Less than two dozen youth turned up for a march in Lagos, Saturday, to show support for the Nigerian military in their fight against insurgency in the North East.
Starting off at the Tafawa Balewa Square, the crowd marched under the hot, afternoon sun to the Nigerian Army 81 Division headquarters in Victoria Island where army officers declined to address them.
“We are only here for security, we are not allowed to take any mail,” an army officer said in response to pleas to receive a solidarity note signed by the youth.
One of the organizers of the march attributed the incident to an “error in communication”.
“Because of the hierarchy. We informed General Olukolade, but I think there’s some misinformation here, that’s the reason why there is nobody to address us,” said Bukola Agbeje, a recent Political Science graduate of the University of Lagos.
A solidarity march
The march was an avenue to show support and solidarity to the Nigerian army as they engage in battle with Boko Haram insurgents, the organizers said.
Ms. Agbeje said it was a way of boosting the soldiers’ morale, after being largely criticized by Nigerians.
“I know a couple of people that have lost their friends, soldiers have families as well, nobody really cares about them,” said Ms. Agbeje.
“They are making it seem political, but soldiers are dying, they are dying so just they can protect all of us so we can go about our day to day activities, but we are not giving them any recognition.
“We decided to do this so we can boost their morale, to show that Nigerians support them in their fight to protect us.”
Ojiugo Onyelukachukwu, a participant, said the Nigerian Army has been largely maligned, on the altar of politics.
“There was a time when they were being maligned and insulted and abused and it is one institution that is very dear to my heart,” said Mr. Onyelukachukwu, a practising diplomat.
“Now is a very significant time given that the military is beginning to get back all the territories that had been taken earlier. So we said this is a good time to get the people behind the military.”
While the Lagos march was going on, a similar event was happening in Abuja. And also in Yaounde, Cameroun, where thousands turned up to show solidarity to their nation’s military as they battle Boko Haram.
Despite receiving attention on social media, the march in Lagos recorded an abysmal turnout – the organizers waited four hours beyond the scheduled time for an increased number of participants.
Ms. Agbeje attributed the low turnout to the non-partisan nature of the rally.
“People we targeted were non-partisan people. People we invited believe that it is partisan,” she said.
“Most people that were supposed to come think it’s probably for PDP because PDP is in charge of the federal government, so they think it’s a partisan thing. So most people that would have come didn’t come because they thought it was political.”
King Onoja, another participant, said that he experienced a “certain level of disappointment” at the low turnout for the solidarity march.
“I hoped for a larger turnout, but then again as long as there are people here, we had already made up our minds that if we were only ten people, we will do this,” Mr. Onoja said.
“So it really doesn’t matter. We hoped that Nigerians look for ways to express their gratitude and appreciation because sacrifices are being made each day.”
The organizers decided to get their book of solidarity messages across to the soldiers on the frontline through the Chief of Army Staff or the Army Public Relations Office.
“We hope that the military men who are able to see this will take out one thing: we Nigerians support you. We hope that you are motivated by this. We love you, we appreciate your sacrifice and we hope that together we’ll be able to believe and enforce that thing that we said: ‘never again,'” Mr. Onoja said.