“Unknown Soldier – na ‘im do am”
by: Deji Yesufu
Three individuals were the primary planners of the Janaury 15th, 1966 coup. They were Kaduna Nzeogwu, Ifeanyi Ifeajuna and Adewale Ademoyega. Of these three only one survived the upheaveals that the military coup plunged Nigeria into and that person was Ademoyega. Besides a lot of conjectures, no one could tell what were the driving forces in the minds of these young men that led them to do what they did in those days but since Ademoyega survived, he documented his thoughts in his provocative book “Why We Struck” – published in 1981. According to Ademoyega, a lot of things triggered the 1966 coup but the final straw that broke the carmel’s back were the incidence around the Tiv riots of 1964.
After the British left Nigeria, crisis broke out in Tiv land when the natives refused the political dominance of the ruling National People’s Congress (NPC). The Tiv people sought separation from the overbearing political presence of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, on them. They will eventually get their freedom with the creation of the Plateau-Benue axis in 1976. But initially, the Tiv resented the Sarduana because Tiv land was never conquered by the Fulani and now they saw themselves under the dominance of the North in the abscence of the British. With time riots broke out all over Tiv land. The police were unable to curb the violence and so the military was employed. Adewale Ademoyega was one of the officers sent to Tiv land to help restore sanity. While under the orders of his masters the government, he also understood the argument of the Tiv people – who were seeking independence from the North. At the same time Ademoyega was never comfortable with the extreme force that was employed to squash the riots. For Ademoyega, it was this singular event that convinced him that the rule of the NPC should be ended. Ademoyega, in 1964, was an unknown soldier whose actions in latter years will soon become well known all around the world.
It is no longer news that the report of a panel set up by the Lagos State government to investigate the shooting of young Nigerians on October, 20, 2020, has now been made public. I understand that the report was leaked to the public the very day a copy was handed over to the Lagos State government. We are being told that reports like that should never have made it to the public. What should have happened was that Lagos State should have considered the findings of this report and then they will issue a “white paper”, which will be the official government position on the matter. Unfortunately, the report is in the open and a government white paper is almost unnecessary now because the matter is already in the court of public opinion. Whoever leaked that report must have suspected that, like many other governmental reviews of issues in our national life, government has a way of making nonsense of reports by committees and panels they themselves constitute. Most recommendations made by such committees are pushed under the cabinet and filed away forever. These people must have reasoned that if the report is in the public, government will have no other choice than to take seriously the matter of implementing the recommendations made by the panel.
Government has every reason to be concerned about the report on the killings at Lekki Toll Gate last year because the report gave some damning verdicts on the government, the police and the army. The report states in part: “…at the Lekki Toll Gate, officers of the Nigerian Army shot, injured and killed unarmed helpless and defenseless protesters, without provocation or justification, while they were waving the Nigerian flag and singing the National Anthem and the manner of assault and killing could, in context, be described as a massacre…” The report went on to say that at least 11 persons were killed, 37 persons sustained varying degrees of injury; while another 96 dead bodies were found all around mortuaries in Lagos State with considerable numbers of these bodies coming from the incident at the Lekki Toll Gate.
Since the unofficial publishing of this report, government at both state and federal levels have remained mute. It is clear to everyone that a case of injustice has occurred in the country’s national life and where justice is not seen to be clearly carried out in a body polity, you leave the people with the possibility of taking the laws into their hands. A country’s democracy itself is put in jeopardy when a people are continually denied justice. They reach a point when they take matters into their hands and those who are most prone to do this are young military officers who are armed with weopon and who realize that if they are lucky enough, they can steal into government, kill those who are in power and take over power. This is what has leads to coups in African countries – the most recent being the forceful take over of power in Sudan. The soldier who was relatively unknown, comes to political prominence via the barrel of the gun because those who were entrusted with political power used it in an irresponsible manner.
Nothing short of justice will pacify the cries all around the country over the killing of those young Nigerians in Lekki, Lagos. The panel has recommended the dismissal of Maj. Gen. Godwin Umelo and Lt. Col. S. O. Bello, who refused to honor the invitation of the panel, and whose names where mentioned numerously as being the officers in charge of the soldiers that shot at the protesters. All officers and soldiers involved in the Lekki incident have also been recommended for dismissal.
Maj. Gen. Omata was said to be excluded from these officers because although he was on ground that night, he it was that ensured that many more protesters were not killed. The moment he got wind of the information that soldiers were shooting at protesters, he drove to the Toll Gate and ordered those men to stop the shooting. It was after the soldiers had gone, that policemen from the Maroko Police station came and began another round of shooting. The panel recommended the dismissal of these policemen also. It should however be noted here that while the report recommended the prosecution of the police officers, they said nothing about prosecuting the soldiers. I would add that if justice will be seen to be done, all the soldiers involved should also be prosecuted for these dastard acts.
In 1977 Nigeria hosted the Festival of Black Arts and Culture (FESTAC). A number of people criticized the Nigerian government for wasting public funds on it. One other critic, Fela Anikulapo-kuti, was a little more virulent than others. In reaction to this, soldiers were deployed to the Kalakuta Republic home of the late Afrobeat crooner. He and members of his family were brutalized and subsequently arrested and detained. Fela’s mother, Funmilayo Ransome-kuti, a major influence in Nigeria obtaining her independence from the British, was beaten and thrown out of the window of a high rising house in Fela’s compound. She was hospitalized but subsequently died from the injuries she sustained in that fall. Mrs. Ransome-kuti was effectively killed by faceless soldiers in the Nigerian army. In response, Fela waxed his immmortal “Unknown Soldier” track to shed light on the injustice that was meted on his family: “Uknown soldier… na ‘im do am…” he sang.
One will never know when the Nigerian government will realize that might is not right in the civilized world. Not everything must be crushed by the force of arms. The very situation that we have today, with the bludgeoning terrorist activities of Boko Haram, was exacerbated by the extra-judicial killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of the sect. It is very possible that if Yusuf was brought to justice through the law, his followers will not have needed to take up arms against the state. Similarly, the very situation the country is witnessing in South-East Nigeria has reached this point because government continues to use force to quell the demands of members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Now these guys have taken up arms against government and plunging another region of the country into violence.
My argument in this essay is simply this: the unknown soldier in the Nigerian polity is an individual with a mind and with emotions. When they are used by the state to crush both lawful and unlawful dissent in society, the Nigerian state is further equipping them for a similar situation when these soldiers could take up arms against the government itself. The solution is for government to realize that force should never be the first response to dissent in society; rather, it should be the last. And if government will pursue viable options at curbing dissent in society, we might never ever need to employ force – talk less of having a detachment of armed faceless soldiers opening fire on defenseless citizens of the country.
The unknown soldiers who killed countless number of youths at the Lekki Toll Gate last year must be found out and punished this time around. The ball is in the court of the Nigerian government right now.