I just watched a horrible video capturing the humiliation of some alleged IPOB members by members of the Nigerian army. Inasmuch as the video is appalling and showed soldiers of the Nigerian army meting out inhuman punishments in their (usual) invidious selves, the video should surprise Nigerians little.
It cannot be overstated that the Nigerian Army, as presently constituted, is peopled by some of the most morally reprehensible humans to ever walk the face of the Earth. Many of these soldiers would waste no time in pulling out whips or guns to show you, a citizen of the same country for which the Nigerian Army exists to protect and defend, just how less of a human you are.
There was a running joke (not so much a joke as a sad and sobering reality) in Kano where I was raised, and most of Northern Nigeria at the height of the Boko Haram Insurgency circa 2012: “If there’s an explosion in your vicinity, Run. Not because of what Boko Haram did five minutes before, but because of what the Army would do five minutes later.” The idea was, if you happened to survive an attack by Boko Haram, listen for the sounds of sirens, then start running as fast as possible in the opposite direction, because the Army, once on site, would arrest, dehumanize and kill everyone they found. A friend of mine lost his brother when, shortly after an IED went off in a nearby police station, the military stormed a petrol station a few hundred meters away and shot everybody.
We expect a statement from the Nigerian Army. Perhaps we’re being too hopeful to expect a statement from an institution known to ignore or flat-out deny allegations of extra judicial killings and flagrant human right abuses where documentary evidence isn’t available for public consumption or embark on long, winding rhetorical obfuscation where the evidence is wildly shared (like this video). In June, the Defense Headquarters rejected the report by Amnesty International indicting some personnel of Nigerian Army for War crimes, extra judicial killings and torture during the war with Boko Haram. This is not the first time the military has denied allegations of extra judicial killings. In November last year, the military dismissed a report by same Amnesty International that it partook in the extra judicial slaughter of 150 Biafran demonstrators, alleging that the report was fabricated to tarnish the reputation of the Nigerian Army!
We expect the army to issue a statement on this inhumane treatment of pro-Biafran agitators. The Defence HQ might go mum on this issue but you can bet your last naira that if this video hadn’t surfaced, the Defence HQ would’ve summarily denied it ever happened and dismissed it.
But this isn’t my issue. My grouse is that we have witnessed these acts of brutality for so long, we have practically become inured to brutality. I’ve read intellectuals making excuses for the Army’s act of aggression on harmless civilians. How do we live with ourselves, excusing those who treat us like pond scum?
My guesses are, it’s either we’re too scared of the Nigerian Army, an outfit tasked with protecting us, that we make excuses for its excesses, a weird manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome, or—and this one is more worrisome—the Nigerian Army is a stark reflection of who and where we are as a society. I’m personally tempted to think the latter is the case.
If the latter holds true, then the Nigerian Army is a microcosm of the larger society, in which case, we all should hang our heads in shame for allowing this wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life to fester. The truth is we are complicit in these abuses. Look closely at the composition of the military. It’s manned by you and me, by our siblings, our parents, our cousins and acquaintances, our friends and distant relatives. Can we, in all honesty condemn the soldiers in the Nigerian army for “punishing” what they perceive to be “insults” to the Nigerian state when we justify physical violence as appropriate and commensurate response to verbal mudslinging in our homes? When children are routinely abused in the name of “discipline” by parents who, in saner climes, would lose those children to the state? When we make excuses for politicians who use security operatives attached to their motorcades to abuse everybody their abusive fingers can reach? Give Nigerians a semblance of power and they would abuse it. From the governor Ajumobis who find it odd that students would question their authority over their failures in the education sector to the men who find it utterly disrespectful that their wives question their authority at home, the I-will-show-you-who-I-am spirit dwells and finds succor in all of us.
If the former is the case, then it would be a long time before we are cured of this illness. Not while we keep making excuses for the Nigerian army. Doing their job? I think not. Learned people would ask “why would they stand up to the army? Why would they come out to protest in front of the army convoy?” These learned people have obviously never heard or read of the “Tank Man” who stood in front of a convoy of tanks in protestation against the military’s suppression of the revolt in Tianamen Square, China that led to the deaths of many students. Pulling the “This is Nigeria” card—an indictment, no doubt of the fact that many of us think we’re incapable of being more than savages—is NOT an argument! What kind of freedom do we fight for if we can only fight behind anonymous social media accounts, using computers with masked IP addresses, from the safety of secret hideouts? The idea that as long as we don’t protest in the face of the military against the injustices of said military, we’re fine, is a preposterous one. The army would sooner or later bring the injustice to you! Ask the journalists attacked at the NUJ office in Abia state this week. Ask members of the families of slain Shiite members in Kaduna!
Whatever the soldiers of the Nigerian army hoped to achieve by forcing the IPOB members to swim in a dirty pool of water, they achieved one thing: causing those young men to be more resolute in their convictions. If the plans of the Nigerian army, through their “Show of force”, was to aggravate the Biafran youths and ossify their resolution to fight for secession, well congratulations to them. They achieved just that.
However, You owe it to humanity to condemn the heavy-handedness of the Nigerian Army. They must stop treating Nigerian citizens like anything less than human beings!
Written by Godswill Vesta