It was a rush hour morning at what is presently called the Oshodi Interchange. I was coming in from Airport road on my way to the Mushin area of the city.
A military man hanging at the door of a molue decided to jump off the vehicle right into the front of my car. He slipped and fell. I struggled in the chaotic Oshodi traffic and luckily brought my car to a stop without crushing his head which I believed was filled with coconut water.
Then came the shock.
When the young chap staggered to his feet, he walked up to me and threatened to give me the beating of my life for attempting to kill him. I was so livid that my I started trembling.
“How dare you,” I screamed as I bolted out of my car. “You think you have the right to misbehave just because you are wearing a military uniform. You must be out of your mind.”
A few seconds later, we were eye ball to eye ball like two vexed roosters until the matter was settled by some civilians and uniformed people who came around.
As I drove off, I wondered what could have happened if I had gone into a fight with the officer. I had never fought with anyone in my life. Therefore, I had no way of knowing my combat readiness. In all likelihood, I could have been humiliated by the young man who was trained not just to fight but to kill.
That was years ago.
In recent time, incidents between military officers and civilians have escalated and are gradually getting out of hand.
A few months ago a military officer was “chatting up” a lady friend of a civilian in Badagry. When the civilian expressed his displeasure, an argument ensued. In anger, the officer pulled out a weapon and fatally shot the civilian. As if that was not enough, the military man began dragging the dead body on the ground like a trophy.
Outraged civilians were said to have gathered with the intent of not just killing the soldier but also burning down the near by barrack. It took the intervention of the Oba of Badagry and some top military officers to restore calm before the law was allowed to take its course.
Why you must not mess around with a military man.
At a recent symposium organised by Green Heroes Foundation, an NGO that attends to problems associated with military officers, the issue of soldiers and the threat to public peace were laid bare.
The facts were sobering. Soldiers deployed to war hardly come back as the same people they used to be. According to Lt Col S J Dibal, a psychologist, most of officers start with substance abuse(often used during combat or when they come back home), progress to depression and finally to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Soldiers who easily get upset whether at home or in public are somewhere on that plane. And they are a threat to peace in and out of service.
One barrack dweller told me of a soldier who was not getting his allowance due to BVN issue. It took months before he was allowed to leave his duty post in the North East to go and resolve the issue. Some how on the day he went to military administration office on the matter, a senior officer accosted him for not being properly dressed. To everyone’s surprise, the junior officer picked up his superior and threatened to tear him up like a rag.
According to Lt Col Dibal, when a junior officer behaves in such a manner, you must look beyond the person to find out what is inside of him.
Unfortunately, even before looking inside the offending officer must first be punished according to military law says a Military Psychiatrist, Brig Gen Gbenga Okulate (Rtd).
However, most distressed officers never get the treatment they deserve. At the Green Heroes Foundation symposium mentioned above, I saw a lot of young officers who had been discharged from the Army. I asked a senior officer how they could have been discharged while looking that young. He told me that it must have been as a result of one infraction or the other.
Back home, most of these young men have nothing productive to do. A good number of them may end up in crime. There could be a nexus between the spiraling banditry in the country and soldiers who may have been discharged without proper care.
In his newly released book, “Nigerian Air War in Sierra Leone,” Air Commodore Abayomi Balogun traced the history of bullying by Army Officers way back before the Nigerian Civil War when soldiers who returned from tour of duty in various parts of the world were not properly counseled before their release into the society.
After the Nigerian Civil War, more soldiers joined the group of officers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. According to Brig Gen Gbenga (rtd), even though a psychiatrist hospital was set up to take care of the discharged civil war veterans, many of them lived on with their trauma and became a danger to society.
Currently, officers returning from the battle with Boko Haram in the North East are exhibiting dangerous signs of PTSD. To cushion the effect, they are resorting to drugs and alcohol, which further worsens the situation.
Be wary of anyone in Uniform.
It is not just soldiers. Policemen are similarly traumatized. The same goes for men and women of the secret service, civil defence, in fact anyone in uniform. You can never tell their state of mind. Therefore, to be safe, don’t mess around with them.