Sometime last week on my way from school, I ran into an enthusiastic crowd which was impeding traffic. However, unlike the characteristic panic and frenzy that usually envelops a crowd reacting to an emergency or danger, this crowd was somewhat calm and even cheerful yet surreal. The object of this bizarre sight and gathering was soon apparent – two individuals covered in dirt and naked to the waist were rolling on the tar, and the reason for this even more ridiculous stunt was not farfetched; standing macho and looking down on the rolling men, in the center of the stage were two men dressed in military camouflages, each with his belt in hand and looking almost fierce and brave but for their disgraceful bullying attitude.
Since the birth of Nigeria, the military and their public presence, which was rare, through the various stages of the growth of the country has inspired and provoked different emotions. At first the uniform provoked fear and petrification, then it became a source of comfort and security for the ordinary citizen who had lost faith in the police. As of this moment, apart from a few staunch die-hard enthusiasts of the military, most Nigerians are confused and ambiguous as to how they feel about the very excessive military presence on the streets. Some feel secured yet threatened by the very same institution, a very unique irony attributed only to the Nigerian Police Force. This unequivocally begs the questions: has the military by their actions and excessive presence descended and condescended to the deplorable state of the police in Nigeria?
Why so much military presence even in places not under direct threat from insurgents and local threats? Is there still any need for the police? These are some of the questions this report aims to examine. However, I will for want of space and time limit the focus and scope of this report to the impact of the excessive military presence on the streets of Auchi on the integrity and professionalism of the soldiers, the average Auchi resident’s new refined or contaminated perception of the military due to the above named factor and finally the impact on the workaday lives of the ordinary Auchi resident.
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The Nigerian Army is supposedly Africa’s largest and strongest military force; with over two hundred thousand enlisted men. As the purported giant of Africa, Nigeria, through some of her military conquests in other African countries is trying hard to live up to the expectation of a giant. A weak and reckless unscrupulous giant though she is, the Nigerian Army has helped quell unrests in Northern Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Liberia’s first and second wars. The Nigerian Army is also a vital facet of ECOMOG, the African Union force, and is even a part of the United Nations peace keeping force.
Locally, the Nigerian Army fought and won the Civil war and is currently confronting the boko haram insurgency – with little pitiable success. Furthermore, the Nigerian Army is supported by the United States of America, Israel, Italy, China, Russia, France and Germany. With an annual budget running into billions of naira, and all the above named successes and experiences, the sorry state of the average Nigerian soldier, culminating in the aggregate sorry state of the Nigerian army professionally, tactically, intellectually and in intelligence is a profound irony.
After a robbery siege in Auchi that overwhelmed and disgraced the police two years ago, military patrol and roadblocks were incorporated into the major security system in Auchi – along with the police, the mobile police and vigilantes. Before this time, the military was only drafted into town when there is a riotous uprising, and they were largely successful because of the fear, respect (authority), and reputation they had built for themselves over the years. This authority and reputation was further enhanced by their mysterious and remote disposition.
However, the sorry sight of military personnel around town nowadays is so common, in fact too common for comfort. In the developed world, a soldier exudes confidence and commands respect merely by his presence. They are well mannered, cultured, very friendly and approachable. In Nigeria however and in Auchi particularly, soldiers usually rouse contempt and act like all-powerful bullies. It is worthy of note though that this bad reputation is propagated and sustained by off-duty soldiers. It is no rare sight to see a soldier jumping an ATM or banking hall queue, intimidating, or even mishandling any unfortunate Nigerian or Auchi resident who dares protest. It is also very common to see these off-duty uniformed menaces driving and riding recklessly and blaming, intimidating and beating up innocent road users who do not understand why those who are supposed to stand up for them and help them during a crisis should be the ones who push them to the dirt. Also, Residents of Auchi who have soldiers as friends have become almost untouchable too. The guardroom in the Nicoho military cantonment has become almost a stopgap cell not for suspected criminals though but for offenders of soldiers and friends of soldiers. Furthermore, the pathetic childish claim of ownership of the camouflage by soldiers is a sad tale.
The above facts were presented to about twenty randomly selected Auchi residents drawn from different strata and facets of the society and then asked what they thought about the military presence in town. Every single one agreed that since their incorporation into the town’s security system, crime rate had dropped considerably; consequently they felt safer with the soldiers still part of the security network. This is obviously a reaction to having lost faith and trust in the police’s ability to keep Auchi town safe. Furthermore, they all agreed that while on duty, soldiers still are very disciplined and would not even take bribes on checkpoints; thus advancing the theory that the stench is being caused by off-duty soldiers. However, fifteen of the residents expressed disappointment in the inability of the Nigerian Army to combat the Boko Haram saga – as compared to the number of civilians they beat up and brutalize daily, and tales of their successes in other countries.
A business man, among the respondents who was bullied for having innocently found a pair of military camouflage in a bale of cloth and tried to sell it put his feelings succinctly in these words: ‘Na our body dem for de get power.’ They however all agreed that the false display of comradeship and espirit de corps the soldiers put up when beating up civilians be left for war times and to war zones only. All the respondents but a retired soldier agreed and recommended that off-duty soldiers display a higher level of discipline and patience and do away with their jungle justice mentality; after all they are all still Nigerians.
According to section 217 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the major duties of the military include protecting and upholding our territorial integrity, and defense against external aggression. Therefore, the use of the military inside the boarders of the country is only permissible in an emergency, such as Nigeria is facing now. The whole idea of and behind the law is the protection of the lives and properties of the citizens of the country, and upholding their dignity as human beings. If the organs of government who are supposed to help Nigerians live life to the best are the very same institutions that are decimating the polity, and denting their self-worth and confidence, then there is a bigger emergency looming.
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