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Cadet Brutality: More than forty blows

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I scarcely could get over the nightmare. But, despite the severe personal agony caused by the shocking clip I was watching, I put on earphones, and endured the ordeal for extended moments, the better to hear the abuses and taunts that accompanied the excruciating blows inflicted on the unfortunate victim. 

He was swiped repeatedly over the head. He was utterly defenceless, as blows from nationals of his own country thudded into him again and again and again… 

It looked like a horrendous scene from Twelve Years A Slave, the 2013 award-winning film in which the Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor starred. But it was neither Washington nor Louisiana of 1841. It was also not a slave at the receiving end on the walloping. No. It was Nigeria in this day and age. And the victim was a citizen with inalienable rights guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.

From the savagery of the torture that he was subjected to, the impression could be created that he had committed infanticide. But, he hadn’t killed anybody. Still his torturers considered his crime to be unspeakable. What crime, really? Well, he had the temerity to compliment a cadet, not even a commissioned officer, on her beauty. Nothing more, nothing less. For this crime, he was subjected to bestiality.

I tried to count the blows inflicted on the young man as his entire body throbbed from sheer pain. There may have been 40 or more of those vicious blows rained on a man, who was forced to a kneeling position, and who stoked the anger of his adversaries any time a blow sent him reeling. “Bastard!” shrieked the female cadet on at least ten occasions. If she slapped the man with her left palm, the impact threw his face to the right and properly positioned it for a counter-slap from her right palm. She struck her victim with more viciousness than a Wimbledon champion hitting a tennis ball at prime serve.

I had to ask myself a question. No. I didn’t ask at this stage if all the battering was simply because a human being called another beautiful. I asked if the cadet was liable to bear children of her own someday. Further, I asked: Since Nigeria teems with worshippers of God, did this tyrannical fellow ever enter a church or a mosque? If so, was it to ask mercy of the Creator or was it to present herself as an embodiment of sanctity? Did she have any siblings, a mother, and a father?

The traumatized man fell almost prostrate from a particularly vicious slap. This incensed the woman. Up went her left foot and down came the boot – straight into the area of the man’s groin. “He is sitting down, feeling comfortable,” she complained. Removing her wristwatch, she handed it to a recruit, the better to inflict severer punishment. She faced down her victim, a soldier on either side of the man. The one of the right screamed. “You are telling Oga that she is beautiful!” 

It was a most serious offence, of course. Therefore, he readied his hand like he was going to slice something. The hand went up. And it came down violently in the form of a karate chop on the nape of the victim’s neck. The man was momentarily desensitized by the whack and fell forward, groaning like Jesus when he was clobbered with a barbed truncheon in The Passion of Christ, the epic 2004 film by Mel Gibson. 

With his face prone, the female cadet used both her palms to lift it up, in the fashion of a golfer properly placing the ball so the club could home in neat. Then she administered her own karate chop – again on the man’s nape. “Bastard!” With obviously blistered lips and a lacerated bridge of the nose, the blood oozed. She ordered the victim to shed his shirt and use it to wipe the bloody mess that had become his face. 

“You think your blood is useful?” asked the other soldier on the left. The man wiped the blood with tremulous hands, whimpering. “You are shouting!” The other soldier charged at the man in torment, lashing out with a left-hander to the cheek. 

After they had hit and beaten their victim to apparent satisfaction, the cadet seized the man by his collarless inner wear and dragged him like a goat next to another of their victims. Both were forced to lie supine, eyes wide open to the unrelenting fire of the day’s sun.

Through the gory three minutes of flagellation shown in the Sahara Reporters’ clip, the white of the cadet’s teeth shone as she grinned in sadistic satisfaction. Were the torturers aware that a blood clot from any of the blows could have ended the man’s life? 

Days after the video went viral, the following appeared: “The attention of The Nigerian Defence Academy has been drawn to a trending video showing Cadets beating some persons. Please note that NDA is investigating the incident. Preliminary investigation has confirmed the incident to have occurred in 2014 at Lagos while the Cadets were on break. NDA as a responsible institution saddled with the task of producing future military leaders will not in any way tolerate such unruly and flagrant mistreatment of Nigerians.”

Although commendable, this will not do. The NDA statement sounded like what had happened was an aberration. But the world saw Nigerians massacred because they celebrated. The world saw Nigerians massacred because the path of some gods was blocked. Now the world was seeing a citizen beaten to within an inch of his life for paying compliments! What does this say of any society if not its apocalyptic tendency?

The brutality with which uniformed people of all ranks go about dehumanizing Nigerians makes entirely regrettable the unfortunate fact that there are no human rights lawyers in the country, and no NGOs equipped enough with the wherewithal to attempt the striking of blows in the cause and course of justice for the wretched of the Nigerian earth.

But it should be obvious where the whole problem lies. While lodging at the Hotel Presidential, Enugu, nearly two decades ago, I decided one early morning to jog around the precincts of Ogui. But before exiting a side gate into Rangers Avenue, a column of recruits emerged which, to the tune of a striking song from the drill NCO, galloped down the road. I listened to their chants, which went something like this:

We are soldiers

Any obstacle on our way

We demolish it!

Any problem in our path

We destroy it!

Any enemy we accost

We finish him!

The objective of any army is said to be the destruction of the enemy. The challenge, therefore, lies with the TRADOC or Training and Doctrine establishments in the various arms of the Nigerian Armed Forces. It is their responsibility to impress it on their numbers that the enemy of the Nigerian military is not the country’s civilians. 

At the last word, it must be borne in mind that, in democracies, the military cannot be right to constitute a law unto itself; the military may not brutalize civilians without censure and sanction. Nigeria should be no different. The country may never be told what price the female cadet and her male assistants paid for the atrocious behavior. But it needs the assurance that the victim of the unrestrained malevolence was located and compensated – with due apologies. No military can be right in any democracy that treats those outside their group as sub-humans.

Chuks Iloegbunam


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