Murder of Soldiers and Policing

Magnus  Onyibe

In August 2023, a military Mi-171 helicopter on a rescue mission and conveying the soldiers that had been ambushed by suspected bandits along Zungeru-Tegina highway was shot down.

Although the military high command did not admit the narrative making the rounds that the aircraft was brought down by non state actors wreaking havoc on harpless Nigerians and brazenly daring the military, unfortunately the death toll on the path of the military was quite high at 23 during the ambush and perhaps more fatalities from the downed helicopter.

As an aftermath of the helicopter crash, Airforce spokesman, Edward Gabkwet stated that: “The aircraft had departed Zungeru primary school enroute for Kaduna but was later discovered to have crashed near Chukuba village in Shiroro local government area of Niger state. ”Before the dust raised by that dastardly act could settle, the blood cuddling killing of seventeen officers and men of the 181 amphibious battalion on a peace mission to Okuama community, Delta state occurred.

For the reason of ethics, I will not go into the gory details of the dastardly acts of the criminal elements that perpetrated the heinous crime, but suffice it to say, that the onslaught against the army by non state actors is worrisome and must be condemned by all men/women of goodwill.

The Minister of Defence, Alh. Mohamed Badaru Abubakar summed up the horrific incident thus:

 “The tragic incident underscores the immense sacrifices made by our servicemen and women in the defence of our nation,”

Now, my late father who passed away in 1970 while on active service was in the military.

He was in the medical corp after being trained during world war ll as a paramedic. Upon being decommissioned after the war, he was in-charge of one of the Dispensaries-government medical facilities- in the rural areas of midwest region of Nigeria in the 1960s.

When the 1967-70 war broke out, he was recommissioned into Nigerian army where he served until he passed away in December 1970.

The details above are provided to underscore the fact one has been and remains part of the military family.

Arising from the foregoing narrative anything that affects the military in any way, negative or positive affects me.

It is in light of the above and undercored by the love and respect that l have for our men/women in uniform, that l make bold to state that the killing of the military in Okuama is one too many.

As such, as a nation we must get to the root cause of the strange occurrence and not allow it to be swept under the carpet as were the cases in Odi, Bayelsa state in 1999 and Zaki-Biam, Benue state in 2001 hence the reoccurrence on the 14th of this month in Okuama, Delta state.

Back in the days, the military was rarely seen in public until its incursion into politics after the war. Why is it that

Since 1970, that the military has been co-mingling with civilians as leaders of government, the public, especially the nefarious non state actors that go by the name of bandits, have become so contemptuous of the military to the extent that they have become too daring and the military has become such an easy prey for them to launch attacks and get away unscathed.

Lately there has been a rise in brazen criminal acts against the military such as attacking military camps in crisis ridden locations to even daring to invade army barracks and taking a couple of them away as hostage for ransom in Kaduna, to the recent bizarre slaughtering that took place in Okuoma community.

Apparently, staging attacks against the military and reprisal actions against the communities of the perpetrators go back to the days of colonial rule as unearthed and documented in a recently published article titled: “118 Years After Satiru” by Dr Chidi Odinkalu, a former Nigerian human rights commission chairman, who is currently a teacher of law at Tufts university, Massachusetts, USA

He wrote:

“118 years after Satiru: Remarkably, the Okuama incident occurred in the month of the 118th anniversary of the extermination of Satiru… A dispassionate Board of Inquiry must get to the root of how these soldiers met their unconscionable fate, who was responsible, and how they were deployed on the mission that consumed their young lives. It is time to turn the page on this cycle of escalation, retribution and bloody reprisal that has prospered for 118 years since Satiru.”

Equally, Mr Lasisi Olagunju, a master story teller’s narrative about attacks on the military and the catastrophic consequences to host communities citing centuries old examples in the USA and Yoruba land are quite instructive.

He wrote in a piece recently published in the mass media titled: “Murder And Vengeance ln Okuama”

“All through military history, those whose hens break soldiers’ pot of medicine always suffer mass loss of eggs. You heard that young soldier who went online to vow a revenge of the killings? I heard him and felt a chill at the cadence in his carefully chosen words: “We take good things to good people, bad things to bad people. Since you don price, you must collect.” That does not sound like a hollow boast from a lone wolf. If you think it is, scroll back to August last year when bandits killed scores of soldiers in Niger State. The Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa, uttered these words in August 2023: “When you have to bury your own, you feel very pained. I call on all commanders and troops all over Nigeria that we must avenge this. Those who did this and those who continue to kill our men wherever they are, we will smoke them out.” The young soldier issued his promise of revenge in poetry; the CDS’s pledge of vengeance was in plain prose. Those who wreaked the latest havoc in Delta should have listened to Musa’s unleavened words of last year. If they had taken heed and followed the word and the law, there would not have been this hackneyed talk about another deathly journey to Odi and a deadly detour to Zaki-Biam”

True patriots who really want to see an end to the seeming denigration of the military and utter disrespect for the men/women who throw themselves in harm’s way so that we can be unhurt, by the outlaws ravaging our country must read Odinkalu’s treatise and Olagunju’s folkloric submissions and strive towards implementing the individual recommendations of the duo which go straight to the taproot of the crisis of viciously attacking and murdering of members of the military by outlaws and the consequences ,of which Odi, Zaki-biam and now Okuama communities are victims and symptoms of a system or military doctrine of becoming engaged in internal policing duties that has gone awry.

The proposition above is implicit in the fact that government at both the national and subnational levels, have come to a realization that the menace of the outlaws who are testing the might of our military can no longer be discountenanced. So they must be fished out and dealt with accordingly.

But there is always a collateral damage to the larger society as the agent provocateurs of the heinous crimes always literarily melt into the thin air with their host communities left with the burden of being decimated and thus becoming a grave yard for largely innocent souls who die prematurely for the sins they did not commit.

In light of the above, although Nigerians often stand tall behind the military in their moments of discomfiture such as the Okuama tragedy, it should be careful not to draw the ire of the public by the reprisal actions that it is alleged to have taken in Odi, Zaki-Biam and now Okuama.

The precarious position in which the military in Nigeria is currently caught up is analoguos to the situation with the Israeli Defense Force, IDF, which in counter attacking Hamas militants who invaded and killed 120 Israelis and took some of them hostage in November is currently being vilified by her closest allies, the USA and major European countries for going overboard in its destruction of Palestine and her estimated 2.2 million population with over 30,000, so far reportedly killed by the IDF.

Sadly, but fortuitously, the murder of our dear soldiers in Okuama via ambush is another justification for the military to yield internal security activities back to the police.

It is striking that the current leaders of government at the federal and state levels have after quibbling about the viability and sustainability of the decentralization of the police force, have agreed just last month on the need to restructure the police either as state or community police which is an issue that they had been disagreeing on since 1999,during the watch of president Olusegun Obasanjo who first mooted it.

The inconvenient truth is that military is actually trained to kill and not settle quarrels between feuding communities which is what it has been compelled to be doing owing to our perculiar circumstances of enthroning military rule in 1966 and the subsequent disempowerment of the police force.

The practice all over world is that when the military engages, it is to kill and maim. So it must have been finding it difficult to act in typical military fashion on the occasions that it has been attacked by surprise from unsuspecting quarters by armed militias.

Moreover, the exposure to circumstances during which the military can not truly act as valiantly and gallantly as it is trained to do, but only bare its fangs after her men/women have been killed in horrific manners, must stop because it is devaluing, diminishing and demoralizing the men/women in uniform in the eyes of the polity.

Clearly, it is when the police is unbundled and trained to be in tune with current dynamics of crime and its control in our society, that the military can go back to the barracks and attack only our external attackers which is the role constitutionally assigned to our armed forces.

In the USA from where we got the franchise for presidential system of democracy, most of the lawmakers are ex members of the military or former prosecutors.

That underscores the high respect that is accorded the military because of the criticality of the work that they do.

How come the opposite applies in our clime if something is not fundamentally wrong?

I have made the case via other media interventions that it is a failure to nip in the bud banditry in the hinterland that is the reason that the merchants of violent deaths of innocent citizens are now knocking on the doors of the seat of political power in Abuja. It is also my view that the military got involved in internal security because the police got overwhelmed, and that happened because over the years, the police has been underfunded and undertrained, by omission or commission.

A typical example lies in the fact that non state actors that have taken up arms against our country are better armed with more sophisticated weapons and appear to be even more strategic and tactical based on the level of success that they have recorded when they turn their guns against our military leveraging the element of surprise. How is it that they were able to shot down a helicopter detailed to recue the wounded and return the remains of the dead? Apart from the advantage of their sophisticated weaponry, is it not possible that the military deployed a helicopter to a theatre of war without air cover or reconnaissance?

As a commentator recently pointed out, the deployment of ordinary drones (same type that photographers use to cover social events) could have helped gather intelligence to prevent the danger that the helicopter downed in Niger state and the fallen soldiers in Okuama in Delta state ran into and resulted in their untimely death.

It would appear that having been doing internal security duties for too long, the military may be losing its basic instincts and its reflexes might have become blunted having become acclamatized with the suboptimal environment in which they have been operating as internal security guards instead of men/women of war and valour.

As the common aphorism goes: ‘the chicken has come home to roost for political leaders ’ hence the bi-partisan and united position that has been taken by president Bola Tinubu and governors across the political divide to take another look at the police as it is currently operated with a view to radically changing it to suit the current dynamics in our society.

Undoubtedly, the decision is driven by the incidents of increased bandits and marauders attacks nationwide that have been made more manifest by the recent kidnapping and killings in the suburbs of Abuja which is too close for comfort for those in the seat of power at the center.

In fact, it has become too foolhardy to continue to play politics with security, hence the sudden by-partisan interest in rijiging our country’s security system via deregulation of the police and with a view to restoring it to its traditional role of primarily in-charge of internal security.

Before now, the outlaws that are supposed to have been warded off or reined in have been ruling the roost in our forests because they have remained unchallenged in that space.

It is John Rohn, the American, entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker that once counseled:

“If the WHY is powerful, the HOW is easy.”

Obviously it had dawned on both the leadership and followership why it is time for a paradigm shift in policing, so given the creative capacity of man’s mind, how to do it should not be difficult.

Little wonder that my friend, Solid Minerals development minister, Dr Dele Alake has commenced the process of changing the dynamics of policing by the setting up of Mining Marshalls in collaboration with the Ministry of lnterior.

It was an elated Alake that unveiled the marshals last week in the following words:

 “Today’s event of unveiling and formally handing over the specially trained and selected civil defence structure to engage illegal miners and sanitise our mining environment was also part of what we conceived at the inter-ministerial committee chaired by me,”

Continuing Alake said:

“I am very happy to let the public know that from the outset we said, we are going to tackle insecurity in the mining sector and the first batch of the security apparati is what we are launching today.”

By and large, following the introduction of Mining Marshals to prevent the theft of our natural resources, the unbundling of policing services in Nigeria is somehow afoot.

As the conventional wisdom goes, the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.

Hopefully, the marshals would grow and become formidable enough to occupy our vast forests where the mines and other forest resources abound and flush out the bandits who have made our forests their lair.

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