When you hear of military action consisting of intense machine-gun fire backed by air support of helicopter gunships all aimed at communities, the sensible guess is that the incidents described are from wars between hostile countries and the targets are military camps. But Nigeria is where sensible guesses find themselves almost perennially wrong.
The scenario described didn’t happen in a war. It was what transpired in Konshisha LGA, Benue State and the targets were largely innocent Benue indigenes being shot at and strafed by their own national army in what was a policing action. Yes, Policing.
Apparently, there had been an armed attack on a military convoy and the Nigerian Army confirmed that its actions in some communities in Benue State were in response to the armed robbery attacks that led to the death of 11 soldiers attached to Operation WhirlStroke in the Konshisha Local Government Area.
Common sense says that it is unlikely that armed robbers share details of operations with entire LGAs and the Benue State itself has been dealing with attacks from Fulani herdsmen and terrorists for years so it’s quite bizarre to see the Nigerian Army decide to lead with extremely prejudicial military action on peaceful Nigerian communities instead of conducting investigations and letting the right legal channels handle the allocation of guilt and punishment.
There is a weird ruthlessness that comes on the Nigerian Army whenever they are in the South and Middle-Belt that one almost struggles to understand but that struggle would be insincere because the truth is that there’s obviously an ethnic undertone to the entire thing.
The affected areas are in the Northeast of Benue State and the Senator representing the senatorial District, Gabriel Suswam, has criticized the Nigerian Army for treating unarmed Tiv communities like hostile enemy armies that they aren’t. The senator said that attacks like this only served to legitimise the belief in the existence of an agenda to “terrorise, destabilise and depopulate the affected Tiv communities.”
The Nigerian Army is unique among other armies in the world in that it seems to have been structured to focus on internal matters rather than external security issues. Boko Haram is the closest it has ever been to having to actually defend Nigeria from aggression and the results gotten there leave a lot to be desired.
The Nigerian Army holds the Nigerian People in contempt and doesn’t value their lives and this has come from having military rulers who have used the Army to oppress the people. This has given the Army a certain culture that is doing Nigeria no good and it will never be different as long as ex-military personnel are allowed to hold executive power in government.
This attitude didn’t start with the Buhari Administration. The Odi massacre happened under President Olusegun Obasanjo and the unhelpful inclination to violence has given Nigeria an unhelpful culture of violence that is tearing us apart and stopping us from learning to negotiate properly as individuals and communities.
The change has to begin with Nigerians committing to a demilitarisation of the society and government. This would require that we decide to stop voting for people with military experience and place a deliberate focus on improving our capacity for nonviolent interaction.
Nigeria will make no real progress if it doesn’t consciously cleanse itself of the impact of military rule.
Africa and other parts of what is known as the 3rd World are characterised by features like low per capita income, inequitable distribution of wealth and income, lack of political rights and civil liberties, and low human development index. These traits are attributed to several factors but sometimes one gets the impression that the root cause is a cultural disregard for life. Africa and Nigeria simply do not place any kind of premium on the life and dignity of the average human and until that is addressed, there will be no real progress.