briefed by the chief of
army staff (who was not on the scene) that “some thugs in
the area took advantage of the incident to wreak havoc and
the military has taken necessary steps to restore peace and
forestall further breakdown of law and order.” Obanikoro
knows that he is lying, but he won’t stop – it’s just how they
roll. Before there is even an investigation, there is already a
I know that there are a few good men in our military and I
thank them for all the times they have discharged their duties
with uprightness and professionalism. But all over the country,
it is now clear that there are certainly more lawless men in our
army than responsible individuals. An army that believes in
jungle justice is a perversion. The Army I saw today was not
that glorious army which we used to rave about when they go
on foreign missions and who people say are the most
professional on the continent. The army I saw was a gang of
buccaneers, a vicious rampaging locust-like evil on green that
should be utterly ashamed of itself and that is in much need
of a reform. But I am not



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