The fractious relationship between civilians and security agents in the country was once again brought to the fore recently when a physically-challenged citizen, Chijioke Raphael Uraku, was subjected to unimaginable torture by two soldiers for wearing camouflage. Uraku, who was firmly strapped to his wheelchair during the ordeal, took the beating and humiliation in full public glare in Onitsha, Anambra State, with other civilian bystanders watching helplessly
For Uraku, it was obviously the worst form of battery and assault, and it is thanks to one of the unhappy onlookers who recorded the incident for posterity that Nigerians learnt of the disgraceful conduct of the soldiers. The video recording of the beating has since gone viral, and left an agonised nation wondering how the Nigerian Army recruited into its fold, elements who descended to such a base level of sadism.
The army authorities have, however, reacted promptly by identifying the offending men and subjecting them to orderly room trial. They have since been punished with demotion by one rank and detention for 17 days without pay. This may, indeed, be the appropriate punishment going by army rules, but, considering the gravity of this case, these sanctions do not go far enough.
The brutalisation of Uraku is a deep wound to the psyche of Nigerians and the soul of the nation. Occurring, especially, at a time when the nation and all of its institutions have embraced the fine nuances of democracy, it hurts very badly. The military, we make bold to say, has often violated the fundamental rights of the very citizens they are established to protect and have often got away with it. This rubs off very badly with the generality of the people and something very drastic must be done to send the right message once and for all times. The violence unleashed on the physically challenged man is reprehensible and totally out of tune with civilisation. The country cannot tolerate such despicable actions from misguided elements in its security agencies any more.
That is why we endorse the position of the Ebonyi State government, which has formally written to the military high command to acknowledge the efforts made to discipline the offending officers so far and to ask that they be sanctioned further. We join the popular outcry that the offending officers should be dismissed from the Army, tried and sanctioned in accordance with the laws of the land. The expectation in many quarters is that the offending soldiers should be jailed to ensure that they do not have opportunity to further brutalise civilians and to assuage the public outrage.
Although there are provisions against the abuse of military fatigues and insignias in our statues, the mitigating circumstances are clearly stated and the law is meant to be applied with extreme discretion. “Section 110(a) and 111 of the Criminal Code Act (Cap.77 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.1990) provide that any person who, not being a military personnel, unlawfully wears a military uniform or camouflage is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for one month or to a fine of ten naira unless he/she can prove that he/she has the permission of the President or of the Governor of a State.”
For this law to apply, it has to be determined first what constitutes “military uniform or camouflage”. And then, the question of whether consent has been sought and the possibility of abuse of the uniform have to be also determined before a breach can be properly established. And even then, what part of the provision above provides for jungle justice as appropriate sanction?
This is where we take serious exemption to the conduct of the errant military personnel. If, they were not satisfied after they interrogated Citizen Uraku, the most they could have done was to arrest and hand him over to the police for prosecution. They should not have resorted to base instincts and subjected him to the beastly torture on display in the video that went viral. Where, indeed, was their training? Where was their good breeding as members of a famed disciplined force? They irredeemably let themselves and the force they represent down. This is why the military must take full umbrage and bring down its foot hard on the offending personnel. There is no other way it can ameliorate this public offence and restore its battered image in the eyes of the public.
The military in Nigeria should stop harassing innocent civilians for wearing what they adjudge as military camouflage or military colours and insignias. Elsewhere, the military deliberately give out these items to their civilian populations and they are happy to see them associate with them. Attacks on innocent citizens who wear camouflage should be discouraged. What is recommended, rather, is to treat every suspected case of impersonation of military officials on its own merit, with the suspected offenders tried in accordance with the laws of the country.