By Prince Madojemu
In 1991, while we were at our penultimate year in secondary school somewhere in Asia state, some of us as school prefects were plucked off from our homes by soldiers and we were punished severely by the soldiers for the offence of daring to fight a soldier. I think I have mentioned it here in the past but for clarity, I will repeat the story albeit briefly.
We (school prefects) were instructed by the school Principal not to use canes as corrective measures for the juniors in the school and in fact that we should refrain from giving any form of corporal punishment to any of the students. The students became unruly and disrespectful to every senior student because of the principal’s directives. We decided to down tools as Prefects. As a result, we were all suspended and a soldier man called in by the Principal to “march” us out of the school premises.
We were marched out of the school premises by the soldier and we obeyed. But after getting us out of the school compound, the soldier insisted that he has performed the duties of the Principal, that it is his turn to mete out on us whatever punishment he seems fit. We resisted him and it turned into a bloody fight between him and the then Senior Prefect (Now a Medical Doctor). The soldier man was beaten to a pulp by the brave and courageous senior Prefect without our help. (I repeat, without our help).
The soldier man, ran back to the barracks with his tail between his legs — shamelessly — and lied that he was mobbed by all of us. In little or no time, a battalion of soldiers were mobilised by the Commanding Officer of the regiment to fish us out. Some of us unlucky ones were caught.
We were treated worse than the photograph attached to this piece of write up. We were stripped naked, flogged on our bare backs with “koboko” (horse whip), asked to crawl on gravel for over 2 kilometers on our knees, crawl with our bellies in mud water while being flogged every now and then. It was the worse treatment anyone can receive.
What was our crime?
We dared to stand up for our rights against human right abuse by the soldier asked to walk us out of the school gate. This incident happened during the military interregnum on our democracy. The constitution was suspended for decrees. MILADS were appointed in all the states. Human Rights abuse was at its peak in the country. Judges were forced to do the bidding of the military. Let me not fail to point it out that some of us were wards of soldiers. Some were children of civilians. We were tortured in degrading and inhumane conditions. We suffered from sever psychological pains as a result of this torture.
We were all locked up in the “guard room”: a detention center for soldiers and other military delinquents. The next day, in our birth suit, we were paraded before other students like armed robbers caught. The entire school — including the Principal who invited the soldier — were all crying. They cried when they saw our bodies, cuts and gashes dug by koboko and gun butts. To the military, we were villains. To the onlookers, we were victims of corporal punishment gone too far. But to us, we were heroes: men of Spartan courage. Men that can stand up for their rights. From that day, we became unbowed to both men and spirits!
The crux of this tale is that our soldiers after over so many years in democracy still perpetrate this inhuman treatment to innocent civilians for little or no crime at all. I was moved to recant this tale after seeing this picture and hearing the “wailing” of a professional colleague. One will think that with the entrenchment of democracy and it’s values, things like these would be a thing of the past but no, it has continued unabated. I have argued that for sometime during the last administration, it was reduced by the number of court orders and damages secured by me and other lawyers under the fundamental rights enforcement procedure. But I was quickly reminded that it has worsen with the advent of this administration. In fact, this administration complete, total disregard for court orders and justifications for its refusal to obey court orders, it has further strengthened and emboldened the military and other security personnel to perpetrate Human Rights violations. Everyday, there are reported cases of torture and inhumane treatment by the military and it’s sister agencies and NOTHING has happened to them.
Even with the passage of the law against torture, it has continued with complete disdain for our citizens and their right to dignity of human person as enshrined in the constitution. When will this condemnable act come to an end? When will the security agencies realise that there is a procedure for bringing persons alleged to have committed an offence to justice rather than its own justice?
Prince Madojemu is a Nigerian Civil Rights Attorney and Social Commentator.