ONE BATTERY TOO MANY: THE ARMED BARBARITY IN NIGERIAN ROADSPACE

On November 3, 2008, I recall an incident that registered once again the evidence of the depth to which human dignity has descended in the annals of Nigerian injustice history. That time, the Nigerian Navy- the supposed epitome of discipline, armed culture and civility- was the culprit, one Miss Uzoma Okere, the unfortunate victim. Because she refused to scurry out of the path of Rear Admiral Arogdundade’s convoy like a scared squirrel into a hollowed conclave, nay, the ‘wide’ highway’s interstices on that fateful day, Miss Okere was pulverized, dehumanised, pummelled to stupor and literally lacerated.

With the cruel militias not satiated and their cup of lingering bitterness not yet filled to the brim, the naval aides who executed the masochist task went ahead to denude their victim. Were it not captured on a camera phone, a common mantra that diminishes me as a Nigerian, where Nigerians record rape, murder, incest and mob homicide with a reckless glee rather than assist the victims for onward transmission to online platforms as unsolicited journalists and Career professional social media Pall bearers. This particular scene from the bizarre show would have been, at best, treated cum grano salis.

Intended to surpass other acts of brute indignity, this event was revolting in its barbarity. In the typical Nigerian fashion where events such as this were either swept neatly under the carpet of oblivion and the rug of intentional forgetfulness, or allowed to gather dust after being reported or, in Nigerian political jargon, treated as a “family affair”, it is on record that dismal attempts were made by the Naval authorities to resolve the matter behind the scene, that theatric exercise that often denies the public the chance to gain the requisite insight and intelligence on vital issues bordering on national conscience. The culture of silence, the very death of us.

Since the matter surfaced in the public domain, it became appropriate for all citizens to react but they did not. What that lamentable incident buttressed was the fact that in Nigeria, men and women were slowly- but surely and certainly- crossing that marked boundary between their kind and the species of the lower cadre. A concept such as dignity was under severe assault and everyone was keeping quiet. We are all guilty as we remain silent. The real victim is not the battered but as many of us who hide our tongue in our cheeks and the larger population of us who hang our mouths at this unacceptable act of reckless impunity.

This piece is a reaction to my elderly friend (names withheld) who was seriously beaten and assaulted recently in Lagos, Nigeria by armed military men for not moving his car from the highway when he heard the throttle and hasty hooting of a high-ranking military official.

Dignity, that quality which is inherent in all persons by virtue of their being humans and embodied in several historic documents- the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights being one of them- dignity is that trait that inheres in the very nature of humans. One can imagine what individuals and communities will do just to preserve that characteristic which places them on a high pedestal, over and above all other creatures. When the Japanese commits hara-kiri, it is due to the loss of this fundamental human characteristic. When we lose money or health, something is lost, when we lose our dignity, our humanity is altogether lost. Our dignity is that very core trait that makes us human. Lose everything but please, don’t lose your human dignity. When the elderly walks out on you, it is to preserve their self-worth- their very dignity. Can one then over-emphasise the importance of this concept that seems unknown in our national parlance?

In that ugly Naval beating incident, the preliminary Naval account then put the cause of the incident to Miss Okere’s alleged dispossession of a horsewhip belonging to one of the Ratings. When this initial defense was put up, little did the Naval Authorities know that they would be confronted with questions such as this: Who in their right senses will snatch a whip from an armed person? Lest we forget, those Ratings were armed to the teeth. Suicide was never made easier for a person who would dare such an act (here the aphorism “An armed man is a mad man” is apt). Due to its manifest absurdity the Naval Authorities discarded this defense, instituting in its place a Board of Inquiry, preferring to hear from the mouths of the culprits on what really transpired on that day. Miss Okere instituted a legal action against the Navy but nothing came out of the trial. I fear that the same ordeal will greet my friend’s battery.

Not too long ago, in my homeland of Ekiti, the fountain of knowledge, culture, respect and land of honour, a middle-aged woman returning from the United States of America where she had gone to give birth in company of her new born baby who was barely two months old was brutally assaulted for refusing to part with the dollars found in her purse by the Nigerian Police on evening patrol. We are yet to be told of the law that prevents a woman from being in possession of money. She was later detained on the grounds of obstructing Police investigation, together with the American infant citizen. After the hue and cry, defiance of the police commissioner and rants by the female bodies, nothing else happened. No arrests, no dismissals.

If you seek an evidence of the dehumanisation of the civilian populace, you need not seek far; just take an excursion on Nigerian roads. Not enough, one would be well informed if one should examine a convoy carrying a government official, security personnel or an expatriate. Only a scene from a movie about Chaos will equal the pandemonium that usually breaks out on the road on such days. Many motorists are taught unforgettable lessons and dealt unerasable scars for being on the path of this raging hurricane and dangerous uniformed plagues. From the ones told to roll in the mud through the frog jumpers to the one ordered to suck a stranger’s bare breasts by armed soldiers at gun point. Forget the bitter-sweet reaction for the (un)lucky guy and concentrate on the stripped dignity of the sucked lady in public. The list is endless. The uniform simply confirms the immunity for impurity and impunity on the wearers in Nigeria. This is only applicable in Nigeria.

Throughout my stay in Nigeria, every day my eyes bear painful testimonies to these wiles of armed forces personnel especially in areas that are perennially clogged with traffic. It is utter bedlam when these men get to this crossroads in order to create a thoroughfare. Apart from spraying some bullets into the air, one or two motorists go home with a broken head. At the end of the day, might triumphs over right, and Goliath strangles David with unchallenged delight. God forbid that civilians someday take the laws into their hands and employ Africa magic to fend for their dignity rights. Try some of us for size, no threats.

Nowhere is dignity more pronounced than in the relationship between the members of a community. If two different individuals with distinct values, norms and mores meet, their interaction will definitely be guided by respect for each other. As mutual as it is that respect is rooted in the belief that all human beings are entitled to lay claim on that essence that make them distinct. But is this the case between Security personnel in Nigeria and the civilian populace? Was this the case between those Ratings of Admiral Arogundade and Miss Okere? Or is it the same with my old friend who was seriously mangled for daring not to park his car when an ‘officer’ was on the highway? Disrespect is the appropriate word to describe the attitude of these men in uniform to their charges. No one adverts his mind to the fact that in a democracy, equality (interpreted here in its broadest idealistic sense) is the norm, the law, rather than the exception. All road users should normally have a right of way, no less than any other set of users. Since the armed personnel qualify too as road users within the ambit of the law, the law equally applies to them. All is equal before the eyes of the law and Nigerian security operatives are no exceptions. While it is true that personnel who respond to emergencies may have a little right than the ordinary when service calls, but for the rest of us- the gander and the goose get the same treatment and that does not give them the usufruct right to bash and strip innocent citizens of their dignity.

One can hardly counter the fact that the major offshoot of barbarity is loss of freedom. Those road users chased out of the road have lost the will to be free. Of course, this metamorphose into fear. We now cultivate the feeling that our actions can be curtailed by another force higher than ours and feel less human. Sadly, that force is the Force established and sworn to protect us and no more. The role of the military is the protection of the territorial integrity and the confederal sovereignty of the nation. Their misadventure into national governance was a misnomer in the first instance. The undeserving garb of high office and indiscipline with which they harass and molest innocent Nigerians is both condemnable and abominable.

Today, the grim harbinger of indignity on our roads is the Siren. Like the wail of a bereaved relative, the siren sings the dirge of all road users, motorists and pedestrians who may have the singular bad luck of being on its path. The President is on the way to receive a foreign dignitary. The First Lady is on her way to fix Brazilian hair. A comic Governor is on his way to commission a white elephant project. A mentally deranged military man is on his way to the barracks. An ex-militant is on his way to the villa. An expatriate is in his air-conditioned chauffeur-driven car, guided by stern-looking military recruits on his way to work and all motorists must grin, groan, grope, grovel and weep under their inevitable rage. They weep bitterly if they unwittingly cross the path of this sinister traveling party. Nigeria is a jungle as it stands, we live in the dark age where all foul is fair and life is short, nasty and brutish.

But their sorrow is not yet complete: A bullion van makes its way in a frenzied pace to a bank. Driven by mental patients extraordinaire, bullion vans have always held a special terror for all road users. No wonder many of them pray that these berserk drivers will easily find themselves into a Psychiatry’s. Why must any sane organisation announce via a blazing siren on a van that it was moving money, thus inviting undue attention? There are so many problems with our socio-economic institutions but that is another day’s discussion.

Miss Okere’s case presented an opportunity to check the indignity meted out to road users by armed personnel which we all failed to utilise, but even more, my friend’s battery is yet another opportunity. You don’t get a second opportunity to make a first impression. The armed forces are admittedly, doing an honourable job in protecting the country from external aggression. But if this is to be taken as an excuse to derive sadistic pleasures from daily molesting civilians, then, that thinking is warped. It is a land infested with brutes that permits the dehumanization of its citizens. A land blessed with faggots who derive pleasure from people’s pain. Dignity must never be compromised on Nigerian soil again. Say No to indignity, incivility, cruelty and barbarity. Nigeria can be great again, If only we all say No. Or maybe not.

Tosin Ayo.

‘The word bank’

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