I perused an infantile riposte which was purportedly authored by one “Okanga Agila", who happened to be a “traditional warrior” in Benue State. He titled the article: “Soldiers Vs Civilians: Of sanity and the insanity”. He was reacting to a treatise of mine published on February 20th, 2017 detailing how some armed soldiers threatened to kill me at Bonny Camp before eyewitnesses resisted the illegal attack. Upon perusing Okanga’s publication, I was dumbstruck to learn that a “traditional warrior” had to issue a statement in defense of the military arm of my country’s government which has a communication department and a public relations officer. Well, I have a right to reply “Okanga Agila", a “traditional warrior” turned military spokesperson.
At the outset, it is pertinent to assert that Mr Okanga’s indication that he writes from Benue State, in response to an issue which occurred in Lagos, lends credence to the fact that his statement was a piece of dead fiction seeking life, and that he was without the competence to pen it in the first instance. Was there a CCTV positioned for him at the scene to capture the exactly what transpired? How then could he release a statement about a matter he never witnessed? In literary criticism, fiction and nonfiction belong to different genre. The former talks about stories invented through the use of imagination whilst the latter is about real life events. Okanga wrote an imaginary story when indeed he ought to have written a non-fictional story. It is a misplaced story and an error devoid of cure in literary discourse.
The crux of this matter, which Mr Okanga tacitly eschewed in his risible statement is that on Sunday, the 19th day of February, 2017 armed soldiers threatened my life near the gate of Bonny Cantonment for honking at their colleague who walked unconcernedly on a public road, when he should have used either of the two pedestrian sidewalks. Had the incident occurred in an area devoid of people, my case would have been more catastrophic than the disabled citizen who was battered by Nigerian soldiers at Onitsha. Yet, in spite of this open threat to my life by soldiers clutching their rifles, to which witnesses are available to testify, someone is more interested in mending a reputation of the military than taking appropriate action against such flagrant misconduct? Indeed, human life has never been looked upon with such disdain.
Mr Okanga even stated, in what appeared considerably pitiable, that he does not know what “literary author” means, at a time when Google has become a verb!
Rather than exhibiting such profound ignorance, I am of the view that the “warrior” might have been better off asking about a book I had authored that qualified me to ascribe to myself the title: “literary author”. That way, I might have thought it necessary to issue an appropriate response in that respect.
Sitting in faraway Benue State as we are made to believe, the “traditional warrior” (or is it “traditional hunter”?) speculated that the manner in which the driver in our vehicle honked might have infuriated the soldier who chose to walk care freely on a public road as though he was a traffic warden on duty. Assuming without conceding that the “traditional warrior’s” narration about an incident he didn't witness was accurate, can the Lance Corporal’s attempt to smash our vehicle’s glass or the stern threats against my life by armed soldiers be justified?
It was curious to see how the Lance Corporal’s belligerent colleagues abandoned their duty post and raced all through to the main road to have me attacked. It was as though a pride of famished lions had set eyes on a zebra somewhere in the heart of the jungle.
The “traditional warrior’s” attempt to claim that military brutality against civilians in Nigeria is non-existent is a weak and awkward defense that should not have been raised. The case of the disabled citizen in Onitsha apparently elicited some apologies because a video of it had gone viral on the internet and had attracted a deluge of denunciations. There are several videos on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet detailing how our soldiers subject HUMAN BEINGS to all forms of torture and degrading treatment. This cannot continue! Never! Not even Okanga can stop us from resisting military intimidation on our own soil.
Quite recently, precisely on February 20th, 2017, the same day that my own article was published on SaharaReporters, another writer Onyeka Nwelue, an Assistant Visiting Professor at the University of Manipur, also published how soldiers attacked and had him beaten in Abuja. He detailed this in a publication entitled: “Preying From Paris: Why Soldiers Attacked Me In Abuja!”
One of the professor’s eyes suffered a certain damage from the attack. Pictures of his battered face and medical receipt are uploaded online for the world to see. An extract from the article reads:
“I was punched in the eye, severally, by 3 soldiers. The assault didn’t happen in an army barrack, where we hear the army guys still hang on to the brutality that marked their decades rule over Nigeria, subjecting civilians within that zone to military edicts and frog-jumping anyone unfortunate enough to get on their bad side. The army boys who attacked me did so on Port Harcourt Crescent, off Gimbiya Street in Garki, Abuja, a civilian zone...”
It is therefore a red herring for Mr Okanga, a “traditional warrior”, to predicate that my outcry was projected by a certain loathsome feeling I nurse for the Army! How fallacious! How could I possibly nurse any hatred for the Army if they focused on their professional responsibilities, devoid of assault against the people they are trained and paid with taxpayers’ money to protect? The rationale for my publication is quite clear: that there is the urgent need for one who has committed no crime to walk freely anywhere in his country without the fear of being intimidated, harassed, threatened or beaten for any reason. Our march to democracy makes available procedures which must be observed conscientiously before denying anyone his right. In Law, this is called the principle of natural justice.
Should this brutality by the Army persists, we shall stage a nationwide protest, weightier than what was witnessed in January of 2012, this time against the Army. Mistakes are corrected by admitting their existence. This is the approach I had expected, not a lame denial by a “traditional warrior”.
I was reliably informed by a concerned friend in the Force who serves at Dodan Barracks that some Army officers had printed my article and that I was being looked for. He warned that I be very careful. I thanked him and asserted that I had not committed any crime known to the Nigerian law and that I would not be intimidated into a state of muteness for telling the world that armed soldiers threatened to kill me on the road. I must reiterate with emphasis that my right to life is sacrosanct and NOBODY is empowered to attempt to deprive me of same, not even the laughable rejoinder of a “traditional warrior”.
Section 33 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as amended), which stands tall amongst all laws in Nigeria provides as follows:
“EVERY PERSON has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offense of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.”
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights equally provides as follows:
“EVERYONE has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.”
As I round off, I insist that the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Yusuf Buratai MUST call his men to order now. The energy being projected while brutalizing innocent Nigerians should rather be used against Boko Haram who have caused us monumental damage and continue to do so, unabated. The assault against any person is a violent fundamental human rights infraction. It MUST stop!
I have said my mind; I can now have a sound sleep while awaiting military officials who hunt for me for the offense of narrating my ordeal in their hands.
Elias Ozikpu is a literary author and an activist. He was almost attacked by armed soldiers at Bonny Camp, Victoria Island, Lagos before eyewitnesses stepped in and resisted the attack.