Soldiers in Lagos, last Friday, went on rampage at the end of which five BRT buses were burnt and two others vandalised. The drivers of those buses were also at the receiving end of severe beatings by the men in uniform who were apparently out to reassert their superiority over their civilian compatriots. Their action has again shown their unwillingness to fully integrate into democratic culture where rights of all individuals are equal under the law and where anyone who feels aggrieved is expected to seek redress at the courts.
Reports said the soldiers went berserk because their colleague who rode his motorcycle on the BRT lane died after being knocked down by one of the buses. In apparent anger, the soldiers decided to take matters into their hands by setting buses on fire and beating up whoever was in sight. To make matters more disgraceful, it was also reported that at least two high ranking military officers were at the scene but did nothing to prevent the soldiers from the wanton destruction of public property.
While reacting to the wilful breach of the law by none other than the security forces themselves, the Lagos state Governor, Babatunde Fashola, said: “But it is really disappointing that public servants, and that is what soldiers are, paid with tax payer’s money, will act in a manner that is being suggested; I am waiting for an official report to let me know who played what role and what happened and whether the brigade commander has been able to identify the people who committed the offence”.
Bizarrely, however, the military authorities put up what can best be described as a barefaced lie when Army spokesman, Olajide Olaleye, told journalists that “It’s not true that the soldiers destroyed buses or set any bus on fire. What happened was that a BRT bus knocked down a soldier and killed him. As usual in Lagos, area boys gathered and a few soldiers stopped at the scene as well. The GOC has dispatched military policemen to the scene to help restore law and order”.
We are scandalised that rather than apologise for their disgraceful behaviour and ensure that those who took the law into their hands are fished out and made to face the law, the army attempted to cover up the crime by assaulting the sensibilities of Nigerians. If Olaleye did not receive accurate briefing on what happened, Nigerians did from the many witnesses to the dastardly act and with photographs clearly showing men in uniform having a field day. If anything, why would area boys suddenly begin to destroy and set buses on fire when it was not one of them that was involved in the incident?
This is not the first time that soldiers have behaved in such a manner unbecoming of them. As Governor Fashola reminded us, they stormed a police barrack back in 2006 and set the place ablaze, again after an incident involving one of their men. There have been various reports by local and international rights organisations about the brutality and indiscriminate killing of civilians by the military, particularly since the war on insurgency began.
We are dismayed that the military authorities and indeed the Presidency have done little to prevent this kind of impunity being meted out on fellow citizens by the security forces that are supposed to protect us all. We demand that the President wade into this matter urgently and ensure that those responsible are severely punished. We believe that such behaviour is partly as a result of the rudderless leadership we have in the country where everyone seems to do as they please without any thought of the consequence for their action. President Jonathan must begin to demonstrate, in both words and deeds, that no one is above the law.