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Gen Buratai Must Hear This: Beating of journalists, others by soldiers, By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu

By News Express on 17/03/2017

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Almost daily, Nigerian security operatives assault civilians across the federation in a show of shame, most times. Nigerians are used to such assaults and always shrink in self-pity, whenever it occurs.

That of Nigerian Police and sometimes Department of State Services (DSS) and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) may be understandable that they already carry bad image as a toga; but the case of Nigerian Army, with all its discipline and acclaimed better civil relations, could not be understood.

 Recently, it was the assaulting of a cripple by soldiers in Onitsha that awoke Nigerians, luckily the Nigerian Army reacted pro-people and rather received commendations instead of criticisms. The Director, Army Public Relations, Brig-Gen Sani Usman, spoke for the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai.

From Africa to Europe, North and South America to Asia through Antarctica as well as Australia/Oceanic – all through the continents - brutality by security operatives is a fact, but in most cases, the Army has not been known for pettiness, hence it is today worrisome. 

For example, the incident of March 3, 2017 in Aba, Abia State need not be swept under the carpet, as it would be used to strengthen the relationship between the media and the Army. On that day, some journalists and newspapers vendors were assaulted for nothing.

The eight-man probe panel for extra-judicial killing of IPOB, MASSOB members, and others set by the Army chief means nothing to journalists, if media people assaulted in Aba are not apologised to by the Army, and perpetrators punished. There is nothing like civil-military relations when journalists and vendors discharging their professional duties were hunted, disgraced and humiliated for no just cause.  The victims could have beaten them blue, but for their guns and uniform, bought with tax-payers’ money.

Amnesty International, Intersociety, Civil Liberties Organisation and other human rights and civil society groups have raised alarm, jointly and differently, about numerous abuses by security outfits, but most painful is that by the Army, an organisation so revered. I was shocked to watch some clips online and from some human rights groups on humiliation of civilians in the hands of soldiers of  Nigerian Army across Nigeria. Particularly revolting was the scene where pupils dressed in their school uniforms for the Children’s Day celebration were asked to roll over a canal. There are other humiliating cases such as young men beaten for asking a girl out, simply because an army officer had interest; and old men probably for one infraction or the other were asked to roll on muddy water and frog jump before his or her teenage children or family members, no matter their class. Besides, there are unnecessary traffic hold-up at check-points manned by soldiers.

Yours truly has personally experienced Army brutality: soldiers smashed my midget and camera for nothing. That is not all. For demanding the reason for their action, I was pummelled. I know other professional journalists who had similar and sometimes worse experiences. Let me not talk about extra-judicial executions, arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and disappearance of IPOB members. If these people were Boko Haram members, robbers or vampires, no same person would raise alarm.

Buratai as a fine officer should order for a thorough and impartial investigation into the unprovoked attack on journalists and newspaper vendors at Aba. This is important because the humiliation and disruption of business activities that eventful day was unnecessary, if the soldiers had any regard for the age-long army-media relationship. 

Recall that Buratai is regarded to be polished and civil in his approach to issues,  hence over 80 civil society organisations gave him “Millennium Hero Award”. Against this backdrop, his statement that those agitating for an independent state to “forget it”, as the Army would not condone any act that could lead to the disintegration of the country was off mark. His utterances were not in tandem with the award. He disappointed the expectation of freedom-loving members of the public with his speech. He should have known that MASSOB, IPOB or any other unarmed and peaceful group of Nigerians who are unhappy with their political and economic marginalisation has a constitutional right to protest. His headache should have been Boko Haram and other armed insurgent groups threatening the unity of the country with weapons of mass destruction, not those protesting with rag-tag regalia, asking for equity and justice. 

On that unforgettable March 3, soldiers of the ‘Forward Operation Base’ (FOB), stationed at Ngwa Road, Aba, assaulted the Aba Sales Representatives of ThisDay, Punch and Authoritynewspapers and arrested two newspaper vendors, including a 64-year-old woman, Jacima, over alleged sale of pro-Biafra news reports. Is that the duty of the Army? 

Journalists just report events as they unfold; they analyse the reports/events pre and pro while news agents and vendors assist the newspaper owners in distribution and sales of the printed newspapers to the reading public. Now, if one may ask: What was the offence of journalists or the vendors that warranted soldiers in two Hilux vans to storm the newspaper distribution centre at St Michael’s Road, Aba, in a commando-style operation and ordered vendors, including innocent people who came to buy newspapers and magazines, to sit on the floor and identify themselves.

ThisDay sales rep, Mr Simeon Obi, was bundled into a Hilux, while they assaulted the sales rep of Authority newspapers, Mrs Chinyere Ibe, who was giving newspapers to vendors when the soldiers arrived. Yet, she compelled to identify herself.

An infuriated soldier had said:  “You say you be authority, who gave you that authority. Who made you the authority of this town? If I hear you be authority again, I will deal with you.”And he dealt with her! What impudence, because he was armed and in uniform, even ignorant of the newspaper called Authority.

For the Punch, ThisDay and Authority sales reps, including the two vendors who were later taken to the Army base at Ngwa High School, Abayi, it was a tortuous and most embarrassing moment of their adult lives.

Although the Commanding Officer, 144 Battalion, Asa, near Aba, Lt-Col Ksssim Umar Sidi, denied that the suspects were assaulted, he admitted handing them over to the Department of State Service (DSS). But the newspaper sales reps and vendors were indeed assaulted.  

What impudence? If the Army does something and journalists refuse to report their side of the tale, how would they feel? Why then do they invite journalists to report their operations and community services?

The same way journalists are invited by MASSOB, IPOB, and even native doctors and what have you, to report them. So, why harass them for doing their professional assignment? Harmless reporting for that! But why not invite journalists and parley with them, appealing and explaining to the need for self-censor on certain stories, for national interest?

Should journalists and vendors stop their constitutional responsibilities to the society because of intimidation, harassment and bullying by the Nigerian Army?   In the light of the foregoing, is the Army chief now convinced that journalists and vendors were unnecessarily intimidated and deserve some apology? They are not the owners of the newspapers; neither are they owners of the printing presses. There are addresses at the folios.

I believe that Lt-Gen Buratai must be fed with the accurate details of what transpired that fateful day. His official reaction and action towards a sincere resolution of the ugly incident would, to a large extent, determine the cordiality of future army-civilian relations, especially journalists and media houses.

Odogwu, South-east-based publisher/editor can be reached on 08060750240;e-mail odogwuchampionawka@yahoo.co.uk

Source News Express

Posted 17/03/2017 4:15:37 PM

 

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