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The Nigerian Army: Understanding the psyche of a bully

In June 2013, at the Ido-Osi NYSC orientation camp in Ekiti State, I had my first encounter with the Nigerian army in its true form. My camp commandant, a certain Lt. Col Gold decided to address all of us ‘white fowls’ one day with a spine-chilling comment. He said and I quote: “If I get an order to shoot all of you now, I will do it without thinking twice.” I have never forgotten the smirk on his face when he made this comment.

It was extra chilly for me because I knew that the fellow in question was not lying or exaggerating. Just a few days before, I had been forced to call in favour of using my family name to get him to back off from sexually harassing a female corps member with whom I was friends. I have never been able to forget the look of utter terror on her face when she revealed to me that he had ordered her to report to his quarters after hours.

These memories remained largely in my subconscious until the story emerged last week of the Nigerian Army’s atrocities following its violent crackdown in Obigbo, Rivers State. Dozens of young women coming back from their places of work were abducted by soldiers and taken to their barracks in Imo, then subsequently Abuja, where they were repeatedly raped and assaulted for nearly 3 months. Once again I was reminded that this is the true face of the Nigerian Armed Forces – a foul, despicably power-drunk, violent and thoroughly undisciplined militia group with political legitimacy.

Bullying and narcissism go hand in hand

Something that my childhood did for me was that it completely inoculated me from the concept of being bullied in future, by exposing me to extreme forms of torture and bullying at a very tender age. Where most children see their mother as a source of warmth, love, tenderness and affection, I was forced to learn very early on what it felt like to be brutally beaten, burned and to suffer fractures simply depending on what side of the bed my mother woke up on.

The Nigerian Army as we know, is a colonial institution set up to protect the state from the citizens, and this remit has not changed since independence

This gave me a very keen and unencumbered insight into the mind of a bully and how it works. I was too young to be able to resist or fight back, so all I could do was learn how the bully’s mind worked and try to always stay one step ahead. The most important thing I came to understand about bullying is that it goes hand in hand with narcissism and a false, inflated self-image that needs external validation.

A bully is not satisfied to merely be stronger than you and to prove it, but also needs validation from people around – especially the victim – affirming either that they are indeed stronger, or that they are wonderful, excellent people. A bully does not typically want to be acknowledged as a bully in public, so they will often bully the victim into becoming loud evangelists of their righteousness and rectitude. In my case, while surviving every day without suffering serious injury or even loss of life at my mother’s hands was not a given, I won a nationwide essay writing competition titled “Peak Mom of the Year.” Mom of the Year she absolutely was not, but it was very important to her ego for her to be recognised this way.

The Nigerian Army does something similar to this with its constant protestations of innocence, its call to ‘patriotism,’ its denunciation of alleged ‘5th columnists’ and its relegation of its proven atrocities to “a few bad eggs.” The Nigerian Army as we know is a colonial institution set up to protect the state from the citizens, and this remit has not changed since independence. Its usual tactic of committing civilian massacres, burning down geographical areas, carrying out mass rape and dumping bodies into mass graves or water bodies is a matter of historical fact. Nobody can deny that Nigerian citizens are terrified of the army – but the army wants more than just fear. It also wants respect, honour, reverence and gratitude from the very subjects of its atrocities.

Fixing a narcissistic bully

So how can this dumpster fire state of affairs be rectified? How do you repair an army that is fundamentally and irretrievably unfit for purpose? How do you build genuine trust and respect for an institution that has spent 60 years trying its level hardest to prove that it is not worthy of the slightest hint of these things? The answer is actually simpler than it might seem.

To put it plainly, the entire command structure of the army needs to be fired unceremoniously. Every commanding officer who is steeped in the toxic bullying culture learned from the National Defence Academy needs to be decommissioned or retired forthwith. From Captain to General, the command system of the army must be purged to remove all traces of African Bush Militia culture. Of course, this would come with the significant risk of a coup attempt by the famously well-disciplined and non-treasonous officer cadre. So who is the president that will be brave enough to bell this particular rabid cat?

That is why I used the word ‘simple.’ I never said it would be easy.

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