FEATURE ARTICLE

Temple Chima UbochiSunday, November 9, 2008
[email protected]
Bonn, Germany

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MILITARY/PARA-MILITARY BRUTALITY AGAINST NIGERIAN CIVILIANS:
IT WILL TAKE A CONCERTED EFFORT FROM THE “TOP” TO STOP IT

The psychology of brutality was worse than the beatings. (John Blair)
Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn! (Robert Burns)
We had fed the heart on fantasies. The heart's grown brutal from the fare (William Butler Yeats)
We cannot live by power, and a culture that seeks to live by it becomes brutal and sterile. (Max Lerner)
True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason. (Alfred North Whitehead)
The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity. (George Bernard Shaw)
There is only one way in which one can endure man's inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one's own life, to exemplify man's humanity to man. (Alan Paton)
Man's inhumanity to man is not only perpetrated by the vitriolic actions of those who are bad. It is also perpetrated by the vitiating inaction of those who are good. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)


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t is no longer something new: On the third of November 2008, on Muhri Okunola Street, Victoria Island Lagos, the traffic was chaotic. A young lady (Uzoma Okere) driving home from work didn't move her vehicle out of the way of a military convoy on time, resulting in severe beatings by armed Nigerian Navy men. The convoy was that of Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade's personal Navy saloon car and his pilot truck, consisting of 6 armed bodyguards. The body guards in the process physically beat up several PriceWaterHouseCoopers staff and destroyed cameras that were filming the event as it unfolded. The video clip was recorded from the PriceWaterHouseCoopers office on a personal camera. Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade is the Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Logistics Command, Sapele.

Check https://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-134234?ref=email for the amateur video recording of the event.

We all can write as many volumes as we like, we can shout as louder as we can, but, all these can’t bring any change of attitude on the part of the military or the para-military forces against the defenseless Nigerian civilians. For there to be a change here, it must start from the military/para-military top hierarchy down to the lowest rung of the ladder. There must be a re-orientation in the military and the para-military forces for them to grasp properly what their roles ought to be, because many of them don’t know why they are there in the first place. Many in the Nigerian military are still living in “another planet”; some of them still don’t know that we have a “democratic government” in place; some of them still think that the military is still ruling Nigeria, as such they are above the law. Some of them joined the military when the military was calling the shot in Nigeria and they imbibed the mentality that the military is of the first class and the civilians of second class; they are still to jettison this erroneous thinking, that’s why they will do anything and get away with it. The military has ruled Nigeria for the greater part of our history and that has gotten into the head of some of the personnel; despite the fact that we have (s) elective democracy, some of the military personnel think that it is still “business-as-usual” and are still living in their cocoon (fool’s paradise).

As you are reading this, some of the military and para-military guys are perpetrating one atrocity after another against the civilians somewhere now, despite the outcry this Ms. Okere´s incident has generated. Why this particular incident has turned into a high profile case is because Ms. Okere is a daughter of a “Nigerian big man”, otherwise nobody would have heard of it and nothing would have been done to redress the injustice. Now everybody is trying to identify with this incident because of the personalities involved. Miss Uzoma Okere is the daughter of the Sergeant-at-Arms at the National Assembly, Col Emeka Okere (rtd), a principal officer of the national Assembly and a retired colonel for that matter. What of the poor, the down-trodden, the “nobodies”, the unsung, who fall victims to the military and para-military forces´ brutalities every day, those who have nobody to fight for them?

Col. Emeka Okere as an important officer of the national assembly, took the case to the senate president who then ordered the senate committee in-charge of the navy to investigate the matter and report back to him as soon as possible. That’s fine, but, will the senate president order the same when a poor man is brutalised?

Because of whose daughter Ms. Okere is, President Yar’Adua just directed the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief Marshall Paul Dike, to investigate with immediate effect the incident which led to her beating in Lagos by naval ratings attached to Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade. We were told that Yar’Adua was “very upset and disappointed” by the incident in which Miss Okere was beaten up and stripped naked by the military personnel for allegedly obstructing the admiral’s convoy and asked that the report of the investigation be made available to him at the earliest possible time. The President is said to be saddened by the incident and has vowed that the culprits must be brought to book to serve as a deterrent to others. That’s fine, but, will YarÁdua order the same, feel the same way, vow to do the same, if a poor guy is brutalised?

Because of who Ms. Okere is, she was granted audience with the Lagos State Governor who then offered her free legal assistance in getting justice.

Governor Babatunde Fashola at the audience with the victim in his Ikeja office said: Those of us who exercise authority in the state who owe it a responsibility to protect you have actually turned against you. I am sorry. This matter has been brought to my attention by e-mails, well placed on the internet on what took place. I can assure you that our democracy will protect you, you will get justice. I have summoned the Solicitor-General of the state and Head of Office of Public Defender, they will go out with you, and they will continue to advise you. Whatever legal assistance you will require, the state government will provide it for you. I will make representation to his Excellency, Mr. President and all the reports I get from the Ministry of Justice, I will pass it to him. I am sure that he will do justice to it.”

The governor who noted that though the wheel of justice might turn slowly, pledged that “this one will be different by saying that he don’t think that any act of provocation could have justified what he saw while accepting the need to hear from the other side on what happened. Fashola urged Ms. Okere to remain law-abiding, adding that the state would assist in footing her medical bills. The Governor ended the meeting by saying: “This is not what our country represents for her citizens. I am sorry.” I wonder what the Governor was talking about here. He should tell us what Nigeria represents to majority of its citizens. I hate such “playing to the gallery”.

While in the presence of the Governor, Okere who was apparently still in shock and pain narrated her ordeal to the governor, saying the officer whose orderlies’ beat her did not show any sign of remorse but said she could have been killed.

Readers, lies have entered into this case. The Navy through its spokesman the Director of Naval Information, Commodore David Nabaida, said that they have set up machinery to fully investigate the matter. That a board of inquiry with the naval police is looking into the matter!

But the navy account of the incident was doctored, according to him: “What really happened is that there was a traffic problem usually associated with Lagos and the escorts of the Admiral jumped down to go clear the traffic in front. Along the way, a rating used his whip to hit the car, urging the lady to move. Instead, she jumped out of her car, switched it off, and forcefully took the whip from him (rating), telling him that we are in a democracy, that he (rating) had no right to hit her car. A colleague of the rating then followed the lady and collected the whip from her. When the Admiral learnt that there was altercation between a lady and a rating in front, he asked that the lady be brought to him. She resisted and in the process of taking her to the Admiral, her shirt got torn. When the Admiral asked her what happened, she owned up to forcefully taking the whip from the rating and apologised for the behaviour, saying she was stressed up, that was why she behaved that way.”

Commodore David Nabaida continued his lies by saying that the Admiral later got to know that the father of the lady, Colonel Okere (rtd), who is the Sergeant-at-arms in the Senate, was two years his senior at the Nigerian Military School (NMS), and they both spoke during which Okere apologised for the conduct of his daughter.

Commodore Nabaida said: “We are very sensitive to how the public perceive us as a service. The general thrust of the armed forces is centred on building public confidence. We cannot be seen to be doing this and go against it. Individuals should be held accountable for their actions. It is wrong for anybody to assume that the Navy is lawless or they go about beating people. The impression was wrongly given that Admiral Arogundade was part of the altercation whereas he is a complete gentleman, an amiable officer who even sought to resolve the matter as an elder. It (incident) should not be used as a basis to run a complete service down. This is a service where officers and men are deployed to very dangerous trouble spots, dying to protect the territorial integrity of the nation. In fact, if you know the casualty the Navy has suffered this year alone in the Niger Delta; you will appreciate what I am talking about. So, for anybody to say the Navy is lawless or we are wasting tax payers’ money is way off the mark because we also pay taxes. So, Nigerians should learn not to jump to conclusions without hearing the other side”.

Now the Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade’s family is trying to twist the story to their advantage. In a statement signed by one Mr. Oshodi for the family, he observed that Arogundade was neither in the convoy when the incident occurred nor did he order the assault on the lady as published in some national dailies. The question becomes: if the rear admiral was not in the convoy, why did his orderlies used siren? Who did his orderlies cleared the road for then? Why then did the Navy tell us that “when the Admiral learnt that there was altercation between a lady and a rating in front, he asked that the lady be brought to him. She resisted and in the process of taking her to the Admiral, her shirt got torn. When the Admiral asked her what happened, she owned up to forcefully taking the whip from the rating and apologised for the behaviour, saying she was stressed up, that was why she behaved that way”, if the rear admiral wasn’t in the convoy?

Why then did Ms. Okere say that “the officer whose orderlies’ beat her did not show any sign of remorse but said she could have been killed” if the rear admiral wasn’t in the convoy? Do you see the lies here?

There is a pattern of military brutality against civilians here: Fela of the blessed memory, lost his mother and his kalakuta Republic to military brutality. If Ms. Okere were to be the daughter of a “nobody” in Nigeria, this case would have died down just like that. Have we asked how many windscreens are broken every day, how many side mirrors are torn out or broken every day, how many cars are dented everyday, how many injuries are sustained everyday by vehicles and their owners on Nigerian roads due to military escorts brutalities while those big “ogas” being conveyed remain quiet on their seat as if nothing happened? Ms. Okere is lucky to have escaped with “scratches”; she could have ended up with broken bones. We should condemn this injustice and ask the military to re-orientate themselves from the top to down. In my article (which you can access through this link): https://nigeriaworld.com/feature/publication/ubochi/072808.html (I strongly recommend that you read the whole article), I wrote:

“The Nigerian Army (Military), as a colonial outfit created by the colonialists as an instrument of coercion to rein in the agitation of the local people for self rule, has failed uptill today to shake off its colonial vestiges and mentality. The Nigerian military is only strong when it comes to dealing with the Nigerian "bloody" civilians, as Odi and Zaki raids can attest to, but, when it comes to dealing with external aggressors, the men of the military will turn into dogs with their tails tucked in between their legs.

These few examples are to show that Nigerian armed and para military forces are only strong when it comes to dealing with Nigerian civilians. I read how a navy lieutenant shot an Okada man dead at Ojuelegba roundabout in Lagos for denting his car in a go-slow, I also read recently how a naval rating stabbed (many stabs) a civilian to death around Alakija Junction Lagos, just very close to the Navy Town because the victim unintentionally stepped on a pool of water that collected on the road and it splashed on the Navy guy's cloth. All plead for mercy made by the victim and passers-by to the Navy guy fell on deaf ears before he stabbed the poor guy. The victim had a young wife (17 years old) and few months old baby, tell me how anybody can explain this kind of wickedness to the widow and her child? Stories of Army, Air Force, Police personnel manhandling civilians abound”. Azuoma Anugom wrote this and on that note, I am signing off:

Fellow Nigerians, I am sure this is not the democracy we crave for. Its time we ask the army to return to the desert where warfare takes place, the Navy should have their movement restricted to the sea, while Air force personnel that cannot conform to life with civilians on the road should pitch their abode in the sky. As for the police, let them drop the gun; they should parade the streets with baton, handcuffs and spray gas. Special response unit should be trained to handle gun when armed related offences/cases are involved. If any of these military boys, however, wants to live among the rest of us Nigerians, then they should learn to be civil and ready to be guided by the constitution of Nigeria - respect for rule of law and human right observant should be their watch word.

The horrible and barbaric beating of Ms. Uzoma Okere by the naval ratings attached to Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade with the tacit approval of the Rear Admiral calls for all of us (all Nigerians in the Diaspora) to send a million petitions to the President of Nigeria, His Excellency Musa Yar’Adua, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Navy, the Army, the Police, all human right bodies condemning this barbaric and despicable action as well as demanding that justice is done.

Ms. Okere was not only brutally beaten publicly but she was stripped naked by these men in uniform; who are sustained by the public fund; for a very trivial reason. The last I checked, Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade is neither God nor the president of Nigeria, nor does he own or maintain the roads and streets of Nigeria, therefore he has no right to demand monopoly of the roads and streets of Nigeria. The last I checked Nigeria is not at war, therefore there is no justifiable reason for any military officer to demand sole use of the public road. I daresay it is an abuse of power for any naval or military officer to ride with convoys or blare sirens or demand that civilians clear the road for their sole use. It is a criminal action and gross violation of human rights to beat a defenseless woman (a citizen of Nigeria) for not moving out of the way fast enough to let a naval "tin god" pass through!!! This is outrageous and the height of irresponsibility!!! This action of the Navy has further portrayed Nigeria as a fascist regime where fundamental human rights are abused by those in authority.

It appears that the Nigerian leadership and the military have failed the country. They have jettisoned their oaths of allegiance and their mandate to uphold and protect lives, liberty and rights of Nigerians. They are now oppressors and tyrants, out to line their pockets and fool around town with siren blaring, women-beating orderlies. No wonder the country has only pedagogy of oppression to show for its 48 years of existence as a nation!!!! Life is brutal and short and the rule of law is just a cliché used by politicians when convenient.

Any man who beats and stripes a woman naked publicly is an animal. Military men are supposedly trained and polished. To watch these rabid dogs in uniform beating, dragging and tearing the shirt off this defenseless lady for no justifiable reason makes me puke. All the culprits: the barbaric naval ratings, Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade, who ordered or tacitly approved the action of his men (he watched them without calling them to order) should be relieved of their positions with the navy immediately. They are a disgrace to the navy and a disgrace to Nigeria!!! These men are clearly psychopaths and should not be wearing Nigerian naval uniforms!!! Furthermore, the Nigerian Navy, Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade and his hoodlums (ratings) should be sued jointly and severally, with punitive damages awarded against them. Anything short of this will amount to travesty of justice.

Can we come together and demand justice for Ms. Uzoma Okere and other victims of military and para-military brutality?

For so many Nigerians, the “road” is very hard to travel. For so many Nigerians, the “pain” is too much to bear. For so many Nigerians, the “life” is unravelling.

THE THANKS IS ALL YOURS!!!

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