Punch Editorial Board
Unrestrained by their superiors, Nigerian soldiers are running wild again, landing mortal blows on the citizens that they are paid to protect. While some victims of the recent cases of abuse by Nigerian Army personnel are lucky to escape with injuries, others have met their untimely deaths. Among the injured is a lawyer based in Delta State. In Ogun State, soldiers, however, battered a man to death. The upsurge in abuse by soldiers is ironic in a democratic setting.
Regrettably, these incidents are not isolated cases: they hint at a well-established attitudinal problem in the ranks of our soldiers. It is an indictment of the system and the top brass, which subtly encourages disrespect of democratic norms. Whether in the traffic, in queues or social gatherings, the conduct of soldiers leaves much to be desired. This places a huge burden on the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, to clean up the soiled image of the Army.
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Shocking new evidence of military brutality abounds. Just a week ago, a tenant in Ogijo, Ogun State, whose landlady invited soldiers to settle a misunderstanding over a two-month rent he owed, died. Ordinarily, this is a matter for the police or the courts, but soldiers from the 174 Battalion stormed his residence and tormented the man till he died. Why should soldiers allow themselves to be used to settle civil matters? The highly prejudicial incident ought to prod Buratai to act.
A week earlier, Ruth Orji, a resident of Ikorodu, Lagos State, was assaulted by soldiers, also from the 174 Battalion. Orji, who had been hospitalised on account of the injury inflicted on her by the soldiers, said her crime was that she pleaded with them not to beat up her brother. So, they descended on her and other people in the area. In their rage, they bundled her to their barracks, and inflicted more pains on her. This is lawlessness; the practice will subsist so long as the Army authorities continue to rush to the defence of belligerent officers and enlisted men.
The Army is still evasive about its December 2015 encounter in Zaria, Kaduna State, with members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, the intransigent religious body also known as the Shiites. Soldiers brutalised members of the sect, claiming that the Shiites, who blocked the road during their procession, had wanted to assassinate Buratai. In April 2016, a judicial panel set up by the Kaduna State Government said that troops killed 347 members of the sect and buried them secretly in a mass grave. Shiite leader, Ibraheem el-Zakzaky, has been incarcerated since then.
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