By Chido Onumah
It’s been over a week now since the gut-wrenching video of a group of cadets from the Nigerian military’s elite training school, the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), brutalizing fellow citizens of the federal republic was made public. Since then, curious Nigerians have been waiting to see how the military will respond to that national show of shame. Unfortunately, there has been nothing but deafening silence.
Anyone who hasn’t watched that video should do so. It evokes memories of the sinister brutality meted out to Blacks in Apartheid South Africa or more recent the attitude of White police officers to Black youth in the US.
In late December 2015, on the heels of the vicious attack by Nigerian soldiers on members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), I wrote a piece, the central thesis of which was that ours is still essentially a military state never mind the fact that we have had civilian rule for more than a decade and half. I noted that the response of the military to the infraction committed by members of the IMN – obstructing the flow of vehicular and human traffic – was similar to its response in other flashpoints in the country since 1999 and that there is no effective civilian control of the military enshrined in the constitution or any other law of the country.
The military spokesperson, aghast, tried to get in touch through a third party. He accused me of mischief and of not knowing my history. My response was that if he felt strongly about his comments and position he should make public his disagreement so that it could be subjected to a critical debate by Nigerians. Understandably, he did not fall for the bait.
The disturbing video of cadets of the NDA torturing an innocent citizen has now presented a veritable opportunity to once again bring to the front burner of national discourse the issue of military-civilian relations in Nigeria. When that video was first made public, it was erroneously reported that the Nigerian citizen, Sunday Amari, who was beaten and terrorized by the cadets was complimenting a female cadet. As we have seen through further investigation, including an interview with Amari, the victim’s only offence was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
In a series of tweets, through the Twitter handle , the NDA responded to the initial outrage of Nigerians with these messages signed by it PRO: “The attention of the Nigerian Defence Academy has been drawn to a trending video showing Cadets beating some persons. Please note that NDA is investigating the incident. Preliminary investigation has confirmed the incident to have occurred in 2014 while the Cadets were on break. NDA as a responsible institution saddled with the task of producing future military leaders will not in any way tolerate such unruly and flagrant mistreatment of Nigerians. The NDA under the current leadership has addressed most disciplinary loopholes. Further investigation is continuing.”
I concede that these utterly rotten eggs can’t be representatives of the kind of military that is trained and provisioned by taxpayers; yet, their action portrays a terrible image of the military and others in uniform that is all too familiar.
It was in this country in July 1973 that the late Minere Amakiri, Rivers State correspondent of the Benin-based Nigerian Observer was dehumanized under the watch of Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff, then military governor of Rivers State, for “embarrassing” the governor on his birthday. Amakiri’s offence was writing a story about an impending teachers strike in Rivers State and publishing it on July 30, 1973, the governor’s birthday; in effect, ruining his His Excellency’s birthday and planned merriment and therefore committing an offence punishable by egregious attack and public humiliation.
Amakiri was arrested and detained by His Excellency’s ADC, ASP Ralph Michael Iwowari, from 4 p.m. on July 30, 1973, until 7 p.m. on July 31, 1973, without food. On his arrival at the detention centre, Government House, Port-Harcourt, he was given 24 strokes by Lance Corporal Ilumodu and his head shaved by one Nicholas Bakban on the orders of the Resident Sergeant Major (RSM), Frank Dorgu, who was called back after he had closed for the day to supervise the punishment. By the time he was released, Amakiri was a bloody mess.
As I write, almost two weeks after the brutalization of Amari and another Nigerian and a week after Amari was interviewed publicly, the military is still investigating. In an interview published February 6, 2016, on SaharaReporters, 25-year old Amari told the newspaper that the attack took place on December 31, 2014 at the Jabi Lake Park in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, where he serves as a parks and recreation officer. According to the newspaper, Amari’s account “contradicts a claim by the Nigerian Defence Academy that the attack happened in Lagos. Mr. Amari stated that the cadets attacked and nearly killed him while he was at his duty post.”
“He disclosed that he was not the original victim of the violent cadets, who included two females and seven males. According to him, the cadets’ first victim was another man seen at the end of the video. He revealed that the cadets had brutalized the first victim to the extent that the man may have suffered serious brain or nerve damage…Mr. Amari, said the unruly cadets set upon him for fear that he might report their atrocities…Mr. Amari said he had reported the assault to the cadets’ director, a retired military officer, who told him nothing could be done since his attackers were military cadets.”
Of course, there is a wider narrative of impunity from the response by the military to the action of these cadets from Hell. Those in power and in uniform in Nigeria get their thrill from kicking around and dehumanizing “ordinary Nigerians”. It was not too long again that a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=29&v=IMiMcQ9vE7A) surfaced of a security officer cleaning the shoes of Nigeria’s Interior Minister, Abdulrahman Dambazau, a retired general, at a public event.
No less a person than Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, has had reason to decry the use of force by security forces and call attention to the attitude of the military in its relationship with “ordinary Nigerians”. Last December, during his keynote at the tenth anniversary of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), Soyinka “called on the Muhammadu Buhari led government to move swiftly to end the recurrence of arbitrary use of force on civilians by security forces, especially representatives of the Nigerian Army.”
According to WSCIJ, “Soyinka's lament came on the heels of recurring reported cases and picture evidences of the regular unleash of terror on mostly unarmed and helpless Nigerians by the men in uniform whose constitutional role is to protect the people.”
For as long as I can remember, persons in uniform in Nigeria have always assumed that they are superior to other Nigerians. Perhaps, that was why the incomparable Afrobeat star and rights activist, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, reminded us that, “Uniform na cloth, na tailor dey sew am!” For those not conversant with Nigerian pidgin, it simply means, “Uniform does not a soldier make.” Nothing best encapsulates what should be the mindset of our men and women in uniform in their relationship with Nigerians.
I don’t think as Nigerians we have expressed enough outrage at what happened to Citizen Amari. Where are our feminists, human rights activists, our political parties, legislators, the NLC, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and men and women of conscience in the Nigerian military? Will there ever be justice for Citizen Amari?
Isn’t there a crime against humanity here? Why have our legislators not summoned the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Defence Staff or the Minister of Defence? Perhaps, a conspiracy of silence? Or just simply a case of we have become used to this? Is this the price “bloody civilians” have to pay for the military being our liberators, protectors and the bastion of national unity? I don’t think any Nigerian, or indeed any human being, should be made to go through the torture to which these savages in uniform subjected Sunday Amari.
For the Nigerian military to continue to enjoy the support of all which they need now more than ever before, it needs to show that it is not above the laws of the land; that there are no separate laws for the military and for civilians; and that as it may be necessary, the military must subject themselves to civil authority.
Nothing less than the dismissal and prosecution of these out of control cadets will do. They have earned it and more and their victims deserve no less. These cadets do not belong in the Nigerian military.
That is the only way we can restore faith in this country, in our laws, in our military and our institutions.
(firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter: @conumah )