What kind of face exactly does the Nigerian army really want to present to us? Good or bad? Beautiful or ugly? Friend or enemy? Protective or abusive?
Forgive my rant. But these days, every time I read the newspapers, watch the local news or check my social media timelines, it seems there’s always some news about the Nigerian army or its personnel: some of them disturbing; others cheering.
It’s a motley of reports: complaints and commendations; ridicule and praise; contempt and admiration; and it goes on. Sometimes it gets inundating. It’s like the army has become two faced; something like a shape shifter.
And it gets me worried; and I think the top hierarchy of the force should too.
In recent times, we’ve read so much about the heroics of the Nigerian army in beating back the threat of Boko Haram and decimating their ranks and capacities to launch any serious attacks.
But why are a few members of the army bent on rubbishing these proud records and tainting the good works under the commendable leadership of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai? And what is the army doing about it to ensure Nigerians don’t have a permanent negative view of the men in green?
Allow me to bore you a little with the details.
In a new video that went viral on the vibrant Nigerian social media web space, Nigerians recoiled in shock and disbelief as they watched footages of Nigerian soldiers mercilessly beating a crippled man in Onitsha for daring to wear a military fatigue.
The video showed onlookers watching helplessly as the man on wheelchairs received rains of blows and lashes of the whip from the uniformed men. The disabled man rolled in the mud and writhed in pains.
Nigerians are familiar with military brutality, but flogging a defenseless man on a wheelchair for the ‘crime’ of wearing a military camouflage? Now that’s a new level of impunity.
Earlier in January, one Jewel Infinity, a Nollywood actress narrated how she was assaulted by soldiers manning a checkpoint in Port Harcourt while driving to Onitsha for allegedly “gossiping” about one of the men with another lady beside her in the vehicle.
Still in Port Harcourt, another soldier reportedly smashed the windscreen of a man for “disturbing him with the loud noise” from his car radio!
There were a few other random cases where soldiers took the law into their own hands and unilaterally served punishment to members of the public, took pictures or allowed others to take them and post on the Internet.
Talk about gross impunity, crass indiscipline and utter disdain for the public they are meant to protect!
Don’t these band of misfits in the force take a moment to ponder why the American public so much revere its military? Why they fondly call them the US marines? Or feel mightily protected and proud when they talk about its special force, the Navy Seals?
Well, it’s because unlike its average Nigerian counterpart, a US marine inspires patriotism, devotion, admiration, respect and a sense of safety — not fear and contempt.
I’m not exactly holding brief for these allegedly wronged citizens; as we know some Nigerians simply love trouble and deliberately break the law, so they could run off to a judgmental mob on Twitter and Instagram and bay for blood of the supposed aggressor. But that’s a matter for another day.
Gen. Buratai’s quiet military revolution
Let me at this juncture acknowledge the responsiveness and sensitivity of the top hierarchy of the force in dealing with the public outcries that trailed these cases and similar ones.
In the case of the crippled man in a wheelchair in Onitsha, the erring soldiers have reportedly been demoted and jailed; while the assaulted man, Chijioke Raphael Uraku was compensated with cash gift and clothes by the army.
In the same vein, the army summoned Suleiman Olamilekan, the soldier that reportedly assaulted the Nollywood actress, Infinity Jewel in Port Harcourt, along with a guard commander and punished them accordingly.
That demonstration of empathy, warmth and public rapport typifies the new face the top hierarchy of the army is now trying to present to us all. And perhaps no one represents that evolving image more than the head of the force himself, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai.
The Biu, Borno-born military officer has come to cut the image of a fine gentlemen and a soldier’s soldier with a fierce reputation for taking out the enemy with brutal fatality and effective clear-outs.
Yet, and strikingly so, Gen. Buratai’s unassuming personality and soft-spoken mien bellies that fire and steely determination of this crack general to make a mark and lay a solid foundation for the Nigerian army.
Many a time I have imagined being at Lt. Gen. Buratai’s favourite mammy market joint, having a drink with the quintessential general. *winks*
“…My vision on assumption of office (is) to have a professionally responsive Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles,” Lt. Gen Buratai had said during 2016 Regimental Sergeant Majors (RSMs) Convention at the Army Resource Centre, Abuja.
And how he’s matching words with action!
Such is his non-nonsense attitude and the magnitude of impact he’s made on the force since he came into office in July 2015 that Boko Haram terrorists probably never knew what hit them and never recovered as Gen. Buratai and his motivated men in just under two years dealt them blow after blow and reduced them to a demoralised and fast thinning band of ragtag bandits.
As soon as he was appointed COAS, Buratai went down to the business of dismantling Boko Haram; and, unlike his predecessors, spent more time on the dangerous frontlines in Bornu and Yobe than in Abuja.
Giving a hint of what to expect, in September 2015, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai made a morale-boosting trip to the field troops and toured the battle grounds traveling up to Gamboru-Ngala in the border area of Borno.
There, he supervised the dismantling of Boko Haram flags and insignia and hoisted the Nigerian flag in its place.
He passed the night in the cold open weather; disregarding the possibility Boko Haram could be lurking around and lying in wait for him with land mines. He simply was giving the men on the field good lessons and the courage of a true soldier.
He spoke with each soldier and listened to them on their demands, challenges and even advice on how to win the asymmetric war. He ordered that a bon fire be made and troops were jubilant and screamed with excitement all night.
It was military leadership at its finest.
However, more needs to be done, as some soldiers especially at the lower ranks appear bent on prolonging a long tradition of invoking fear and hate among the populace and treating them as “bloody civilians.”
But what the army needs now isn’t to force fear and hate in the citizenry. It is to inspire respect, love and admiration in them.
This is where Gen. Buratai needs to invest a lot more effort and strategy so his quiet, commendable revolutionary isn’t rubbished or stained by the indiscretions and old habits of a few members of the force.
This article was written by Mariam C. Mohammed, publisher of Maktoub Magazine.