On Saturday, 29th day of April, 2017. Omolola Oladipo shared her legal story which borders on military oppression with me. Omolola is a fresh graduate of the University of Ibadan and works with a popular media house in Osun state. She wrote:
Hello Joseph, I have a case here to share with your readers and to ask legal minds the way forward. I took a bike yesterday and during the journey there was this private car that kept on blocking our movement. The bike man noticed the driver and his passengers were busy talking whereas delaying our movement. We got to a junction the bike man got fed up and asked them, “which way are you going to?”
The next thing was a drama, 2 guys came out of the car brought out wires and started beating the bike man, he lost stability, the bike fell and I fell as well. Despise the fact that my leg was bleeding these people continued beating the bike man.
Eventually, street people intervened and helped the guy out.
These guys later came to me, introduced themselves as soldiers and asked me to forgive them that their target was the bike man. I explained to them that he only asked which way they are going to and the man replied, “who is the bloody civilian to ask where I am going to?”
At this point I started questioning my self, what powers do soldiers have? Are they above the law? Do they have right to beat up civilians anyhow?
Have heard several cases of soldiers shooting commercial drivers or people just because they are angry. Yesterday I experienced one and I’m yet to get over it.
Sorry about the unwholesome incident. I sincerely empathize with you. Please, ensure you take good care of yourself.
Now to the question on whether the military men have a right to engage in such unscrupulous acts against a civilian. Generally, the function of the Nigerian Army is to defend the territory and frontiers of Nigeria; they are meant to “wage war” in the defence of the country. Unfortunately, the issue of military men victimizing the common man has been a convention and consequently, it is gradually being viewed as a normal act. It is not normal! Most of their acts in this respect amounts to a violation of the fundamental human rights of innocent Nigerian citizens.
The incident of some Nigerian soldiers beating up an innocent motorcyclist which they regard as “a bloody civilian” may not be new to many. In fact, some might have seen or experience worse cases than that. However, among other things, it amounts a violation of the victims right to dignity of human persons. Section 34 of the Constitution provides that Every person is entitled to the dignity his/her person and no one shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Therefore, flogging or beating of any person by another for any reason is unconstitutional and any form of torture by any means is unlawful except of course it is according to law e.g. the punishment for a criminal offence.
Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji, the Late mother of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who was then the Iyaloja of Lagos once took up a similar case against the Nigerian Custom Service. The plaintiffs who were market women, instituted an action for the enforcement of their fundamental rights against the respondents. The grievance of the plaintiffs was that their shops were raided and their goods were seized by Customs Officers assisted by policemen without due process. In the process, they used horse whips and tear gas on some of the market women. The allegation of the Customs Officers that the raid was born out of the suspicion that the goods contained in the shops were contrabands did not deter the court from finding for the plaintiffs that the said raid was in violation of the plaintiff’s rights to privacy and dignity of human persons.
The question is this; how many civilians are ready to prosecute such cases against the military men? Apart from the view of many that it is a waste of time, the average Nigerian man will rather use his money to feed himself rather than to claim any right. I won’t blame them because we all know what the economy is saying nowadays. However, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) seems to have come to the people’s rescue when we talk of military oppression in Nigeria. Just pick the Name and Force Number of such Officer and report. The Commission encourages victims of torture to promptly report such incidents to the appropriate quarters and, if it is possible, a hospital treatment on record should be obtained as well as photograph of the evidence of torture. The reason for this is not far-fetched. Establishing torture or degrading treatment once the wounds inflicted have healed is not an easy task. There are also some NGOs that helps such victims to get justice.
Depending on the availability of resources, a civil suit can also be instituted against such a ‘victimizer’ in an action for battery, assault and false imprisonment, as the case may be. This is to enable the victim claim damages amounting, in most cases, to millions upon the success of the case. Just this month of April, 2017, A Federal High Court in Lagos declare void the power of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to impose fines on motorists for traffic offences and awarded damages of 1 million naira to the Claimant, Mr. Tope Alabi for the unlawful confiscation of his car.
At this point, it is pertinent to say that some civilians encourage the brutal acts of such military men. This is one of the reasons why Nigeria has generally become a ground for oppression and impunity by uniformed men. It’s so unreasonable to the extent that even a security man in uniform at a supermarket threatens customers. I once met a landlord who planned to use soldiers to forcefully evict his unyielding tenant and I began wonder when the man’s house became Sambisa forest. This is not their responsibility; they are to defend the territories and frontiers of Nigeria, I repeat! You may be a victim tomorrow.
Note also that that the Military man of today was once a civilian. If they have the wrong orientation before entering the Nigerian Armed Forces, it may be difficult for them to change such thereafter. Nigerians need to be enlightened on issues like this and you as a media personnel alongside your colleagues also have a prominent role to play in this. With the help of the Press, information on such ill-treatments can get to the appropriate quarters and the involved soldier(s) can receive the heavy knock of the Law after being appropriately tried in the Court Martial.
Injustice to one is injustice to all! As Marthin Luther King Jnr said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
THE LEGAL DIARY
Joseph Jagunmolu Ogunmodede