One of the worst misfortunes a Nigerian can experience is to fall into the hands of an angry Nigerian soldier. There is no predicting the inhumanity that will ensue. The potential victim stands the risk of sustaining a physical injury that would follow him to the grave and an emotional wound that is beyond the healing of time.
It's a whole new level of brutality when, by some happenstance, you become the pet peeve of a bunch of angry Nigerian soldiers. They make your torture a party. They compete to elicit the loudest scream from you. They jockey as if the act of harming you is a ritual that would improve their lives.
This week, I encountered one of the most extreme examples of their capacity for sadism. I read a stranger-than-fiction real life story of soulless wickedness, unconscionable assault and intoxicated impunity. And I have no hope of forgetting it because it is etched on my memory.
A group of 19 Nigerian soldiers were making a road show of brutalizing a hapless and helpless Nigerian citizen. It was not anything like the garden variety soldier-on-civilian beating that is a fact of life in our country. The soldiers were relentless. They wouldn't stop battering the bruised, bloodied and broken man. They were manifestly intent on quitting at the end point of his death.
Another Nigerian, a compassionate passerby, interposed and pleaded for mercy. The peacemaker, an officer of the Nigerian Road Safety Corps, Segun Enikuemehin, asked the soldier-gangsters to pause the violence porn and hand over the young man to the police, if he committed any criminal offence, instead of killing him like a bush animal.
The soldiers regarded Segun’s intervention as the meddling of a busybody and his voice of reason as an insult. They judged his person inadequate to interrupt them and decided that his appeal was an insufferable outrage. So they transferred their collective rage to him and began to lynch him.
They savaged him like a legion of vengeful demons. They mauled him as if he was the very incarnation of all their past disappointments.
In the heat of 'teaching the interloper a lesson', one of the soldiers, presumably the most malevolent of them all, reached for Segun's eyes, punctured the man's left eye and damaged the right one. He didn’t achieve absolute success. He had intended to gift Segun the handicap of blindness in both eyes.
Segun is in the hospital. The picture of his face does not bear watching. Doctors at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) are battling to save him from a lifetime of total darkness. He was guilty of caring. He didn't turn a blind eye to the dehumanization of his fellow human being. He was his brother's keeper. He was a Good Samaritan.
And what was the crime of the young man Segun tried to save? He had worn some camouflage three weeks back. A mischievous solider hankering for a pretext to unleash the beast in himself summoned him and ordered him to produce the clothes. He replied that he had disposed it. That innocuous answer enraged the soldier and his company and turned them into a mob of bullies.
The soldier who punctured Segun's eye has been identified as Private Ihama Osaretin. He is based in Myoung Barracks, Yaba, Lagos State. He doesn't deserve a place in our military. He is unfit to be a soldier. He is also unfit to exist in a human society. He has the nature of a beast. He belongs to the evil forest.
Don't tell me that Ihama acted in a fit of fury. That he punctured Segun’s eye because he has a temper problem. Or that he was drunk. Or that a witch in his mother's village hypnotized him.
Ihama is entirely responsible for his atrocity. His puncturing of Segun's eye was no accident. It was a willful, inexcusable act of hate.
There was intention. Ihama suggested to himself the idea of blinding Segun. He desired to make the most consequential contribution to the abuse of Segun's body. He told himself that he needed to distinguish himself from the crowd. That he had to make a terrible impact on Segun to awe his mates. To shock them into conceding to him the title and respect of the meanest champion.
There was aiming. Ihama focused his eyes on Segun's eyes. Ihama fixed his gaze on Segun. Others were beating Segun randomly and arbitrarily but not him. He wanted to do a one-off damage on a specific site.
There was execution. Ihama has a seared conscience. He did the unthinkable. He punctured… Segun's eyes.
No reasonable adult would intentionally puncture a child's balloon. He lends you his toy globe in the hope that you know that what you are holding in your hands encompasses the world. That child will burst into tears if you blow his globe until it bursts.
If Ihama had gone out of his way to puncture the balloon of a child, he would be liable to be deemed a spoilsport. But he didn't puncture a spherical object that is produced by a machine and sold in the market. He punctured a biological organ. An eye. A human eye.
The Holy Writ tells us to pluck out our right eye and throw it away if it causes us to sin. The injunction was certainly not meant to be taken literally. It is the biggest hyperbole in the gospels: It was written to communicate the necessity of disciplining the flesh, of subjecting it to the rule of the spirit.
It staggers the mind that Ihama, somebody who claims membership of the human species, a person who purports to live by the light of this age, a so-called twenty first century soldier, in peacetime, looked upon his fellow human being, already made hors de combat by the beating of 18 adult men, and decided to add forced blindness to the cruelty.
Ihama was not satisfied with the ordinariness of Segun's lynching. He felt that Segun deserved a more painful and lasting ordeal. He persuaded himself that it behooved him to perpetrate the drastic measure that would make Segun's suffering permanent.
Ihama, a man who owns a pair of eyes and cherishes his vision, proceeded to puncture Segun's eye and render him blind because he wanted to demonstrate that Segun was ineligible to confront him. Ihama punctured Segun's eyes in order to subtract from Segun's wholeness. Ihama sought to validate his belief that Segun was not his equal. That Segun was less a human being than a soldier.
I imagine that when the soldiers were beating Segun, they were mocking him, telling him that he was nobody. And that they could kill him like a fowl. I suppose he pleaded, moaned and grunted, until the avalanche of pain overwhelmed him.
The Nigerian Army is not entirely populated by brutes and misanthropes. As a human organization, it has its fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly. And the good side of the Nigerian Army is celebrated all over the world. The Nigerian Army earns accolades from the international community on account of the conduct of our troops in overseas peacekeeping operations. Nigerian soldiers are lauded as paragons of professionalism, bravery and honour.
But that nice side is rarely the facet Nigerians in Nigeria are familiar with. Nigerians know soldiers who are quicker to act like thugs than comport themselves as defenders of the homeland. Nigerians know soldiers that are more proud of their barbarism than their veneer of civility. Nigerians know brash and bullish and brutish soldiers that seem to be hardwired to invent reasons to demean civilians and crush them as sub-humans.
Of course, bullying civilians is not the preserve of Nigerian soldiers. Other members of the Nigerian armed forces, as well as policemen and other individuals whose line of work requires them to bear arms and wear jackboots have anti-civilian proclivities. They appear to be perennially plagued by the urge to assert their brawny superiority over the bloody civilian. And everything, including nothing, can push them to 'arrest' you, curse you, disrobe you, slap you, scourge you, kick you, frog jump you... shoot you!
Nigeria's long years of military rule is often cited as the cause of the lingering military chauvinism. But that is oversimplifying the issue. The foundation of this deep-seated culture of military predation is actually the socialization of our military men. They adopt a philosophy that tells them the sacrifice of enlisting as a soldier elevated them above other mortals. The youngest recruit may not to be taught that this in training. But culture is caught. He inevitably assimilates the ways Nigerian soldiers advantage themselves over the civilian population.
The Nigerian military believes that the Nigerian civilian is beneath the Nigerian in khaki. And that military men are entitled to stress that difference in class whenever, wherever and however they wish. It is this unwritten but ubiquitous code that is at the root of the adversarial relationship between the force man and the civilian. It is the reason why Ihama and his friends practiced war on Segun.
Sometimes, the code boomerangs. We see them abandon espirit de corps and fight as gladiators on the street. Naval ratings versus air force officials. They tear one another’s uniforms. They exchange blows. They wrest someone to the ground. They use the butt of their guns as pestle. They fire gun shots into the air.
We need to humanize the Nigerian military. We have to reorient our armed forces away from lawlessness to respect for the rule of law. We have to get them to unlearn their contempt for their civilian countrymen.
Military officers should not constitute a threat to the society or civil liberties. They should not defy the traffic light. They should not be free to maim anybody they don’t like –as a privilege of having a badge.
More importantly, the Nigerian state should address abuse of force by the military officers properly, swiftly and transparently. When their violence against civilians is ignored, minimized or rationalized away, we legitimize a habit we should not abide.
For instance, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Yusuf Buratai, and the foot soldiers that massacred 347 Shiites in Zaria are still in the system. If the head of the Nigerian Army was promptly arrested, tried and sentenced for complicity in mass murder, Ihama and his gang would have thought twice before terrorizing a civilian in a public space. It is because President Buhari, a retired general, trivialized the genocide on national TV that Private Ihama mustered the temerity to puncture Segun's eyes.
Ihama should rot in jail. He should see only the perpetual night of an unlit cell until he draws his last breath. He did more than blind Segun’s eye. He punctured all of our eyes.
You can reach me at [email protected] or follow me on Twitter at @EmmaUgwuTheMan