By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
A series of extra-judicial killings, maiming and raping of innocent women by some men of the Nigerian Army has raised serious concerns about the sanity of men of the armed forces saddled with the task of protecting it citizens from harm.
While the military had practically come out unscathed from previous misdeeds perpetrated by some its renegade personnel, the reverse is presently the case, as the nation has continued to reel from reactions generated from the misdemeanor of men in Army uniform in the past few days.
Outrage and condemnation have continued to trail their transgressions which shook the nation to its knees, with many Nigerians calling on the government to take action.
The Army’s latest descent into ignominy began on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, when some soldiers of the 32 Artillery Brigade of the Nigeria Army allegedly raped a female student of the Adekunke Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, Ondo State.
The incident occurred at a military checkpoint in Ikare Akoko in the Akoko North-East Local Government Area of the state. The soldiers allegedly raped the 300-level student of the Department of Religious and African Studies, while she was returning from the campus.
A source identified one of the soldiers as Lance Corporal Sunday, adding that the victim was raped serially by the soldiers. He said Sunday ordered the victim to disembark from a mini bus and took her inside a cubicle by the checkpoint where he and his colleagues forcefully had sex with her.
A student of the institution, who witnessed the incident but did not want her name in print, alleged that soldiers at the checkpoint were fond of molesting female students who pass through that route.
“We were coming from Akungba in a mini bus on Wednesday evening and on getting to the checkpoint, this soldier (Sunday) peeped into the vehicle and pointed at the victim and ordered her to disembark. We didn’t know why he did that. When the victim alighted, he took her to their mini-barracks and asked us to leave the scene.
“Out of fear, we left the place, hoping that she would be released soon, but she was not released until one hour later. When she joined us, she narrated how the soldiers took turns to rape her.
“We immediately went to the Ikare Police Station to report the incident and rushed her to the Ondo State Specialist Hospital, Ikare Akoko, for examination and treatment. As I speak to you, she is in the hospital and doctors have confirmed that she was raped.
“This is not the first time such a thing is happening at the checkpoint. Commuters, who are mostly students who live in Ikare, are often harassed sexually, especially in the evening. The soldiers usually fondle our breasts inside cabs in the name of stop and search.”
In his initial reaction, the Brigade Commander, 32 Artillery Brigade, Brig. Gen. Zakari Abubakar, had asked the victim to formally lodge a complaint at the brigade in Akure for proper action. Abubakar, who said it would be difficult for any of his men to be involved in such an act, said, “Any of them found guilty knows the penalty, because the military authority does not take such lightly.”
However, on August 2, barely three days after the Brigade Commander expressed doubt on the involvement of his men in the dastardly act, the 32 Artillery Brigade, Akure, announced the arrest of the soldiers involved in the act.
The Brigade Commander of the brigade, Brig. Gen. Abubakar, confirmed their and said the brigade had commenced investigation into the matter.
“It is very true that the soldiers have been arrested. We have commenced our investigation.”
While the nation was about to heave a sigh of relief that finally, justice seems to be on its way for the rape victim, the Army, as if jinxed, again made headlines for another wrongdoing, this time in far away Abia State.
On Wednesday, August 7, 2019, a soldier shot dead a commercial motorcyclist at Umuokereke Ngwa community near Aba. According to an eye witness, the deceased, Chimaobi Nwogu, was shot to death by the soldier for refusing to part with N100 bribe at a military checkpoint.
“We saw a soldier pursuing Chimaobi but we were still wondering what may have happened when he shot him and he fell on the ground from his motorcycle. Immediately after shooting him, the soldier climbed on his motorcycle and ran away, said the witness.”
Angered by the senseless killing, youths from Amaise took to Aba-Ikot Ekpene expressway in Aba to protest the killing of their kinsman. The angry youths stormed the army outpost at Ohanze in Obingwa LGA and set it ablaze after soldiers manning the post took to their heels on receiving information that the mob was heading to their location.
The youths, after setting the army outpost ablaze to register their grievance, took the body of the deceased to Opobo road, off the heart of the commercial city where they set ablaze a stationary Police van with Mopol 55 inscription at the ever-busy Opobo junction.
The protest caused pandemonium in the area, forcing businesses to close down abruptly, while drivers and commuters using the affected roads were forced to abandon their cars and take to safety to avoid the wrath of the rampaging youths.
Burnt fires made with disused tyres and other objects were seen at various points on Ikot Ekpene Road, just as the police van was still on fire.
The army, as always, denied culpability, saying it was not their soldier that killed Chimaobi, that it may be a cultist who was wearing an army T-shirt.
Just two days later, Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, said that the soldier who shot and killed the commercial motorcyclist had been arrested.
Ikpeazu, who gave the name of the suspect as “Corporal Ajayi”, said the fleeing soldier was arrested last Wednesday and currently being detained. He described the killing as “wicked, malicious, unprofessional and cowardly.”
He expressed sadness that a security personnel, who was paid and maintained with tax payers money, could turn around to kill the person he was paid to protect.
However, the cup of justice of the Army seems to have finally filled up as it finally chew more than what it could bite. While the dust of the Abia killing was yet to settle, men of the Nigerian Army yet again struck in Taraba State, throwing the nation into turmoil.
While the protest of the killing of the commercial motorcyclist was raging in Abia, the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) announced last Wednesday that soldiers engaged members of the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) of the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu on
a mission in the state and killed three operatives and a civilian.
The team had gone to Taraba State to arrest a kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Wadume, but were ambushed by troops from the 93 Battalion Nigerian Army Takum while conveying the suspect to the Taraba State Police Command headquarters in Jalingo.
After killing some of the operatives and injuring several others, the soldiers allegedly set free the kidnap kingpin who is still on the run.
According to the Police spokesperson, Frank Mba, the deceased officers were some of the best in the country. He identified the deceased officers as Inspector Mark Ediale, Sergeant Usman Danzumi, and Sergeant Dahiru Musa.
The Force disclosed that the trio were part of the team responsible for the high profile arrest of notorious kidnap kingpin, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, also known as Evans, in 2017.
They also contributed to last month’s rescue of Musa Umar Uba, an in-law of President Muhammadu Buhari, who was in captivity for two months.
They were also part of the teams that arrested Umar Abdulmalik Overall, a Boko Haram commander, as well as 22 Boko Haram terrorists responsible for the 2014 abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno.
Embarrassed by the latest scandal, the Army hurriedly came up with a response, saying the unfortunate incident happened because the officers failed to identify themselves to troops.
The Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Colonel Sagir Musa, said troops of 93 Battalion Nigerian Army Takum were responding to a distress call to rescue a kidnapped victim when they clashed with the Police team.
He said the team’s bus refused to stop when they were flagged down at three different Army checkpoints before they fired on troops who fired back in self-defence. Colonel Musa failed to address why troops set the kidnap suspect free.
However, the police refuted the Army’s claim, arguing that the soldiers opened fire on the officers despite sufficient proof that they were on legitimate duty.
Despite the Army’s explanation, more criticism and condemnation have continued to trail the attack. Shocked by the attack, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Defence Headquarters to commence immediate investigation.
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar disclosed this at the end of the meeting of the National Security Council, presided by President Buhari at the State House, Abuja.
“The council decided that owing to the unfortunate incidents in Taraba State in Ibi, a committee had been setup under the Defence Headquarters to critically look into the circumstances that led to the unfortunate incident,” he said.
The committee, a Joint Investigation Panel with the police, is to investigate and report on the true circumstances surrounding the firefight. The seven-man panel, headed by Rear Admiral I.T. Olaiya and the Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Criminal Investigation Department, Mike Ogbizi, has commenced work immediately.
Also reacting, former Senator representing Kaduna Central senatorial district at the National Assembly, Senator Shehu Sani, condemned the killing of the policemen, while calling on the federal government to compensate families of victims even as he called for justice to be served on the culprits.
“The Killing of the Three Policemen in active service in Taraba State is unfortunate, sad and tragic.
“Justice must be done, and their families must be adequately compensated by the FG. May their gentle soul Rest In Peace. Amen,” the former lawmaker said.
Also, a Non Governmental Organisation, ACT, has urged president Muhammadu Buhari to set up a probe panel to investigate the killing of three police personnel and a civilian by troops of Nigerian Army in Taraba.
The organisation made the call in a statement jointly signed by Mr Johnson Kolawole, acting Director, Research, Strategy and Communications; and Mr. Tolu Babaleye, National Secretary in Abuja.
Kolawole said that the probe panel was important to unraveling the ulterior motives, if any, of the perpetrators of the killing. He said that Nigerians deserved to know what actually happened.
Kolawole said that it would be unpatriotic to stand aloof in the current impasse between the Nigerian police force and the Nigerian army on the killing of police officers on duty.
He said that the organisation believed there was a puzzle here to solve, which might help unravel some mysteries behind the state of insecurity in the country.
“The killings of those IRT operatives in Taraba by Nigerian soldiers must not be swept under the carpet as we have seen in the past.
“The president is hereby enjoined to set up a probe panel to investigate what happened with a view to unraveling the ulterior motives (if any) of the perpetrators of the heinous and dastardly killing. ”
Kolawole also called on the chief of army staff to get to the root of the matter or be prepared to face legal action after seven days of inaction.
“Lastly, we call on the Nigerian army to resist the temptation of shielding any erring officers in order to enjoy public confidence.
“The daily sacrifices of many gallant officers must not be rubbished with the selfishness of few. The bad eggs must be fished out to save the image of the force and the country at large.”