By: Okanga Agila
I almost lost my calmness reading through an article authored by one Mr. Elias Ozikpu, who rudely scolded the entire Nigerian Army (NA) on account of what he perceived as misconduct by some soldiers. My anger was first triggered by the title of the article itself-“Bonny Cantonment: Where Some Of Buratai’s Mad Men Reside.” It generously impugned the dignity and office of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt.Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai , his officers and soldiers.
First, the writer strikes like a debauch, with a passion for artificialized titles in identifying himself. He calls himself “a literary author and an activist.” Only Elias Ozikpu knows what “literary author” means. Activism is a word any Nigerian, dubiously ascribes to himself to curry undeserved public attention.
But I judged his diatribes and denigration of soldiers from the plank of his moral deficiency and decided to adopt the title above in my reply to him. Its little surprise Nigeria has remained tied to the tethers of retrogression, if supposed intellectuals (he claimed so) are this much untutored. That is the mess of our country Nigeria today.
Ask Ozikpu, he will gladly tell you no soldier ought to be seen outside of the barracks or shadows of their uniforms sighted on streets. Once out, soldiers should head straight for the battlefield and remain in trenches. It’s true. But soldiers are everywhere because of characters like him, who have injected criminality into the system in multiple ways. It explains why soldiers are pulled out of the barracks to become sentinels of streets in Nigeria. No conventional author who knows his self-worth would address himself as “Literary author.” It’s part of the dubiousness.
Let me cite an example from the retinue of cases he amplified in the write-up, which affected him directly. I presume the other cases are reported from a third party narrative and vulnerable to distortions. He postures like a man, sitting over his own judgment. He wrote about the anger and near assault a soldier confronted them after they horned for him to clear off the road.
I know some road users are devoid of basic traffic rules and regulations. From the tenor of his write-up, it appears he has a disdain for men in uniform. He probably frightened the soldier with his horn rather than decently horning from a respectable distance to alert a strayed figure on the road. Ozikpo failed to intimate his readers of how close he was before horning. Some drivers are neck-deep into the habit of frightening other road users.
Such tendency offends everybody. You must not be a soldier before you get infuriated at such road-use misconduct. And the guess may not be far from it because he admitted stopping. Why did he stop to exchange words with the soldier, if there was no preconceived intention to offend him? It’s the familiar arrogance of some Nigerians, especially people who claim to be writers of whatever hue like Ozikpu because they are civilians. Are soldiers, first of all not civilians before becoming professional soldiers or men in camouflage as he derogatively referred to them?
Many Nigerians are still in the dark about the changed face of their country. The COAS, Lt.Gen. Buratai has devoted his time and energy to bequeath to Nigerians the finest breed of soldiers. I do not expect that army formations should be temples of worship or monasteries where everyone is holy and pious. But Buratai has ensured no unprofessional misconduct by his officers pass without the appropriate reprimand.
And before now, Buratai ordered the arrest and discipline of the two soldiers who maltreated a cripple in Onitsha, in accordance with military disciplinary laws. How else can a leader be responsive to be appreciated by people like the writer?
Most times, criminally-minded civilians stoke the trouble with soldiers to create an excuse to chastise the army and its leadership. For instance, just last Saturday in the same Lagos, a military officer, Lt Gyang of 149 Battalion in mufti was on veiled security surveillance with six other soldiers behind Alakija. He was unarmed, but the soldiers in his company were armed. And alas, suspected militants in the area opened fire on them without any provocation and the soldiers replied. No casualty was recorded, but the officer was reportedly abducted by these suspected militants and no shadow of him is traced till now.
In Abuja yesterday, an officer and two soldiers of Army Headquarters (AHQ) Garrison who were back-loading a broken-down Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) had a misunderstanding with civilians in the Gwagwalada area. It attracted a heavy mob and people uttered all manner of abuses and obscenities on soldiers. Had the soldiers vented their spleen, these Nigerians would have forgotten about their unruly confrontation of soldiers and dangled the sympathy card of armed soldiers against civilians.
The perpetual drunken civilian “officer” beaten in Aba for wearing military uniform did it deliberately to provoke soldiers. But in spite of the fact that criminals, who impersonate the army, also wear army uniforms, the NA similarly disciplined the soldiers.
Nigerians must not forget that soldiers are also human beings. They have blood running through their veins. They have emotions and can feel pains. They have families, children, brothers and sisters as well as dependents. They have friends. They can love and be loved. So, what is good for the Jews is also good for the Gentiles. Nigeria is not the only country with soldiers and there is no need to make our own soldiers endangered species.
Lt. General Buratai has established the Human Rights Desk at the AHQ, commands and units to handle cases of human rights violations on soldiers and no soldier, so far has been spared of punishment for any wrong committed. And it goes to say, families of soldiers are also waiting to be appeased when civilians who unjustifiably open fire on soldiers and kill them will be punished. It has always been the burden of soldiers like it happened in Niger state, when local militias opened fire and killed soldiers on routine surveillance.
If not because some Nigerians are peculiarly different human beings, elsewhere, citizens would fete Nigerian soldiers, anywhere they are sighted for defeating Boko Haram terrorism and offering them peace. These are indeed hard times for our military especially the Nigerian soldiers who get punished, for any mistake, but no one is ever punished for wrongs done to them, on the casual misconception that their uniforms ought to absorb all pains in national interest. It’s wrong and precisely, the insanity in sanity!
Okanga, a traditional warrior writes from Agila, Benue State.