November 15 2020 | Radio Biafra
TRUE to the well-grounded forebodings of citizens, soldiers deployed to the streets at the peak of the #EndSARS protests have become a thorn in the flesh of the people, brutalising the very Nigerians they are paid to protect. As a continuation of Nigeria’s internal injustices, soldiers are harassing, humiliating and wantonly violating the rights of the people, including engaging in extrajudicial killings in several parts of the country.
Bearing in mind the bloody antecedents of the military in Odi, Zaki Biam, Zaria and a host of other places, these atrocities are not surprising. It buttresses the heartbreaking truth that leadership in Nigeria has failed to deconstruct the sensible security architecture in a democratic milieu. To prevent continued military atrocities, the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should quickly get soldiers off the streets because Nigeria should not be at war with its citizens.
All along, there had been apprehension that soldiers on the streets is a recipe for excesses against civilians. Research by Foreign Policy Analysis, published by Oxford University, found that between 1990 and 2011, the deployment of soldiers in non-United Nations peacekeeping operations around Africa heightened the risk of mutiny and coups by the military. This is perhaps why Donald Trump’s immediate past Defence Secretary, Mark Esper, resolutely resisted the United States president’s attempt to deploy active duty soldiers in the streets of America to break up the Black Lives Matter protests.
Soldiers are essentially trained to fight wars. As a result, they have maimed and killed too many Nigerians when enforcing civil laws. This again played out at the Lekki tollgate killings where they were deployed to stop the #EndSARS protests.
Yet, it appears the Buhari regime has not learnt any useful lessons from last month’s bloody encounters. Several fresh incidents demonstrate this dangerous trend. A graphic viral video of soldiers flogging a woman for allegedly wearing a revealing camisole in Beere, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, is a poignant reference point. Soldiers are not paid to enforce the code of morality in Nigeria. Indeed, no security agency has the constitutional right to inflict corporal punishment on Nigerians. In the same city, soldiers publicly shaved the head of young men, claiming that their hairstyles were offensive. This is outrageous.
Nigeria has much blood of its own people on its hands. From obnoxious police brutality, which provoked the #EndSARS protests, Nigeria has now moved full circle to military brutality. The Buhari regime is advancing in its surreptitious moves to subvert human rights. In Lagos, another viral video demonstrated this. Soldiers had arrested a mother of four who said she was on her way to buy food.
She however accused the soldiers of releasing some detainees because they spoke the same language. In Plateau State, soldiers attached to a special military task force, Operation Safe Haven, allegedly killed about eight youths who stormed the home of a top former federal lawmaker in the capital Jos during the rioting that followed the #EndSARS protests and dumped their bodies in a nearby mining pit. How horrible!
Likewise, there are allegations in Enugu State that security agents wasted the lives of youths protesting police brutality and threw their corpses into the Onyeama Valley. In the past few days, the Oyigbo community in Rivers State has been in bloody turmoil. There are strong accusations of reprisal killings there after some soldiers were allegedly killed by IPOB members during the #EndSARS protests.
Instead of the police to deal with the issue by fishing out the culprits, soldiers have allegedly been going from house to house, carrying out extrajudicial killings, forcing residents to flee. In its defence, a Nigerian Army spokesman, Charles Ekeocha, admitted the soldiers were conducting an operation in the area but were not targeting people.
Successive leaders have failed to stop the trend. By retaining soldiers on the streets, Buhari is no different. There are signs of creeping repressiveness and brutality in his intolerant regime. The President should have a better understanding that security in a democracy is not about using the military to suppress the people. It is moot, but the #EndSARS protests escalated into furious rioting just after the shootings by soldiers at the Lekki Tollgate on October 20.
Under the guise of insecurity, soldiers have assumed too much control of the internal security situation in the Fourth Republic. The military is involved in joint operations with the police in more than 30 of the 36 states. There is no excuse for this anomaly. Soldiers exploit this to dehumanise the citizens, and even the police as it has occurred in Lagos on several occasions. In December 2015, Amnesty International alleged that soldiers massacred 348 Shiites during their street procession in Zaria, Kaduna State. The casualties were buried secretly, the global rights group said.
In contrast, the United Kingdom authorities called in the police after two Islamist terrorists hacked an off-duty soldier, Lee Rigby, to death near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, London in 2013. It is only in extreme cases of war that the military can be deployed. In the US, the National Guard, a reservist component of the military, is drafted to curb civil disturbances when the police have been overwhelmed. Buhari should interrogate these global best practices and resist the urge to draft in soldiers at every sign of protest or crime. The military should concentrate on crushing the Islamist insurgents, bandits and Fulani militia.
Moral policing is a menace and uncivilised. It appears that intolerant religious elements are gaining ascendancy in Nigeria’s security system. What is needed is a strong order from the Presidency that security agents should not dabble into moral issues. It is not enough deterrent to court martial erring soldiers who abuse the rights of citizens. Aggrieved citizens should be courageous to seek redress in court. Soldiers who violate human rights should be handed over to the civil authorities for prosecution.
Ultimately, the Buhari regime should undertake extensive police reforms. By now, there should have been a concrete roadmap on how to make state police constitutional, as is the case in all federal states around the world.
Chibuike John Nebeokike
For: Radio Biafra Media