The Nigerian Army should rein in unruly soldiers

I am 40 years old, single, and have no plans to marry. Apart from the joy of solitude, I dread the thought of raising a family in our treacherous terrain. Nigeria is not a good place to raise a family.

If you ever wondered why comfortable middle-class Nigerian professionals abandon their relatively cushy lives for the drudgery of sometimes menial jobs abroad, this is one reason why. For those who know, living abroad is only comfortable for a few. But many would rather endure the discomfort for the relative security it offers.

Simple things like the rule of law, basic public services, and respect for privacy are invaluable gifts that more than makeup for the difficulties. In Nigeria, anything goes if you know people in the right places. It is instinctive to point the accusing finger at the elite. What we miss, what we often overlook, is our complicity as ordinary people in the permeation of what is really a sore malady. If you are fortunate, you could live your entire life in this country without any of the various bad experiences many Nigerians go through. Impunity underpins it all.

In northern Nigeria, such wanton disregard for the law and human rights is what has created what continues to remain an intractable security problem

Someone knows someone in the armed forces, instead of renting an event center for a burial ceremony, the person wonders “how about I block the entire street?” At about 6pm on 27 January 2022, at Street R, Abraham Adesanya Estate in Lagos, where I reside, the aides of a senior officer of the Nigerian Army parked his flagged jeep on the grounds of my rented property, encouraging a civilian to do similarly, blocking the entire façade and gate of the property.

They were guests of the irresponsible occupant of the house two houses down the road, who took over the street to celebrate a burial. I approached the officers and reminded them of the uniform code and the highest level of responsibility that it imposes on them. They ordered me back into my house, asked me to delete the details of the car of their principal, asking for my phones in tandem. I didn’t hand over my phones. But I went back into my house, as a law-abiding citizen should, amidst derisory smirks and banter by the soldiers and their civilian accomplices. It was an act of intimidation. One I shall never forgive nor forget.

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I have to admit you never really know how these things feel until they happen to you. And to be honest, these things happen in Nigeria all the time with impunity. In northern Nigeria, such wanton disregard for the law and human rights is what has created what continues to remain an intractable security problem. Bandits and terrorists continue to lord over a significant swathe of northern Nigeria, prevailing with impunity over constituted authority.

Kidnappings, now also increasingly rampant in southwestern Nigeria, are sometimes perpetrated by criminals using stolen military uniforms, as most Nigerians, despite our many failings, generally have high regard for the military, knowledge criminals continue to leverage on. In southeastern Nigeria, secessionists have been accused severally of perpetrating violent acts to enforce their protest actions with impunity.

As elections beckon, we have to beware of who we choose to be our leaders. The kind of power that a Nigerian president wields is almost without equal. There is so much dysfunction in the land that only a commander-in-chief of the armed forces can enforce his will with relative effectiveness. It is also why the Nigerian Army has a pride of place in the hearts of many Nigerians. But there are just too many misdemeanors on the part of our soldiers that we experience every day for us to continue to be passive.

It is not entirely the fault of the Nigerian Army that its soldiers have been spread thin across the country to quench myriad fires. But these fires arise in the first place owing to the impunity that the soldiers themselves go on to employ in quenching them. Rules of engagement are important, especially with civilians and in civilian areas. If soldiers believe they would get away with infractions, there is no incentive for them to obey the law. The Nigerian Army must do a better job of managing its soldiers.

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