The military of any nation is a beacon of hope and pride at any point in time. Their duty is to protect the territorial integrity of the nation, maintain peaceful co-existence and protect the citizens in all ramifications. The issue of human rights abuses and brutality by some overzealous military men should be condemned by all and sundry. There have been several incidents of military men openly assaulting citizens with impunity and this act is totally uncalled for and should be condemned by well meaning Nigerians.
A tragic case in point will illustrate this issue. In 2005, a certain trigger-happy and overzealous naval officer, Mr Felix Olanrewaju Odunlami was driving along the Allen roundabout in Ikeja, Lagos when a commercial motorcyclist popularly known as okada, Peter Edeh accidentally hit the naval officer’s car from behind with his motorcycle and upon the realization of his offence, he knelt down and begged the naval officer for forgiveness but the officer refused to be appeased. Instead, in anger, he reached out for his gun in his car, asked Peter to open his mouth and he shot him directly in his mouth resulting in his instant death. He killed him just because he mistakenly hit the naval officer’s car with his motorcycle. What justification can there ever be for this type of brutality, excessive anger and man’s inhumanity to man? Has a car now become more precious than human life? If the car is damaged, can’t another one be bought? Can human life be bought in the market? Why waste a precious soul you cannot create just because you want to protect a car?
This case was greeted with wide condemnation then and I can remember vividly that I was personally appalled by the news of the incident and totally disappointed at the conduct of the naval officer. After investigations, he was arraigned on January 27, 2006 before a General Court Martial on a three-count charge of manslaughter, loss of service item and conduct prejudicial to service discipline. He was subsequently found guilty and convicted of all the offences and was dismissed from the Nigerian Navy and sentenced to life imprisonment. But he appealed the judgment and the case had dragged on for long in court. The matter later went to the Supreme Court and at this juncture we must commend the Nigerian judiciary for a job well done on this matter. The Supreme Court in a lead judgment by Justice Rhodes-Vivour on Friday June 7, 2013 finally affirmed his dismissal from the Nigerian Navy and sentenced to life imprisonment as earlier decided by both the General Court Martial and the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal. This eventually ended the 8-year legal battle.
This case illustrates that there is still hope for the common man in the society no matter how the rich, powerful and influential people may try to suppress or delay the course of justice. Justice has not only been done but is seen to have been done on this matter and I believe that wherever Peter Edeh is now, he will be happy in death! His family has been appeased now that at last justice has been done although we painfully know that this cannot bring the deceased back to life. This is justice for the society despite the 8-year delay. The Nigerian judiciary should be commended for a wonderful job. In the dark days of the military, this case might never see the light of the day but we thank God for the advent of democracy which has enabled more recognition for people’s rights, freedom of speech and the entrenchment of constitutional government. Although we still have a long way to go in Nigeria with respect to civility and according respect to people’s rights by our security agencies.
The military, police and other security agencies should realize that we are no longer in the military era where all sorts of atrocities were committed with flagrant impunity by security men and they went scot free. This time around, it is no more business as usual and security agencies and the military should realize this and treat people with civility because it is their duty to protect the citizens and not to maim them. A situation where security agents brutalize Nigerians at the slightest provocation can no longer be tolerated by the people. Any security agent who violates people’s rights should realize he will definitely be brought to justice no matter how long it takes. Nobody has a right to unduly provoke security men but it is the duty of these military and paramilitary agencies to relate with civilians with a measure of decorum and civility as obtainable in civilized societies. The issue of uncontrolled and excessive anger by security men over minor and insignificant issues of disagreement with civilians is totally uncalled for and should be highly discouraged.
In Nigeria, we have lost count of the number of hapless civilians who have been maimed, brutalized or killed by the police especially and other security agents over very minor issues that can be ignored if they properly controlled their anger at that particular point in time. It is really disheartening that Nigeria who claims to be the giant of Africa is plagued by so much human rights abuses and brutality of its citizens by our own security forces who are paid with taxpayer’s money to protect the citizens. It is an irony for example that the Nigerian police which is supposed to be the people’s friend is regarded by many Nigerians with contempt and disdain due to the flagrant abuses the people are subjected to in the hands of the police. I personally think that there has to be a lot of training and retraining of our security men to align their mentality to modern, civil and democratic norms and standards. There is the need for continuous orientation for these men for the good of all.
As for the police, we need serious reforms of the force to bring it in line with modern realities of policing. Why would the image of the Nigerian police be so battered that people now see police men as synonymous with corruption and impunity? We need to urgently check the quality of men being recruited into the police and this should be a major step towards sanitizing the force. We can start by making the minimum entry qualification into the police force to be the Ordinary National Diploma (OND) or its equivalent. This will go a long way to ensure that people who are schooled to an extent are recruited into the police force and not just a school certificate as minimum entry qualification.
The justice system in Nigeria may be slow but that does not mean the security operatives should latch on that to perpetrate heinous crimes against harmless civilians as has been the case in several instances. Several innocent lives like that of Peter Edeh have been wasted for too long in this country and the people should henceforth refuse to be unjustly brutalized in any way by security men. It is certain that if security men know that they will be punished any time they brutalize citizens, they would think twice before venturing into such ignoble act. The culture of impunity must stop in Nigeria and any security agent found culpable in this regard should be punished without any reservations whatsoever to serve as deterrent to others. The likes of Felix Olanrewaju Odunlami rightly belong to the gaol where he is; they do not qualify to mingle with sane people because they have by their attitude exhibited the highest unpardonable crime against humanity. May the soul of Peter Edeh, a poor okada man who was only trying to eke a living with his okada business, rest in peace. Amen.