Soldiers, police, others culpable
By Sunday Ani ([email protected])
Last week, on Wednesday, May 17, a security guard attached to Tasty Fried Chicken Restaurant in Edo State, almost lost his life for having the courage to ask a naval officer to properly park his car in order to avoid obstructing other customers’ movement in and out of the car park. From the video clip of the incident, which went viral on the social media, trouble started when the security guard, who was in charge of the car park, asked the officer not to block other cars in the park with his car.
But, instead of adhering to the simple and innocent instruction, the officer chose to descend on the poor guard. He brutalised him so much that he relapsed into coma after he had bled profusely.
Earlier, on Wednesday, May 10, a driver with the Akwa-Ibom State Judiciary, Mr. Godwin Uduaka, narrowly escaped death for daring to confront a soldier, who was driving against traffic. Mr. Uduaka was most callously shot by the soldier, who was attached to the Wizchino Construction Company in the state, simply because he challenged him for driving against the traffic.
The incident, which happened at Asutu Street at about 12:45 pm, according to report, saw the soldier angrily alighting from the Toyota Hilux Jeep, with registration number ABC 222 AY, and subsequently opening fire on the innocent, harmless and defenceless Uduaka’s vehicle. The bullet was said to have pierced through the windscreen, hitting him on the head.
The President, Akwa Ibom State branch of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, Mr. Albert Mbebe, corroborated the report that the soldier drove against the traffic.
Narrating how it happened, Mr. Mbebe said: “The construction company’s vehicle was driving in the opposite direction. The vehicle refused to go back so that other people could pass. It was the judiciary driver that had the right of way, but the soldier refused to give way.
“While the judiciary driver insisted that the construction company’s vehicle should go back, the soldier came out of the vehicle and shot him. Their aim was to kill him. We are happy he is in the hospital recuperating; the vehicle is in bad shape.
“There are human beings within the military ranks, who are so callous; so power drunk. Just because they carry guns, you cannot disagree with them. This is something we must all rise against.”
Also on May 5, 12 officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Lagos State Command, were reported to have tortured and robbed two tanker drivers and a company manager.
According to the report, a team of officers from the NSCDC had stopped a diesel-laden tanker, driven by one Mr. Lawal Amobi at about 6:00 pm on Friday, May 5, along Wilmer Road, Ajegunle, and asked him to produce the product’s waybill and an operating licence issued by the Department of Petroleum Resources.
He was said to have begged the officers to let him go since the licence was not with him. It was reported that when they insisted on the document, Mr. Amobi called his manager, Mr. Tolu Oyinloye, who brought a photocopy of the document.
At the presentation of the documents by Mr. Oyinloye, the officers were reported to have seized them and demanded a N5,000 bribe. The manager was said to have pleaded with them to take N500, since the vehicle’s documents were complete and correct, but instead, they were said to have zoomed off in their van with number plate, CD 167 A01, after collecting N500, without releasing the papers.
The manager and his workers were said to have followed them on a motorcycle, until they got to La Casera Bus Stop, along Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Mile 2, where they met another tanker driver, Mr. Abolore Ajiroba, being assaulted by another team of the corps.
It was reported that apart from inflicting injuries on Mr. Amobi’s face and back, they also robbed him of two telephone handsets and a sum of N32, 000, while his manager, Mr. Oyinloye, was also dispossessed of N48,000, a wristwatch and an Infinix phone.
The report said that as Mr. Amobi and his manager ran to escape the torture, the officials allegedly shot at them.
Reacting to the incident, the Lagos State Command of the NSCDC said the 12 officials responsible for the evil act had been suspended and taken into custody.
Also commenting on the development, a lawyer and President of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, Mr. Malachy Ugummadu, described the incident as unfortunate and tasked the NSCDC high command to ensure that the officials were charged for bribery, armed robbery and attempted murder.
On Sunday, March 12, soldiers from the 174 Battalion, allegedly assaulted one Ruth Orji and inflicted serious body injuries on her. The incident reportedly happened in Odoguyan area of Ikorodu in Lagos State.
Following the incident, the Spokesman of the 81 Division, Nigerian Army, Lietenant-Colonel Olaolu Daudu, in a statement on Wednesday, March 15, said the army had arrested and detained six soldiers in connection with the incident, and subsequently, set up a Board of Inquiry (BOI).
The statement read: “The attention of the Headquarters, 81 Division, Nigerian Army, has been drawn to the social media and online newspaper reports on alleged brutalisation of a female by soldiers. The incident occurred in Odoguyan, Ikorodu area of Lagos State, involving soldiers from the 174 Battalion on Sunday, March 12.
“The alleged incident is highly regrettable, even as the Division under the Nigerian Army has zero tolerance for inhuman treatment. Discipline remains the bedrock of the Nigerian military profession. It is quite disheartening when such incidents occur, even though, such incidents will not be treated with any laxity.
“Consequently, a Board of Inquiry has been constituted by the Commander, 9 Brigade; Brigadier-General Elias Attu. This is to investigate the circumstances that led to the incident, determine the level of the soldiers’ involvement, submit its findings and recommend appropriate disciplinary measures, which will be communicated. The brutalised lady has been taken to hospital where she is responding to treatment. The six soldiers are being detained with regard to the incident.
“The Division remains committed to its tasks as part of the constitutional mandate of the Nigerian Army. The Division continues to enjoin all to be law abiding and count on their support and cooperation.”
Meanwhile, report said the Joint Legal Action Aids, which is representing the victim, has already sued the military authorities, asking for N250 million damages.
However, on February 8, a student of the Lagos State University, identified as William Faulkner Sewuese Matthew was reportedly attacked at Durosimi Drive in Lekki area of the state, about 11:30am by some police officers attached to the area. She was said to be in company with her friend, a Champion Ambassador of the United Nations for Women Empowerment, Miss Lillian Ifemeludike, on their way to the UN Women Empowerment Mission.
According to the report, Ifemeludike narrated that she had a flat tyre on their way and she was trying to fix it at a vulcanizer’s shop when some mobile police officers suddenly appeared and seized the Vulcanizer’s machine. She said while she was pleading with the officers to allow the vulcanizer fix her tyre since he had removed it from the car, her friend came crying that she had been punched on the eye by one of the mobile policemen.
Ifemeludike’s attempt, according to the report, to complain to the leader of the police team about what had happened to her friend, was her greatest undoing, as she was promptly asked to surrender her phone. But, her refusal to surrender her phone equally incurred the wrath of the men in uniform, who reportedly descended heavily on her and eventually collected the phone from her.
Reacting to that particular incident, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) condemned the attack and other similar incidents in the country and called on the Police High Command to call its men and officers to order, especially in their dealings with the civilian populace.
Reacting to the development, a human rights lawyer, Malachy Ugwummadu, insisted that Nigerians and victims of such torture and inhuman treatments had their constitutional rights carefully entrenched in the constitution under the fundamental human rights as enshrined in the 1999 constitution. He frowned at such behaviour, stating that nobody should be subjected to degrading treatment or any form of torture or slavery.
He stated that apart from the provisions of the Nigerian constitution against such acts, there is also such international instrument as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which equally forbids any form of torture or inhuman treatment against the citizens.
He used the decision of the courts on the case of ‘Apo Six’ to remind the security agents that such actions are punishable, if victims approach the court to enforce their rights. “I want to draw the attention of the law enforcement agents to the recent decision by the courts, which clearly abhors any form of such torture, as it could lead to death. Remember the ‘Apo Six’ incident, where, even if Nigerians were not satisfied with the scope of the punishment, particularly to those involved, it was clear that law enforcement agencies, armed and paid through the taxpayers’ money, are not at liberty to dispense violence to innocent citizens of this country,” he said.
He advised victims of such senseless assault and inhuman treatment to ensure that they have enough evidence to establish their cases before the courts, which would gladly assist them to enforce their fundamental human rights.
“The option left to the victims of such brutality is to be able to establish that such maltreatment actually took place and then they can invoke their powers under the fundamental human rights and then contest the propriety of such action in the court and I can assure you that the courts are ever willing to enforce the fundamental rights of Nigerians,” he said.
In trying to analyse the possible reason(s) behind such ugly development, he said in the case of police personnel, it is largely attributable to lack of training. “When I say lack of training, it means lack of understanding of what policing means. Policing in the 21st century is not violence-based or force-based, never mind that we still retain the appellation, ‘Nigeria Police Force.’ Policing in contemporary times relies more on intelligence gathering. So, it is largely training deficit; but it is also the quality and content of the personnel.
“Besides, the punishments that have been meted out to officers, who had been found to engage in such act in the past has not helped matters. If officers who are involved in such human rights abuses are adequately punished, others will sit up,” he submitted.
However, he has a different view as to why military officers engage in such acts. He said: “If you are talking about the military, there is this phrase, ‘bloody civilians,’ which used to be rampant when they were in power. It is that superiority complex that always propels them to subject civilians to inhuman and degrading treatment, whenever they feel that they have been offended.
“Secondly, they are driven by the passion that everything about them is about force or violence. They are unable to tolerate other categories of citizens in a peaceful co-existence other than violence.”
But, whether it is the policemen or military men, Mr. Ugwummadu believes they could all be beaten into line, when victims learn to approach the courts in such circumstances.
Also speaking, the Founder and Coordinator, Women Arise Initiative for Change, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, insisted that a state of emergency should be declared urgently, as it affects the relationship between the security personnel and the civilian populace in Nigeria.
She described as disturbing, the rising ugly trend of security operatives brutalising innocent civilians at the slightest provocation. She advised such officers to channel their energy at fighting the Boko-Haram insurgents in the Northeast. “We are not at war and if they want to vent their anger, we still have crisis in the Northeast. They should go there and face the Boko-Haram elements and use all their power and might to vent their anger on them,” she stated.
Okei-Odumakin condemned such wicked behaviour and criminality on the Nigerian masses at a time when many people just exist. She said: “A situation where people who are already struggling; people whose take home pay cannot take them home and whose pockets have been depleted are subjected to this kind of inhuman and debasing treatment by security agents is most unfortunate. It amounts to adding insult to their injuries. A situation where security agents who are armed to protect the citizens and the territorial integrity of the nation have now continued unabated to brutalise the citizens, calls for a state of emergency to be declared in the area of relationship between the civilians and the security operatives because we don’t want people to be pushed to the wall.”
She agreed that security personnel in uniform ought to command respect before the civilians but they should also understand that there is a constitution in place, which guarantees freedom of expression and association.
She commended Nigerians for restraining themselves from taking laws into their own hands in the face of all the provocations from the security agents, but declared that the time had come for Nigerians to rise and stop the ugly trend. She said: “I want to salute the people on the way they have conducted themselves. They have been cool and calm, but unfortunately, we have had people, who lost their lives during such ugly incidents.”
She also suggested that those security personnel, who take delight in such acts must be subjected to a psychiatric test because, according to her, any normal human being that brutalises other persons, whether provoked or unprovoked should be examined. “They should realise that we are all human beings; we have the same blood that flows in our veins; we belong to the same country, so we expect higher and mature behaviour from them,” Dr. Odumakin submitted.
On what those who have suffered one kind of assault or another in the hands of the security agents should do, the women’s rights activist said: “In the glaring face of these outright violations of people’s fundamental human rights, the victims should seek legal redress. We give legal representation to such people; they should just contact us at the human rights level and we will ensure that those who are committing such crimes are adequately punished. I am sure that if the security authorities continue to pay damages, they will be forced to read the riot act to their officers, so that they will behave in a civil and gentle manner to the civilian populace.”
For the Chairman, Southeast zone of the Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO), Mr. Alloysius Attah, the trend is becoming worrisome and it calls for serious national alarm. “What is happening is a situation where some of the security personnel are still operating, as if we are still in a military era. I think it is a hangover from the long years of military regime,” he stated.
Mr. Attah condemned a recent incident in Onitsha where a cripple on wheelchair was brutalised by two soldiers because he was wearing a military camouflage. He said: “In the case of what happened in Onitsha recently where two army officers brutalised a cripple on wheelchair for wearing military camouflage, there is no law that mandates soldiers to treat civilians, who wear the uniform like an animal. If the person has committed an offence, there are established ways of prosecuting such offenders. No law says that such offenders should be stripped naked, flogged, rolled on bare floor and do all sorts of things as it happened to the cripple in Onitsha. We are not in a banana republic. Such things are no longer tenable in this democratic dispensation and until the army authority takes it up by ensuring that any officer that puts law into his hand to molest civilian will not only be punished by demotion, but at the same time, also serve some jail terms, such ugly incidents will not stop.”
The CLO boss advised people whose rights have been trampled upon in this dangerous manner to seek redress in the law court. “I am happy that there are some human rights lawyers, who are not only taking it up on their personal capacity but have also gone ahead to form groups for the purpose of defending helpless, innocent Nigerians without any legal fee.
Attah also thinks that security agents who brutalise civilians have a psychological case. “They think that we are still in military era where coercion is the in-thing. An ordinary recruit in the army sees himself as superior to any person on the street, no matter the persons’ level of education. They feel that the only way to show that they are superior to other Nigerians, whom they refer to as ‘bloody civilians’ is by manhandling and assaulting them at will. For me, it is more of a psychological case on their part,” he submitted.