I was born in Zaria, Kaduna State over 30 years ago and have lived virtually all my life in the historic town of the Warrior Queen, therefore, when I write about your average Nigerian soldier or the Shi’ite sect for instance, I do so not from hearsay or second-hand information narrative, but from an eye witness perspective.
To the ‘uninitiated’, Zaria is where you come if you want to be trained as a soldier or better put, recruit. The Nigerian Army Depot is the foundation, the starting point, for all recruits into the army, where they are molded to become defenders of Nigeria’s territorial integrity against both internal and external aggression.
It is also the town you visit or better put again, trek long distances annually as a Nigerian if you are a Shi’ite Muslim as Zaria is home to the now demolished Husainiyya Baqiyyatullah, the spiritual headquarters of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria.
Zaria is also where you come if you cherish quality education and need a long list of options of higher institutions to choose from ranging from the foremost premier University, A.B.U (of which I’m a proud Alumni) to the F.C.E and not forgetting the prestigious Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), among others.
Yes, Zaria is a melting pot of sorts for Nigerians from all walks of life and foreigners alike due to its unique advantage as a historical and educational town. But that is not the focus of this epistle, so to say.
Since the unfortunate incident on Saturday, December 12, 2015 I have battled within me, with thoughts on whether to weigh in on the clash between soldiers and members of the IMN led by Sheik Ibraheem El-Zakzaky or just maintain a neutral stance since matters of religion in this part of our world can be so easily misinterpreted and a very touchy subject altogether. But of course, in my private discussions and in couple of tweets, I have bared some of my thoughts on the unforgettable episode.
Having said that, I like to apologise before-hand if the views I’ll express hereafter do not align with yours as I believe we cannot reason along the same line. Nonetheless, my views are mine, they are what I know or think I know, yet, I’m permitted to hold and even express them.
As a young boy growing up, I’ve always had this dreadful fear of the men in khaki and till date, I still do. I have been lucky not to ever have had any bitter personal experience with them but I have seen, heard from first-hand victims and been in environments where the bad side of the average Nigerian soldier will leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
My first not-so-encounter was many years ago, can’t remember precisely but I was still in secondary school and was traveling from Abuja to Zaria for the holidays when somewhere around the toll-gate (memory is fuzzy now) our vehicle, a public transport bus, was stopped by some soldiers on check point duty.
Apparently, the driver didn’t step on the brakes as quickly as the soldiers stopped him and when he eventually did, I’ll never forget, I was seated in front in the middle seat between the driver and my dad when this soldier walked up menacingly to the driver’s side with gun cocked, not minding there was a little boy watching, terrified, pointed it at the driver and said, “if I shoot you now, you know say nothing go happen?”
He then ordered the driver to switch-off the car engine and get down but as the passengers, including my dad pleaded for mercy for the terrified driver, the soldier to our relief, let him off with a stern warning to always obey whenever he is commanded, especially at a check point. Mind you, there was no fear or threat of Boko Haram at the time.
My friend, more like a brother, if he’s reading this, knows this is true as the next incident I’m about to narrate, happened to him.
He was just coming from Barewa College where he’d gone to drop off someone for the CBT organized by JAMB last year and somewhere around MTD junction en route Samaru (only those familiar with Zaria will know these areas), his vehicle, for no fault of his, suddenly broke down in the middle of the road.
Unbeknownst to him, a convoy of the Commandant of the NASMIP (Nigerian Army School of Military Police) was coming behind him and just as he managed to safely bring the vehicle to a stop at the side of the road, some of the soldiers in the convoy came down not to help, but to give him the beating and punishment of his life. Why? Simply because his car broke down at the wrong place and time.
Now, he didn’t say or I don’t remember if he said the commandant was in the vehicle or not, but for the first time in a long time, I saw a matured man, who is a father today and will comfortably pay the salary of most of the soldiers that treated him cruelly, cry uncontrollably for what he considered an injustice and rightly so! Since that incident, my friend developed a short-term phobia for driving cars – and to think this is someone who once was a car dealer! (Oops! I might’ve inadvertently revealed his identity).
Again in 2015, I attended the P.O.P of a Regular Recruit Intake (RRI) and to my consternation and that of a good friend, who accompanied me and his ‘boss’, who traveled down from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and had to hurriedly cancel a meeting in Minna, Niger State, just to be at the epoch making event, made reference to policemen and NSCDC personnel as “bloody civilians”. His was not an isolated case as several other commissioned recruits, who he asked to prove his point, affirmed that anyone not wearing the khaki or camouflage of the Nigerian Army, is a bloody civilian.
If you reside in the northern parts of Nigeria during the height of Boko Haram insurgency and when military check points were in vogue, you would agree that as much as they served their purposes, many innocent civilians were subjected to various forms of dehumanization many of which I can’t start recounting because it will take up all the space.
Now, this narrative is not to demonize the entire Nigerian Army as there are still good, humane, godly and disciplined soldiers out there, many of whom their selfless service of sacrifice and patriotism, go unnoticed.
That’s the first part.
Now, to the second part. Growing up in Zaria – and many non-indigenes, who have lived there will attest to this – I was brought up with a mindset to always be in my house every Friday before 1pm or better yet, find a safe place, if I can’t make it home, until after the Juma’at prayers.
The concluding part would be published tomorrow…
Ayodele Daniel is on Twitter @ayoadaniel