The Nigerian soldier: an unruly bully?

By Abraham Adegoke

Rampaging Nigerian soldiers burn Lagos BRT buses

Words fail me to describe my feeling when I heard of the dastardly act of some Nigerian soldiers, yesterday, on one of Lagos’ busiest roads, Ikorodu road.

The soldiers had, in protest against the killing of another soldier in a traffic accident, blocked the dual carriage way, and vandalized BRT buses worth about N100million while causing major traffic mayhem for commuters in the process.

These are the same soldiers employed by the government, trained and paid with money from the reservoir of our collective national sweats. These are the same soldiers whose major purpose is to defend the integrity of our existence as a nation.

What saddens me most is that yesterday’s event is not a one-off thing. It is just another episode in a movie that started with the forced marriage of politics to the military in the 1960s. Although the frequency of these episodes have dwindled considerably since the return of democracy in 1999, we have still had enough to remind us of the brutality and recklessness of our soldiers during our so-called democratic dispensation.

It is public knowledge that some certain groups of people are above the law in our beloved country – soldiers are one of them.

An average Nigerian soldier is the plaintiff, the judge and the enforcer in his own case. He is not afraid to batter anyone (except the person is rich of course) at the slightest provocation. I don’t know what entails in other states but I have witnessed several instances in and around Lagos.

In saner societies, a soldier is synonymous to discipline, service and selfless sacrifice. That does not seem to be the case in my dear country. Here, it seems being a soldier means you are exempted from the laws that bind civilians. You can punish anyone anyhow provided you think they have done something wrong. The BRT bus incident is a good testimony. The soldier who was killed in the accident was riding his motorcycle on the lane reserved for BRT buses only. Apparently, he might not have been killed if he was law-abiding.

There have been several incidents of Soldiers going on rampage, taking laws in their hands, and most times for being in the wrong.

To make matters worse, the senior men in the Nigerian Army have denied that soldiers were responsible for the attack on BRT buses and drivers.

This is an all too familiar response to a grave civil ill that should be seriously looked into with the culprits duly punished.

“It’s not true that the soldiers destroyed buses or set any bus on fire. What happened was that a BRT bus knocked down a soldier and killed him. As usual in Lagos, area boys gathered and a few soldiers stopped at the scene as well. The GOC has dispatched military policemen to the scene to help restore law and order,” Nigerian Army spokesperson, Olajide Olaleye was quoted to have said.

But then several eye witnesses, reporters inclusive, were unanimous in their report about what they saw.

The tone of the Army spokesperson’s reaction to the incident is a big pointer to what will happen to the soldiers that committed the atrocity – nothing.

Meanwhile, the damage left behind by the soldiers is real. I saw the partly burnt bus shed at the palmgrove bus stop venue of the incident and one of the thoroughly burnt buses.

In addition, a friend of mine who had the audacity to try to capture the Khakitogangsterism on display was thoroughly beaten – he was not the only one on the receiving end of such beating.

Hence, that the Army spokesperson can say with such finality, even as he didn’t witness the event, that area boys, not soldiers were responsible is, in the least, appalling.

One does not have to possess divination powers to know that the continued show of recklessness by some of our soldiers is simply a result of their getting away with it. Already, it seems the Friday culprits will get away yet again with their highly irresponsible behaviour.

Why our democratic government continues to be lackadaisical about curbing the excesses of these soldiers continues to baffle me. I hope it is not a result of our fear that they might take over the reins of government again.

While I would like to apologise to the soldiers who are quite responsible in their demeanour, I sincerely have no hopes that the powers that the powers that be would do any concrete thing in righting the wrong done to us by these bullies whose salary we pay.

The saddest part is: something like this or even worse will happen again.

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