Recently, the army announced a shutdown of an Abuja commercial complex over alleged assault of “soldiers in uniform.” Army spokesperson, Onyema Nwachukwu, a major general, unpacked quite a bit in one defensive statement to justify the action. According to him, two unarmed soldiers, engaging in no form of aggression and posing a threat to no one, were suddenly laid upon and brutalised by hoodlums at Banex Plaza in the Wuse II area of Abuja FCT. He variously described the attack as “cruel,” “unwarranted,” and “unjustifiable.”

 

The statement exposed a three-pronged military reaction to the incident. First, the top brass “convened a meeting with the management of Banex Plaza to identify and apprehend the hoodlums who beat up military personnel.” Then they retaliated against the attack “by temporarily shutting down activities in the plaza” to apprehend the hoodlums…” Finally, the army launched an “extensive investigation… at the scene to determine both the immediate and underlying causes of this mayhem.”

The army statement drew a parallel between the Banex incident and the recent civilian murder of 17 military personnel in Delta State: “This investigation ultimately aims at ensuring the security of the Federal Capital Territory and to prevent such unwarranted attacks on our personnel and other security operatives, as has been observed in other areas, such as the unfortunate attack in Okuama, Delta State.”

This military reaction, like others before it, exposes a question that we constantly avoid whenever the nation discusses violent civilian-military conflicts.

Here is the question: What were the uniformed military personnel doing that emboldened or provoked civilians into attacking or killing them in public places? Or should we accept the explanation that, in the case of Banex Plaza, they were unarmed, engaged in no form of aggression, and posed no threat to anyone?

It is a no-brainer that when two people fight, each will present a defence that exonerates them as the aggressor. Again, in most Nigerian military-civilian conflicts, what the public hears (and therefore judges) are loud voices of military spokespersons and subdued whimpers of civilians after they are served an equal or more brutal retaliation. Both loud and subdued voices never align on the crucial question of motive, which reduces the conversation to the crime of daring to confront military personnel in uniform.

The conversation on the Banex Plaza incident has consequently narrowed to the crime of attacking military personnel in uniform. But can it be broadened to accommodate the question of what the military officers were truly doing at Banex Plaza in their uniform and why civilians violently descended on them? We need to know not only to educate civilians on proper conduct but also because the military personnel themselves may benefit from the answers. We need to know why military personnel (officers and other ranks alike) routinely appear in public in their uniforms and attract unfriendly reactions rather than admiration from civilians. This knowledge could assist the military top brass in managing what may turn out to be welfare issues at the root of these intermittent conflicts.

Here is a clue. On 13 December last year, Defence Minister Abubakar Badaru approached the National Assembly to plead for urgent review of the defence personnel and overhead costs in the 2024 budget. He quoted N78.5 billion as budget provision for personnel and overhead costs. Compared to the number of Nigerian military personnel published by Global Firepower, this budget figure is laughable; it implies that a serving military personnel, including the Generals, goes home with average monthly salary and allowances of about N28,000!

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What is even more concerning is that this paltry provision was found embedded in a proposed handsome defence budget of N3.25 trillion! This indicates that some people are more interested in acquiring the tools for defending Nigeria than the welfare of the defenders. It is this sort of disparity that creates two classes – the haves and the have-nots – in the military. While the have-nots depend entirely on laughable personnel and overhead costs, the haves feast on the humongous balance to “defend” our nation. This may be why the answer to the question of why uniformed military personnel appear in civilian spaces to be beaten up or killed may be found in their welfare provisions.

So that I am not misunderstood, nothing here should be interpreted as supporting civilian attacks on military personnel. Far from it. It is sad that there are civilians who forget that our military is composed of a group of citizens willing to sacrifice their lives to defend our country. During the civil war, they paid the supreme sacrifice in their hundreds of thousands. In the fight against insurgency, military personnel have been dying in their thousands since 2009. Our military personnel should be held in high honour wherever and whenever they are seen and recognized in public places. Each one of them earns the right to our undying gratitude for their voluntary decision to sign their own death warrants to save us from external aggression and internal insurrections. It should therefore be a matter of concern each time that civilians assault our people in uniform.

Getting this out of the way, the question of why non-duty military personnel show up in civilian spaces to be assaulted or killed should return for proper interrogation. One way to get to the root of the matter is to set up independent judicial enquiries any time that the military forces a bitter medicine down the throats of civilians who attack them. Without this, we leave the answer to the question of motive to speculations and educated guesses.

One such guess is the defence provision in the 2024 federal budget which reinforces the suspicion that top military brass know the embarrassing answer to the question. One suspects that this question goes to the roots of issues around welfare, which may be the driver for desperate military personnel diving into civilian spaces in their uniforms to hustle for a living.

Have we not read or heard pathetic stories of retired military personnel and families of fallen soldiers thrown out of barracks into the cold world of poverty and deprivation while society looks the other way? Enough said.

 

Happy 1st Anniversary

 

Yesterday, 29 May 2024, made it one year since President Bola Tinubu and 31 State Governors took office. Each has shown the stuff they are made of and some kinds of congratulations are in order – even if it is a backhanded salute for many.

Expectedly, we hear quite a bit of chest beating and self-congratulations from the chief executives at federal and subnational levels.

While congratulating them on reaching this milestone, it is important to let them know that these fantastic achievements have not translated into a positive impact on the people. The condition of living of the average Nigerian has not improved; it has depreciated alarmingly. Our people are not adjusting well to the hyperinflation instigated by the infamous twin policies launched by the President during his swearing-in ceremony.

Hopefully, the second year will bring us better tidings. Our fingers are crossed.


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