The sad story of a female personnel of the Nigerian Air Force, Beauty Uzezi, who was gruesomely raped by her superior and dismissed from service, which prompted the ECOWAS Court to deliver $200,000 judgment against Nigerian government, and the ongoing cases of Ruth Ogunleye and Lance Corporal Philomena Nnamoko who were allegedly dehumanised and detained by senior officers of the Nigerian Army for refusing to succumb to their sexual advances, have exposed the ordeals of female soldiers in Nigeria, Ejiofor Alike reports
The Nigerian military authorities had received applause from several quarters in April 2019 when a special military court in Maiduguri, Borno State, dismissed Flight Lieutenant Martins Enwerem of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), for raping a 14-year-old internally displaced person (IDP), Zara Ali, while she and her friends were searching for firewood at the outskirts of Maiduguri on September 29, 2018.
In his ruling, the President of the court, Major General Yakubu Auta, found the officer guilty of “defiling, assault and disobedience of standing order.”
According to the Court Martial Judge Advocate, Aminu Mairuwa, the dismissed officer had ordered his soldiers to arrest Zara and her friends, accusing them of being suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers.
The judge said that during the body search of the teenage females, Enwerem “dragged the victim into the bush and inserted his hands in her vagina and eventually defiled and assaulted the victim.”
While Zara and her family were given justice by the military authorities, 19-year-old Beauty Igbobie Uzezi, aircraftwoman with the NAF, who was drugged and gruesomely raped by her superior, was denied justice by the military.
When Uzezi enlisted into the NAF on August 15, 2010 with Service No NAF10/25157F, she did not envisage that a randy officer, Flight Lieutenant B.S. Vibelko, who was her trainer, would inflict life-threatening pains on her and terminate her career.
She had alleged that on May 17, 2011 she was “sexually assaulted, brutally raped and de-flowered” by Vibelko at the NAF Base, Kaduna.
In her suit filed at the ECOWAS Court through her counsel, Marshal Abubakar of Femi Falana’s law firm, she stated that the officer overpowered her by hitting her head against the wall several times until she fainted while he had his way with her.
According to her, on October 19, 2015, one Squadron Leader Ejiga informed her orally that she had been dismissed from NAF after which she was bundled to the guardroom to serve 98 days imprisonment with hard labour.
She further alleged that she was on October 28, 2015 evicted from her official residence at the NAF base, Ikeja Lagos.
Delivering the lead judgment, the ECOWAS Court judge, Justice Dupe Atoki, said that “the brutal rape of the applicant is beastly, undeserving of a human being, and the failure of the Nigerian Air Force to investigate and punish its perpetrator is a show of impunity by the Air Force and the Nigerian authorities.”
She ordered NAF and the Nigerian authorities “to arrest, investigate and prosecute the perpetrator.”
The judge also ordered the Nigerian government to pay her $200,000 as compensation while her dismissal should be converted to voluntary retirement with full benefits.
Zara Ali and Beauty Uzezi were not the only victims of sexual predators in senior military officers’ uniform.
In January, another female personnel of the Nigerian Army named Ruth Ogunleye, also alleged that some officers, whom she identified as Col. IB Abdulkareem, Col. GS Ogor, and Brig. Gen. IB Solebo had made her life unbearable because she rejected their sexual advances.
She claimed that Col Abdulkareem administered injections on her against her will, forcibly removed her from her residence, and confined her to a psychiatric hospital for several months because she rejected his advances.
Despite her explanation on how she reported to her father and other senior officers, the military authorities, in their characteristic style of intimidating both junior ranks and civilians, claimed that she did not seek redress, according to the laid-down procedure.
As Nigerians await the result of the investigation promised by the Nigerian Army, the female soldier was moved to a rehabilitation facility in Abuja, where the Minister of Women Affairs, Mrs. Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, who visited her recently, said she was in high spirits.
But another female soldier, Lance Corporal Philomena Nnamoko was not as lucky as Ogunleye.
The soldier attached to Ilese Sappers Barracks, Division 2, Ogun State, who alleged that her senior colleagues had been bullying and harassing her on account of her refusal to give in to their sexual advances, was allegedly beaten and sent to the Yaba Psychiatric Hospital.
In an interview she granted a national daily on January 28, 2024, before her arrest, she claimed that she had written several letters, seeking a voluntary discharge from the army, but was not granted.
As if sending her to a psychiatric hospital was not enough, her only child, 23-year-old Emmanuel Brown, was reportedly arrested and detained for confirming to the media that her mother was beaten and bundled to a psychiatric hospital by the Nigerian Army.
Before his arrest, Brown had told a national newspaper that: “I got the information (about his mother’s torture) around 10 pm, and I rushed to the Medical Reception Station (MRS) inside the barracks. When I got there, she was unconscious. When she regained consciousness, she explained how they beat her up.
“On getting to the MRS this morning, I discovered that they had taken her to the Yaba Psychiatric Hospital. I was confused as to what happened to her to warrant her being taken to a psychiatric hospital.”
Philomena’s lawyer, Kayode Oshiyemi, also confirmed in a media report that his client was assaulted by a senior officer, alleging that the military authorities lied that she had a mental disorder to cover up for the assault.
Her twin brother, Philip Edwin, also insisted that her twin sister did not have mental issues.
Philomena’s experience was similar to that of Uzezi, who was also treated like a psychiatric patient by the authorities to cover up for the assault on her by the senior officer.
The question agitating the minds of many Nigerians is: Why did the Nigerian Army not carry Philomena’s family along in seeking for medical help for her if she actually had a mental disorder or attempted suicide as the Army claimed?
Uzezi, Ogunleye and Philomena’s cases have shown that senior military officers are treated as sacred cows when they commit atrocities against their junior colleagues.
Military officers should not hide under military laws and ethics of the profession to abuse female soldiers.
The First Lady, Senator Remi Tinubu; the Minister of Women Affairs, wives of governors and civil society and non-governmental organisations should prevail on military authorities to punish the senior officers involved in these despicable acts to save female soldiers from being sent to psychiatric hospitals and rehabilitation centres.
Military authorities should also issue code of conduct against sexual abuse and harassment of female soldiers by their superiors.