The botched medical outreach of the Nigerian Army in the South East is one more example of the quality of thinking that misguides the Nigerian Army.
It’s incredible that the top brass decided that a military-manned mobile clinic had a real prospect of success in Igboland and that this, of all times, was an opportune moment to launch the charm offensive. It’s a shame the generals were convinced that the spectacle of some khaki-wearing Johnny-come-lately medics necklaced with stethoscopes would win hearts and minds.
The free medical mission escalated tension in the already heavily militarized zone and spread fears of a sinister Trojan horse infiltration. It caused wildfire panic and stampede, pushing desperate parents to run to schools to retrieve their children, in a life-and-death race to save the kids from the soldiers rumored to be on the prowl, forcefully administering lethal vaccines on innocent pupils.
Any person with a grown up’s common sense could have seen the fiasco coming. The static and palpable depression of the region meant that the soldiers’ bid to woo was a nonstarter. The odds were so against the idea, it was a most predictable disaster.
The mission backfired, almost before it started. The people did not swoon. The public health scare and conspiracy theory of troops deployed to depopulate the Igbo race under false pretenses kindled outrage and pandemonium.
The army -more embarrassed by the false rumor than their own miscalculation-scrambled to clarify that charity, not hate, informed the venture. A military spokesman explained that the Nigerian Army meant well. They did not drop the gun to kill with the syringe. ‘’The exercise is part of the corporate social responsibility initiatives imbued into the overall EXERCISE EGWU EKE II package to the people of the South Eastern region’’.
It was a belated public service announcement. The mission had failed. The army neglected to sensitize the people to improve the chance of buy-in. They must have figured that the template of the ‘show of force’ on the street was applicable to the ‘show of charity’.
The people naturally rejected the roadside theater of a military clinic. Their reaction was instinctive and automatic.
Many Nigerians do not have a personal memory of military solicitude. The Nigerian Army has no tradition or record of investing in civilian-targeted compassion. The strangest revelation of this upheaval is that the army has a sense of ‘’corporate social responsibility,’’ a heart that cares beyond war.
The Nigerian soldier and the civilian do not relate on the terms of shared humanity. They often meet on the uneven field of fear. The soldier is trained to intimidate the civilian and bully him to prove the point of the supremacy of might.
The medical outreach by the Nigerian Army forced cognitive dissonance. The civilians it was supposed to serve ran for their dear lives because they could not reconcile their rich knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of the trigger-happy Nigerian Army with the soothing, healing and life-saving calling of the medical profession. The people avoided the free medical aid like a plague and accused the army of genocidal intent because they know the troops experientially as compulsive killing machines.
By imagining the worst mischief of the humanitarian gesture and voting with their feet, the people reflected the state of their vexed relationship with the Nigerian Army. When the people ascribed the goal of holocaust to the initiative and erred on the side of caution, they demonstrated that brutality was second nature to the Nigerian Army. In denouncing the medical mission, the people telegraphed that Nigerian soldiers were incapable of good intentions and that it would be suicidal to take their soldierly kindness at face value.
The medical mission could not have been anything else than an unwelcome turn off. It was impossible that a people still mourning their relatives murdered by soldiers of ‘’Operation Python Dance’’ would open their hurt psyches to the aid of the patronizing and unapologetic killers. The people could not bring themselves to embrace unsolicited help from murderers of their own flesh and blood.
Their grief made them loathe the posturing of the killers of their sons as do-gooders. Their loyalty to the dead prohibited them from shaking hands soiled with the blood of their loved ones. Their pride restrained them seeking succor from the selfsame source of their pain.
The Nigerian Army clearly disrespects the sensibilities of the people of the South East. The medical mission was an insult. It was a dismal attempt to salve institutional conscience and procure easy makeover.
The fact that the generals thought a brief medical mission would help improve the army’s image shows how divorced they are from reality. They wanted to buy good looks with good works. It would require more than superficial optics for the army to bond with the people of the South East.
The Nigerian Army must, first of all, acknowledge the deep wounds they have inflicted on the South East region and the feeling of alienation those wounds have engendered to stand any chance of building the basis for rapprochement. The army repeatedly twists the knife in the civil war injuries as if they are possessed of an insatiable craving to reenact the defeat of Biafra several times over. They must abandon that habitual celebration of a stale victory.
As everyone knows, the present siege of the South East owes less to the need to quiet the pockets of self-determination in the region than the conceited desire to emphasize that the Nigerian Army stands ready to kill much more than 3 million Igbos in the event of another declaration of secession. The needless army occupation aggravates historical pain and losses. And the casualties that have fallen in this ‘warning to the secession campaigners’ add to the corpus of folk lore of the race.
The Nigerian Army cannot wish the false label of ‘’terrorism’’ they slapped on the separatist agitators away. That calumny has stuck on the soldiers. They will always be haunted by the criminalization of the re-imagination of the unity of the Nigerian state to justify their policy of killing self-determination activists in cold blood.
The medical mission fiasco is a sign of the times. It is proof positive that the South East distrusts Nigerian troops and conceives of them as a death cult. The people believe that the army represents the sublime inhumanity of the Nigerian nation and its propensity to brutalize its own citizens.
A ‘little’ coincidence is worthy of note. While the army was struggling to pull off a public relations coup with the ill-conceived medical outreach, Fulani herdsmen invaded Abbi, a village close to Nimbo, and perpetrated their routine killing.
‘Operation Python Dance’, which the Nigerian Army claimed was dispatched to fight crime in the South East, neither averted the attack nor moved to arrest the headhunters after the fact. The soldiers literally gave the killer herdsmen right of way.
The soldiers’ command was not to address the ubiquitous threat to life of the people of the South East. But to keep the people from rebelling against their condition.
The presidency says the killer herdsmen are mere criminals, not terrorists. Their leisurely massacres are forgivable infractions.
The Nigerian Army agrees.
It’s really thoughtful of the soldiers to organize medical outreach for those who are yet to slaughtered by the herdsmen. Very thoughtful of them.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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