The Bible tells the story of a miracle at the Beautiful Gate. Two disciples met a lame man and healed him. Few days ago, in Onitsha, two Nigerian soldiers chanced upon a man in wheelchair… and crippled him the more.
A video recording of the encounter is on Youtube: The soldiers driving by sighted Chijioke Uraku, a physically-challenged man wearing a pair of camouflage trousers, and pulled over. They rushed him, threw away his wheelchair, pushed him to the ground and whipped him mercilessly. The man screamed and wept and rolled in the dust. And bestiality rejoiced over humanity.
The assault of the soldiers on citizen Chijioke is a case of lynching. It was the alchemization of brutality as a language of supremacy. It was brutishness climaxing to masturbatory satisfaction!
Yet, the brutalization of Chijioke was beyond lynching. It had the trappings of theatre. It was a gladiatorial mismatch in a public arena.
Two able-bodied men attacking one crippled man. Two soldiers abusing a single civilian. A synergy of two demolishing the loneliness of one. And a crowd of enthralled spectators watching the blood sport.
Chijioke’s offence? He wore a pair of camouflage trousers. The self-appointed fashion police judged him guilty of coveting an exclusive outfit of the Nigerian Army. The ‘bloody civilian’ engaged in identity theft of sorts.
Was the curious fashion sense of the man sufficient to incite the soldiers to instant madness? Was there anything outrageous about the camouflage that excited the animal in the soldiers to run wild? What was abominable about a civilian wearing a camouflage that drove the soldiers to shame their own uniform?
No. Chalk up the abuse to military ego.
The average Nigerian soldier considers himself a higher species higher. He believes the truth of his incomparability. He holds the civilian in contempt.
When a civilian comes out in the public dressed in camouflage, the Nigerian soldier does not overlook ‘the slight’. He sees a lesser mortal posing as a mate. The soldier feels insulted and he takes it personally.
Then he proceeds to create a deterrent scene. He attacks ‘the impostor’ in camouflage, to prove a point by contrast of strengths. He batters, bruises, and emasculates the civilian. He exults in the spectacle of a martian bully exercising omnipotence over a weakling.
The Nigerian soldier is susceptible to the illusion of grandeur. He tends to reckon his uniform the symbol of his exceptionalism. He adores his uniform and places on himself the obligation to globalize the worship of that uniform.
When an unassuming civilian puts on camo, the Nigerian soldier perceives a heinous crime –the trivialization of military material–and he feels the need to punish it. He loses himself to the urge to assert that the civilian is unqualified to toy with the material. He runs towards the civilian –to torture and to impress.
The soldier on civilian beating is a chauvinistic show. A narcissist game. A rigged non-contest.
The duel between the willing soldier and the reluctant civilian is one which the soldier is certain to win. It’s pointless. But it feeds the arrogance of the soldier to orchestrate an easy, one-sided cockfight. For some reason, lording it over the civilian is one of the strong cravings of the Nigerian soldier.
Maybe it’s a way they compensate for a sense of inadequacy. The bully is, in most cases, a puny man contending with inferiority complex. The soldier hankering for a face-off with a civilian may be seeking to narcotize his low self-esteem. There is an evanescent feeling of high obtainable from proving yourself stronger than the next person.
Or the appetite for bullying could be a manifestation of unattended mental health issues. Our soldiers fight in deadly combat zones, witness a lot of gore, and internalize unspeakable horrors. The exposure haunts their mind and coarsens their sensitivity. It changes their person and their relationship with the world.
The Nigerian Army does not prioritize the mental health of Nigerian soldiers. The institution treats soldiers as robots, unaffected by the war scene and the feedback of the five senses. But studies show the impact of reverse conflict on war veterans.
The opposite extreme may equally apply: the Nigerian soldier may be so starved of front line action that he can’t help but exploit any opportunity to make an enemy out of a harmless civilian.
Or maybe, we are dealing with a pathology built into the training of the Nigerian soldier.
Sometime last year, a video clip of part of the drill process of Nigerian Army recruits surfaced online. The treatment the kids were subjected to is impossible to conceive as professional tempering or soldierly hardening. Their sadist ‘trainers’ harassed, scourged and humiliated them like animals.
This kind of inhumane socialization predisposes the abused soldier to function like an abuser under the ‘right’ circumstances. It primes the Nigerian solider to avenge his ugly ‘training’ on the body of the civilian. It’s the soldier’s protest against the past, a horrible transfer of aggression.
Last year, a Nigerian soldier punctured the eye of a Nigerian civilian. The putative grievance of the soldier revolved around… camouflage.
Someone wore a camo T-shirt. A soldier proceeded to ‘punish’ the civilian. A Good Samaritan intervened to plead for the brutalized citizen. The soldier turned on the peacemaker and gifted him artificial blindness!
After the clip of the Onitsha incident went viral, the Nigerian Army issued a statement reporting the arrest of the two soldiers. It went on to plead that the civilian population regard the assault as ‘’isolated’’. The manhandling of Chijioke does not reflect the conduct of the Nigerian soldiers.
As far as self-preening press statements go, the Nigerian Army lied in service of damage control. While the comportment of the two soldiers does not represent a comprehensive indictment on the rest of Nigerian troops, the Onitsha episode is not ‘’isolated.’’ Nor is it alien to the attitudinal profile of the average Nigerian soldier.
The intimidation of the Nigerian civilian by the Nigerian soldier is an everyday reality. The Nigerian Army must sincerely accept this fact and permit that to form the impetus to work to change the dynamics of military-civilian relations.
To claim that Nigerian soldiers rarely brutalize civilians is to deny a real life experience many Nigerians have to suffer on daily basis. About this time last year, a 25 year old Nigerian civilian complimented a female cadet and got brutalized by the lady and her male cadet colleagues… for his chivalry.
Denialism will only help perpetuate the problem. The path to progress is for the Nigerian Army to get Nigerian soldiers to unlearn their habit of hostility to Nigerian civilians. The Nigerian soldier resents the civilian. The soldier has little or no respect for the civilian whose tax pays the soldier’s salary and buys him combat kit.
Reorientation is a good way to begin to correct the situation. The Nigerian soldier appears to presume that his commitment to pay the supreme price on behalf of the civilian population lifts him above civility. He is free from courtesy. He is liberated from manners. He can afford to be rude to any civilian –save an influential politician or an affluent moneybag, of course.
But the reorientation being proposed here does not mean talk shops structured to offer subliminal persuasion to the soldiers. It is something more drastic. It is transitioning the institution of the Nigerian Army to the best traditions of soldiery. It is conforming the attitude of officers and men of the Nigerian Army to values of honor, valor and sacrifice. It is modeling an equable temperament as the hallmark of the Nigerian soldier.
The Nigerian Army swiftly demoted and jailed the soldiers that perpetrated that act of terror in Onitsha. The army followed that up with a charm offensive. They invited Chijioke and pacified him with a cash gift.
All of that is wretched tokenism. The Nigerian Army would need to do more than two demotions and a bribe to redeem its image.
The very top echelon of the Nigerian Army endorses military lawlessness. It was the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Yusuf Tukur Buratai, that precipitated the massacre of 300 Shiite muslims in Zaria. It is the top brass of Nigerian Army that deploys soldiers to waste peaceful pro-Biafra activists. It is the self-same leadership of the Nigerian Army that guarantees the immunity of sanguinary soldiers.
The Nigerian army sanctions the mass murder of civilians by its troops. It inspires impunity. So, it lacks the credibility to tackle relatively minor misconducts. It cannot strain out gnats while it swallows camels.
Ableism is rife in Nigeria. The soldiers who traumatized Chijioke may have assaulted him because of his disability. Most people condemned the soldiers for attacking him in spite of his handicap. But the right thing to do is to denounce the soldiers for assaulting a human being for no just reason.
Chijioke was a human being and a citizen. He was entitled to respect for his dignity. He didn’t deserve the war the soldiers waged on him.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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