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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Impunity of the Nigerian Army: A Challenge for Nigerian Democracy  – By Matthew Ma

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“However, it is a grave error of judgment for some soldiers to believe that they are above the law and can act with impunity. Being a responsible citizen of any state requires individuals, including military personnel, to display varying degrees of respect. Respect can be demonstrated in different dimensions, including self-respect, respect for others, respect for the law, respect for the environment, and respect for authority. Unfortunately, the lack of respect for the law and constituted authority by some soldiers in Nigeria is alarming and saddening.”

The issue of impunity has been a persistent challenge in Nigeria for many years. It refers to a culture of lawlessness and disregard for the rule of law, where individuals and groups act without fear of punishment or consequences for their actions. The impact of impunity is far-reaching, affecting Nigeria’s socio-economic development, political stability, and human rights record. Unfortunately, those in positions of authority, including government officials, law enforcement agents, and the military, are often involved in the abuse of power, corruption, and the violation of human rights, contributing to the erosion of trust in governmental institutions. This has created an environment that fosters lawlessness and social unrest, which further exacerbates the issue of impunity in the country. Despite the gravity of impunity, the government has not shown much concern and has failed to take any significant steps to address it. As a result, offenders continue with their nefarious activities without any fear of being held accountable. One of the most common impunities is human rights abuse by law enforcement agencies. Offenders often have connections with influential people in the government, making it difficult to bring them to justice. This has led to a culture of lawlessness and a feeling of injustice among the citizens, resulting in a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Furthermore, the issue of impunity has also led to a lack of investment in the country. Investors are hesitant to invest in a country where the justice system is weak and crimes go unpunished.

Throughout Nigeria, there exist numerous instances in which individuals or collectives have perpetrated unlawful acts without facing repercussions for their actions. Despite the tireless efforts of those in positions of authority, including government officials, law enforcement personnel, and various human rights organizations, a significant number of these cases of impunity within Nigeria have yet to be satisfactorily resolved, resulting in widespread feelings of frustration and anger among those directly affected. The crimes in question span a broad range, from acts of terrorism and politically motivated violence to instances of corruption and human rights violations. For example, some years ago, a video of a female military officer assaulting a man in a car went viral. In the trending clip, the female soldier labeled the man as her boyfriend while her colleagues urged him to smile and laugh for the camera. The terrified man couldn’t smile properly and was given three slaps on the face by the soldier as they posed for the camera. In another development, a video of a female soldier, Lt. Chika Anele, went viral when she dehumanized a member of the National Youth Service Corps. The incident happened at the 13 Brigade headquarters, Calabar, Cross River State. PUNCH Metro gathered that a yet-to-be-identified witness recorded Anele using a bowl to scoop dirty water from a bucket and pouring the same on the corps member, Ifeyinwa Ezeiruaku, who was in her uniform. In the footage, the soldier ordered Ezeiruaku to kneel, and while on her knees, she soaked her with the dirty water. The female soldier also used the back of the bowl to hit the head of Ezeiruaku several times. Angered by the ill-treatment of the corps member, an activist, Agba Jalingo, who got the footage, posted it on social media. Following the post, an online movement began, with Nigerians calling for Anel’s arrest for his actions.

In 2014, Mr. Sunday Amari, a 25-year-old man, was brutally beaten by several Nigerian Army cadets in Abuja for complimenting a female army cadet. In the video, a female cadet from the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA) was seen slapping, smacking, and kicking Mr. Amari, with other female and male cadets soon joining her to brutalize him. In an interview with Sahara Reporters and Channel TV, Mr. Amari said that the assault took place on December 31, 2014, at the Jabi Lake Park in Abuja, where he works as a parks and recreation officer. His account contradicts a claim by the Nigerian Defense Academy that the attack happened in Lagos. Mr. Amari said that the cadets attacked and nearly killed him while he was at his duty post. He disclosed that he was not the original victim of the violent cadets. According to him, the cadets’ first victim was another man seen at the end of the video. He revealed that the cadets had brutalized the first victim to the extent that the man may have suffered severe brain or nerve damage. Mr. Amari said he was carrying out his duty of moving around the park to ensure that everything was in order when he saw the nine cadets beating up a civilian. As he walked toward the cadets and their victims to inquire what was going on, the cadets then summoned him and asked why he was looking at them. Before he could speak, they descended on him and gave him a brutal beating even as he pleaded with them that he was a recreation officer at the park. He revealed that at least five of the cadets participated in beating him until he passed out. He said he was left half dead, adding that a kind stranger took pity on him and conveyed him to the hospital, where he spent a week recuperating from his injuries. Mr. Amari, who hails from Okpokwu, a local government area of Benue State, said he reported the assault to the cadets’ director. A retired military officer told him nothing could be done since his attackers were military cadets. The Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA) in Kaduna issued a series of tweets claiming that the assault happened in Lagos while the cadets were on break, adding that the affected cadets would be punished. However, the NDA did not respond to emails or calls from journalists seeking information on the identities of the cadets who took part in the horrifying assault on Mr. Amari.

In a recent incident of impunity that occurred, a soldier whose identity is yet to be disclosed was seen in a video defending his colleague who was arrested by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s convoy for allegedly driving against traffic on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. The soldier was seen criticizing the governor for calling a soldier ‘useless’ in the presence of ‘bloody civilians.’ According to PUNCH Online, Governor Sanwo-Olu ordered the arrest of a soldier and three other motorcyclists for driving against traffic. In response to the arrest, a soldier who was not involved in the incident but felt his colleague had done nothing wrong expressed his discontent with the governor’s action. The soldier stated that the state governor had no right to arrest a soldier, especially in front of his barracks. He claimed that the soldiers serving in any state are not under the direct control of the state governor but are accountable to their senior officers. Thus, the governor does not have the authority to detain or take any law enforcement agent into custody even when they have committed an offense. The incident has brought to light a long-standing issue of impunity that has been prevalent in the country for years. In numerous instances, the misbehavior displayed by top military officials has escalated to the point where they act as if they are beyond reproach and immune to legal consequences. This feeling of impunity has frequently led to a lack of responsibility for their behaviors, which have far-reaching negative impacts on both the military’s overall functioning and the innocent civilians impacted by their actions. The actions of these military officers have raised serious concerns about the extent of power they possess, highlighting the urgent need for proper accountability and regulation in the Nigerian law enforcement system. It is unacceptable to allow law enforcement officers to act with impunity, and there must be consequences for their actions. Nigerians deserve a fair and just society, which can only be achieved through proper regulation and accountability. The government must take immediate steps to address this issue and ensure a safe and secure environment for all citizens.

The question now is, can anyone explain with any degree of substantive analysis and convincing eloquence why Nigerian soldiers are not obliged to respect the law and legal authority? Can anyone tell me why soldiers should be so quick to call their fellow citizens Shege Banza, bastards, bloody civilians, and other vulgar names? Why is it that for a little infraction, it is acceptable for soldiers to order fellow citizens to roll inside a dirty gutter or do a frog jump? Could those who are against the governor’s action tell me how the governor should have responded to a soldier in civilian clothes driving a motorcycle against traffic? The order by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for the arrest of a man who identified himself as a soldier for driving against the traffic and the kind of words some purported soldiers use in a viral video to respond to the governor is appalling. In developed countries, individuals with a military background are deemed to have advantages and privileges. They are called veterans because they served in the active military, naval, or air service and were discharged or released thereof under conditions other than dishonorable. Similarly, in Nigeria, we have numerous serving and retired military personnel who have made us proud with their exceptional service to the nation. However, it is a grave error of judgment for some soldiers to believe that they are above the law and can act with impunity. Being a responsible citizen of any state requires individuals, including military personnel, to display varying degrees of respect. Respect can be demonstrated in different dimensions, including self-respect, respect for others, respect for the law, respect for the environment, and respect for authority. Unfortunately, the lack of respect for the law and constituted authority by some soldiers in Nigeria is alarming and saddening. This attitude has led to devastating consequences for the nation, as it undermines the rule of law and promotes a culture of lawlessness. The military must understand the need to uphold the law and respect the authority of the state to foster peace and harmony in the country.

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It is intriguing to observe how certain military personnel hold the belief that they are superior to others in society. This mindset can lead to instances of arrogance and recklessness, as seen in recent events involving soldiers in the public eye. One such event involved Kareem Umoru Kingsley Obumneke and James Joseph, who were dismissed for accidental discharge and misfiring of weapons, thereby endangering the lives of innocent civilians. Another incident involved soldiers who descended on two police officers and beat them to stupor, leading to the death of one of them. According to a statement from the State Police Headquarters, the soldiers were riding in an army bus, and on getting to the CCC gate along the Lagos/Badagry expressway, they met heavy traffic. Two of the soldiers jumped on an Okada, rode to where the police officers were controlling traffic, and ordered them to clear the traffic for their bus. But the policemen on duty said it was not possible to remove the traffic for them as the road was congested. The two soldiers got angry and pounced on them, abducted them into their bus, and drove them to Ojo Cantonment, where they were beaten to a stupor. In another case, Abubakar Idris, a trigger-happy Nigerian Army personnel assigned to the Presidential Guard Brigade, shot and killed a passenger of a motorcycle he was riding in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. According to Sahara Reporters and Punch News, Officer Idris was trying to stop one of the bike men, who was carrying a passenger, but in the process, opened fire on them, killing the passenger immediately. In contrast, the bike man and other motorcyclists fled. These incidents highlight the need for military personnel to exercise restraint and respect for civilian authority, as well as the need for clear lines of communication and accountability between the army and civilian authorities.

 

The recent viral video featuring the soldier has raised concerns about the peculiar and illogical reasoning displayed by the individual involved. The video has highlighted the need for a significant overhaul of the way the army think. Some analysts have pointed out that uniformed men and women are given more respect in the United States and Britain, which is a significant observation. Moreover, some individuals are now questioning whether the governor and other top officials are also violating traffic laws, which is a worrying development. The political and ethnic tensions in the country have created a deep divide among the people, leading to many irrational viewpoints and opinions. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a lack of progress for the nation as a whole. It is crucial to ask ourselves how often Governor Sanwo-Olu has broken traffic regulations and whether we should overlook such violations just because our leaders are perceived as corrupt. It is essential to recognize that the rule of law applies to everyone, regardless of their position or status in society. It is clear that a complete reorientation is required to address the deeply ingrained biases and flawed logic that can lead to such irrational behavior. This serves as a reminder that we must continually strive to improve our critical thinking skills and challenge our assumptions to ensure that we are making informed and rational decisions. We must work together as a nation to promote a culture of accountability and respect for the law, which will be integral to our progress as a nation.

As a concerned Nigerian, I understand that many of us are worried about the current state of our country. It is our desire to see Nigeria develop and prosper like other world-class nations, such as the United States, United Kingdom, or United Arab Emirates. However, we must bear in mind that these nations did not achieve their current level of success overnight. It was a gradual and collective process that took years of consistent effort, hard work, and innovation. The United States, for instance, started as a small and struggling nation, but over the years, it has grown to become the world’s largest economy. This was achieved through a series of consistent efforts and development. They kept building on their achievements, innovating, and improving their systems until they became the world-class nation they are today. Similarly, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates were once struggling nations, but through years of hard work, they have developed into prosperous and influential countries. They invested in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other essential sectors to drive growth and development. Ironically, a lot of people aspire to see their nation transform into a better version of itself, but when it comes to playing their part in contributing to this progress, they often fall short. This is mainly due to a lack of critical thinking, energy, and enthusiasm on their part. They seem to be content with merely wishing for change, without putting in any real effort towards making it happen. It is only when we all come together and work towards a common goal that we can see any fundamental transformation in our nation. Although we recognize the critical roles and sacrifices made by the military personnel in Nigeria, however, it is also necessary to hold them accountable when they break the law. Granting them immunity from obeying law and order is not in the best interest of the country. State governors should take the lead in ensuring that errant military personnel are adequately punished whenever they break the law. Former Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola set an excellent example in July 2012 when he arrested an Army colonel and a staff sergeant for committing a traffic offense. Not only were they publicly disgraced, but they were also handed over to the authorities for sanctions. Military officers who commit crimes must be held accountable, and after going through internal disciplinary action, they should be handed over to the police for prosecution. This will help reduce impunity and restore the rule of law, which is essential for the development of any nation.

As a responsible and accountable nation, we must not turn a blind eye to the unsavory and disruptive conduct that some of our military officers exhibit. It is disconcerting to witness how some of these individuals appear to acknowledge and respect only their superiors while disregarding the rights and dignity of their fellow officers and subordinates. Such behavior cannot be condoned or tolerated in any organization, let alone our military forces, which are tasked with upholding the highest standards of discipline, professionalism, and integrity. We must work together to ensure that all members of our military are held to the same standards of conduct and that those who fail to meet these standards are held accountable for their actions. While traffic management is just one of the many issues that the Sanwo-Olu administration is trying to address, it remains a critical area that any government in the state must focus on. It is unacceptable that we exempt certain sections of society from the traffic laws that apply to everyone else. The problem of discipline among soldiers is a crucial issue that cannot be ignored. Discipline is the bedrock upon which the military thrives globally, and our military should be no exception. Therefore, those who fail to meet the required standards should be shown the way out. There should be no attempt to shield those who tarnish the image of the military, as this sends the wrong message to other soldiers. In a democratic society, no one is above the law, and everyone should be held accountable for their actions. The sight of so-called soldiers hurling insults at the governor of a state is appalling, and every right-thinking citizen must condemn it in the strongest terms possible. It is time to reiterate that discipline is non-negotiable, and those who undermine it will be dealt with decisively.

The question that arises is why impunity is so rampant, especially among the Nigerian army. This is a complex question that requires a more in-depth understanding. Several factors contribute to it, including corruption, a weak judiciary, fragile institutions, and a general disregard for human rights. Corruption is a pervasive issue that has long plagued the Nigerian army, and it remains one of the leading causes of impunity in the military. Its far-reaching effects have spread to other aspects of Nigerian society, including law enforcement agencies. The problem of corruption in the military is so deeply ingrained that it has become almost institutionalized, with army officers, as well as other law enforcement officials, frequently demanding bribes from citizens in exchange for their services. This practice creates a culture of impunity that undermines the rule of law, as those with more significant financial resources are often able to bypass legal procedures and avoid punishment for their actions. Ultimately, the prevalence of corruption in the military poses a substantial threat to the country’s progress and stability. To combat it, we need to take concrete action. Another factor that leads to the prevalence of impunity is a weak and ineffective judicial system. When the judicial system fails to uphold the rule of law and provide timely justice to the victims of crime, it can encourage criminals to act with impunity. This is because they are aware that they are unlikely to face any consequences for their actions. A judicial system that is unable to investigate and prosecute offenders or that is perceived as corrupt or influenced by political or other interests can further undermine public trust in the system. This can contribute to a culture of impunity where individuals do not believe that they will be held accountable for their actions. This, in turn, can lead to an increase in crime and a breakdown of social order. It is, therefore, essential to have a strong and independent judicial system that is capable of upholding the rule of law and ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. Such a system can act as a deterrent to crime and help to maintain public trust in the justice system. Ultimately, this can contribute to a safer and more secure society for all. Another primary reason that contributes to the prevalence of impunity is the existence of fragile institutions. These institutions can be any form of governing bodies that are responsible for maintaining law and order, such as the police and other legal entities. When these institutions lack the necessary resources, infrastructure, and accountability mechanisms, they become vulnerable to corruption, manipulation, and abuse of power. As a result, individuals who engage in criminal activities can often act with impunity, without fear of punishment or consequence, leading to a breakdown of the rule of law and an increase in crime rates. The last factor that contributes to the widespread impunity in many parts of Nigeria is the general disregard for human rights. This disregard can take many forms, such as a lack of respect for the rule of law, an absence of accountability for those in positions of power, and a failure to protect the rights and dignity of all individuals. Additionally, violations of human rights are often not adequately investigated or prosecuted, which only serves to reinforce the cycle of impunity and erode public trust in the justice system. All of these factors together create an environment where individuals can act with impunity, knowing that they are unlikely to face any consequences for their actions.

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Another crucial ways to address and prevent impunity or the lack of accountability for wrongful actions is to establish and maintain a robust justice system. A functional justice system is a powerful deterrent to criminal activities as it instills fear in the minds of criminals that they will be held accountable and punished according to the law. A robust justice system also plays a crucial role in ensuring that the rights of victims of crimes are protected and that they receive justice. A comprehensive legal framework, competent and impartial judges, prosecutors, and lawyers are vital components of a solid justice system. Additionally, a fair trial process that upholds the rule of law is essential to ensure that justice is served in a transparent and unbiased manner. A robust justice system is fundamental to creating a safe and just society for everyone. It guarantees that individuals are held accountable for their actions and that justice is served to those who have been wronged. In addition, it helps to promote a culture of accountability, transparency, and fairness, which are essential values for a thriving society. Ultimately, a well-functioning justice system is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy and a critical component of any society that values the rule of law. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the justice system is robust and able to deliver justice in a timely and fair manner in order to deter criminal behavior and promote a safe and orderly society. This requires investing in law enforcement and judiciary, providing them with the resources and training they need to function effectively. It also involves ensuring that the justice system is transparent and accountable to the public, which can help rebuild public trust and confidence in the system.

The next effective ways to address impunity in the Army is to ensure that its members receive comprehensive and rigorous training. By providing Army personnel with the knowledge and skills they need to perform their duties effectively and in accordance with the law, we can reduce the likelihood of misconduct and ensure that those who do engage in wrongdoing are held accountable for their actions. Such training should cover a broad range of topics, including human rights, international law, and the proper use of force. By equipping Army personnel with the necessary knowledge and skills, we can effectively reduce the likelihood of misconduct and ensure that those who engage in wrongdoing are held accountable for their actions. Additionally, ongoing education and professional development opportunities should be made available to Army personnel to keep them up-to-date with emerging trends and best practices in their field. With a well-trained and competent Army, we can foster a culture of accountability and respect for the rule of law, both at home and abroad. This will go a long way in maintaining peace and security in society and ensuring that Army personnel carry out their duties with utmost professionalism and integrity. Another pressing issues faced by law enforcement officers is the need for more resources available to them. This challenge can significantly impede their ability to perform their duties effectively and efficiently. The need for more resources goes beyond just equipment and technology. It also includes staffing and training, which are essential for officers to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of their jobs. Officers need access to the resources they require to be able to respond to emergencies or investigations in a timely and effective manner. This can lead to negative consequences for them and the communities they serve. For instance, they may not be able to apprehend criminals or prevent crime from happening, which could put public safety at risk. In order to overcome this challenge, steps must be taken to ensure that officers have the necessary resources to carry out their duties safely and effectively. This includes providing them with the latest technology, such as body cameras and dash cams, as well as ensuring that they have access to ongoing training and professional development opportunities. Additionally, adequate staffing levels should be maintained to ensure that officers are well-rested and can respond to emergencies effectively. By doing so, we can ensure that our law enforcement officers are equipped to meet the challenges of their jobs and keep our communities safe.

A critical area that the Army must focus on is developing a deep understanding and appreciation for human rights. To achieve this, the Army must recognize the importance of respecting the dignity, integrity, and autonomy of all individuals. This includes respecting their fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, as well as protecting them from any form of discrimination or violence. To achieve this, the Army must establish and implement robust policies and practices that promote and safeguard human rights at all levels of the organization. These policies should be designed to foster a culture of respect and accountability and ensure that every individual within the Army is aware of their rights and responsibilities. Additionally, the Army must provide adequate training and resources to its personnel to ensure that they are equipped to uphold human rights in all aspects of their work. By prioritizing the development and implementation of robust human rights policies and practices, the Army can demonstrate its commitment to upholding the principles of human dignity and justice. This will not only create a more respectful and safe environment for its personnel but also contribute to a more significant societal shift towards tremendous respect for human rights. The human rights situation in Nigeria is complex and multifaceted, with issues ranging from extrajudicial killings and torture to arbitrary detention and restrictions on freedom of expression and association. All of these issues have contributed to a situation where the most basic human rights are routinely violated, and citizens are unable to enjoy their fundamental human rights without fear of reprisal or retribution. In short, urgent action is needed to address the human rights situation in Nigeria and ensure that all citizens are able to live in a society where their rights are respected and protected. This requires a concerted effort to hold those who violate human rights accountable for their actions, as well as comprehensive reforms to the criminal justice system to ensure that justice is accessible to all.

There are varying viewpoints on the recent incident involving a soldier who verbally insulted Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. While some people are calling for the immediate arrest of the soldier, it’s important to note that his actions do not reflect the conduct of the entire Nigerian military. However, any soldier who shows disrespect towards a state governor in such a manner must be held accountable for their actions and subjected to a thorough investigation. This kind of behavior can never be tolerated in a democratic society, and all members of the military must uphold the highest standards of professionalism and respect. Both the army and the government play a crucial role in maintaining the safety and security of citizens, ensuring that people feel safe and protected in their daily lives. The army is responsible for defending the country against external threats and maintaining peace within the borders. At the same time, the government is responsible for creating policies and laws that promote safety and trust among citizens. By working together, the army and the government can foster a sense of security and stability that allows people to live their lives without fear or anxiety. This is essential for maintaining a healthy and prosperous society where individuals can thrive and reach their full potential. Therefore, instead of harboring negative feelings towards elected officials, the military must work together with them to ensure that the interests of the people are protected and that peace and security are maintained. By creating a solid partnership between the military and the government, it becomes easier to identify, prevent, and address any threats to public safety and national security, ultimately leading to a safer and more stable society for all.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

 

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