The dark days of military oppression are back! The Black Era has returned! Soldiers took over a major street in Lagos for five hours and we were helpless to stop them. They slapped some; beat some senseless; destroyed public and personal property, all without fear of retribution.
The signs were always there. The way the PDP-Led government has consistently used the armed forces to achieve their goals, I knew they were only going to grow bolder. Armed soldiers have been used to harass opposition members into submission. They have been used to suppress the press. They have been used to decimate small villages. This time, they were used to terrorize the biggest city in West Africa. And they did it with reckless abandon.
The eyewitness accounts of the unfortunate and shameful events of Friday, the 4th of July, left my blood boiling and frozen at the same time. A soldier was allegedly killed in a collision with a BRT bus on his way to work around the Onipanu Area. The details are fuzzy but what is clear is that the dead man’s colleagues weren’t in a very forgiving mood when they arrived at the scene. After blocking off the road at rush hour, they went on to unleash the most abrasive attack on all the BRT buses they could find. They beat the drivers, chased them away and vandalized the buses. Tyres were deflated, windscreens and windows shattered and lights destroyed. Not satisfied with the carnage, on the suggestion of a female army officer and under the supervision of senior officers, some buses were doused with petrol and lit on fire. By some accounts, six buses were incinerated while many more were broken to shreds. In fact, there was a picture of a female military officer busy breaking the windscreen on a bus. How motherly!
For five hours, the soldiers hung around, ensuring the buses burnt completely, harassing members of the public who passed by, shooting at a bus conductor for daring to watch and comment the proceedings. Total bestiality was exhibited by these so called soldiers. While they are being paid to protect the people, they attacked them. While they should be shielding the people, they made them suffer the worst kind of torture. Like war prisoners, free countrymen were forced to raise their hands above their heads each time they passed by the soldiers. Any hint of a mobile device and the military officers would physically attack. Journalists were brutalized, with some sent to the hospital. Little regard was given to human life. Less respect was paid to the Nigerian Army uniform.
So, who is the biggest loser? Is it the soldiers who have lost all the little reverence they have gained in through the little successes they have made in the war against Boko Haram? Is it the family of the deceased soldier, who may be chased out of the barracks in the next few months and would have to wait for years before the gratuity arrives? Is it Lagos state government and private investors that has lost a significant amount of investment in the charred BRT buses and stations? Is it the BRT bus drivers who have likely lost their livelihood to this madness? Or is it Lagosians who had to travel for miles or pay double for their trip to work because of the traffic jam?
I think the Nigerian state is the biggest loser. A big chunk of our democracy was chipped off during those five hours. We lost a bit of our essence in that attack. A lot of the gains we have made as a people since the military left power on May 29th 1999 have been lost. Our people are back to cowering before the barrel of a gun. We are back to the days when military officers will rudely get their way using brute force.
My question is, if we are being openly oppressed this way over the death of one officer, and given how Ekiti was militrialised only last month for the gubernatorial poll, what will happen during the 2015 election?
Yes, there is a lot of desperation in Nigeria, but our military must show some restraint. When a soldier was beheaded in the UK, there was no knee-jerk reaction by the military. The perpetrators were talked down by a civilian woman and they were arrested and faced justice.
What happened on the streets of Lagos was not justice. It was a travesty… one the president and the leadership of the army must take seriously. I have my doubts that anything would be done on the matter, given how the cover up of the entire incident has begun with the State Defense Minister and the Army Pro doing their best to blame miscreants and urchins for the destruction. In fact, there is no way these men would have done something that horrible and bold without some senior officers sanctioning about it.
When some of us began to scream about President Jonathan’s autocratic tendencies, we were shouted down by his loyalists and cronies. We were called all sorts of names by the PDP and labeled ‘Chicken Little’. They said we were yelling ‘Fire!’ in a theater when there was no smoke. Now, the Nigerian Press knows better; the people of the entire North-East know better; the Anambra people know better; the people of Ekiti know better; and now, Lagosians know better!
Again, who is the biggest loser? Ask yourself that the next time you see a soldier with a gun stare at you. If you catch a draft and shiver, that loser is you. The military are back in business!
Boys and Girls, Welcome to Jonathan’s Nigeria!
Mr. Gbenga Olorunpomi is an essayist, music promoter, soccer buff, and digital strategist. He writes from Lagos.