For several hours on Friday, July 3, 2014, men of the Nigerian Army went on the rampage in Lagos, blocking roads, firing shots into the air while manhandling commuters on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) buses. This followed the death of a Lance Corporal who was allegedly killed by one of the mass transit vehicles.
The account of an eyewitness tells a compelling story: “Today, I saw firsthand the Nigerian Army in action in Lagos. A soldier was killed accidentally by a BRT bus. Soldiers in green uniform stormed Ikorodu road where the buses ply and shut down the road at Palmgrove where the accident reportedly happened. The soldiers began attacking BRT buses on the road. They vandalised the buses, shattered windscreens and deflated the tyres. They asked all within the vicinity to raise up their hands. Not even those driving by in their cars were spared. A young soldier slapped a man making a call inside a bus because he disobeyed an order he was not even aware of….”
The account has been corroborated by many other people who also witnessed the ugly drama on the street of Lagos. While we commiserate with the family of the dead soldier and consider the accident most unfortunate, we cannot but deplore the recourse to lawlessness by the soldiers. It is even more shameful that the Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, apparently in promotion of local politics, would jump to conclusions without as much as investigating what happened.
While petty politics seems to trump common sense in Nigeria today, it should worry those in authority that soldiers, and other people in uniform who ordinarily should enforce law and order now find it easy to resort to jungle justice at the least provocation. Yet when such armed personnel find it difficult to rein in all impulses to self-help whenever they feel aggrieved, it is the larger society that is in danger.
Ordinarily, we would have asked the military authorities to conduct a proper inquiry into what happened with a view to finding out the culprits and punishing them; but it would seem that is already out of the question given the haste with which they are already shifting blame. Spokesman of the 81 Division of the Nigerian Army, Lt. Col. Omale Ochaguba, has continued to insist that the destruction of BRT buses was not carried out by soldiers but by hoodlums and that the vehicle which killed the soldier had been towed to Ikeja Cantonment while further investigations were ongoing.
We wonder the essence of the investigations being conducted by the army when their men had already “concluded the case”. Besides, we find their statement both indefensible and at the same time offensive to public sensibility. All available reports indicate that the crisis was triggered by the death of the soldier whose colleagues came from the barracks on a vengeance mission. If at all the mayhem was hijacked by “area boys”, it was after the soldiers had already resorted to lawlessness, not before.
Given the times that we are in, we recognise the role the military is playing with regard to securing the country and the sacrifices its men have been making. But nothing can, and should justify the kind of lawlessness witnessed in Lagos two weeks ago. The military should never conduct themselves as if they are above the law. It is therefore important those who perpetrated such lawlessness are fished out and brought to book.