By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
RAPE SPREE IN MAIDUGURI
When I wrote Boko Haram and the Military three days ago, in my heart the accusation of rape against the Nigerian military was the weightiest of all the allegations. The obscenity of the act is what every normal citizen should abhor. I then based my evidence on eyewitness accounts of people fleeing the town. Listeners of early morning VOA or BBC Hausa service programmes can recall the voice of a woman who was fleeing Maiduguri for Misau in Bauchi State. This is what I can recollect from her conversation with the reporter:
“We have to flee. Soldiers are bursting into our houses, killing our husbands and committing obscenity with the women. What can we do other than to flee to where we will feel safe?”
I did not doubt her. Though she did not mention rape in Hausa for reasons of shyness, the words she used left no one in doubt of what she meant. What obscene thing would make a woman shy from its mere mention though it caused her to abandon her residence?
When the I published the article in my blog (http://fridaydiscourse.blogspot.com), a reader, apparently a military officer, wrote this anonymous contribution and doubted the veracity of the rape allegation. He politely said:
“I doubt very much the allegation of rape. Please check your facts very well.”
Another contributor, from the military it looks, also said:
“I would suggest that you refrain from comments that would depict our soldiers as barbarians thereby causing them to lose the public support they require to carry out their duties effectively…They certainly do not deserve the castigation you are pouring out to them. In the case of reported atrocities by these soldiers, I will suggest you take your time to investigate before you go public and not base your write up on hearsay."
Let me pause to assert that our military counterparts should please appreciate that we are living in a democracy in which freedom of expression is cornerstone. When actions of soldiers contravene fundamental human rights enshrined in our constitution, we are bound to speak out. That is the life of a bloody civilian. He doesn't carry arms. All he can do is to talk, and the talking is what we are doing here. As civilians, we expect the soldiers to protect us, not attack us in the middle of our sleep, killing our men, burning our houses and cars, beating our women and raping our daughters. They have not met this expectation in Maiduguri, and hence our complain.
Now before I could investigate, I was vindicated by the Borno Elders Forum. In an appeal to the President reported in the Daily Trust, the elders categorically mentioned rape among several atrocities committed by the soldiers:
“The soldiers have been burning down cars, killing innocent passersby, looting private property, harassing innocent passerby and even raping young girls.”
The veracity of the accusation can be driven from the weight of the personalities that made it:
“Shettima Ali Monguno, the Imam Idaini of Borno Imam Baba Gana Asil, Alhaji Garba Abba Satomi, Alhaji Bukar Bolori, Alhaji Usman Gaji Galtimari, Alhaji Kyari Sandabe, Brigadier General Abba Kyari (rtd), Air Vice Marshal Al-Amin Daggash (rtd), Shettima Ali Kidaji…Ambassador Ahmed Yusufari, AIG Zanna Laminu Mamadi, AIG Muktar Alkali, Alhaji Tijjani Bolori, Alhaji Bulama Mali Gubio, Alhaji Umar Abba Shuwa, Alhaji Ibrahim El-Zubairu, Malam Ibrahim Mustapha and Alhaji Gambo Vubio.”
These people are qualified to be senior citizens in any country. Their words cannot be dismissed as simple hearsay.
The military authorities were quick in denying the atrocities leveled by the Borno Elders Forum. However, reports continue to assert the issue of rape. This article is even prompted by a mail I received from a noble sister with relations in Maiduguri, sounding helpless over the atrocities that have not ceased, causing her sisters to go into hiding:
“My dear brothers and sisters, please we need your prayers. Young girls in Maiduguri are in great danger. My sisters and some other young girls have fled from their homes. Our parents are all hiding their female children because soldiers are raping them. Oh Allah save our generation.”
For a commentator I think this is enough to take the allegation of rape seriously. I do not need to catch the soldier in the act before I comment on it. I am not a policeman. Just as no President in the world, other than the coconut headed ones we have in Africa, would go to sleep in the face of this quantum of allegations and complaints.
However, in Nigeria the complaints were answered with an air of impunity as usual. Major General Azazi (rtd) said, in reply to the Elders, he said that government will not withdraw soldiers from the streets of Maiduguri. He even concluded his statement without the usual false palliative of investigating the allegations to fray the nerves of the population. In other words, you do not deserve it, bloody civilians.
Today so many human rights groups have jointly signed an appeal to the government for investigating the atrocities and putting an end to them.
I tried to figure out the justification behind this truly barbaric behaviour in the 21st century. Despite the fact that Nigerian soldiers have consistently shown this level of human rights abuse before, as I was quick to point out in my last article on the matter, I was shocked to discover a justification from an ethnic angle consistently opened to me by one of my readers of Igbo extraction, Ike Agbor. On the point I made that “killing of civilians under any circumstance is a massacre…punishable under the Geneva convention, he said this, apparently in justifying the actions of Maj. General Jack Nwachukwu’s soldiers in Maiduguri:
“Where do we start? A revisit of the massacre by Nigerian soldiers under Murtala at Asaba, the massacre of a congregation at a church once Nigerian soldiers entered into Onitsha, or the every other massacres orchestrated by Nigerian soldiers inside Biafra?... I will be glad if you hold my hands and take me to the sections of the Geneva Conventions that were contravened by the Northern civilians, and the soldiers, who took part in the orgy of killings in the North, the starvation of civilians in Biafra and the near equal frenzy of massacre of Biafrans and the rape of women at the end of hostilities in January 1970.”
After reading this mail, I simply sent him a question whether the atrocities committed in the past should determine what our soldiers should do presently. No reply.
Are some elements in the Nigerian military 'justifiably' under a revenge mission in Maiduguri, if Ike is right?
The government, if I must reiterate, should commence investigations into these allegations and request Maj General Jack Nwachukwu and his soldiers to become more vigilant of the possible bad eggs in their ranks. Saying that miscreants or Boko Haram members carry out the rapes simply does not click. Everybody is mentioning soldiers, soldiers and soldiers alone. It is possible there could be fake soldiers on the streets, as was witnessed whenever there is a religious crisis in Bauchi, Plateau and Kaduna. Only investigations by the military will bring out the true identity of the soldiers. Lending a deaf ear to the appeals, therefore, will not help the situation.
Whoever is behind the rapes and whatever are his reasons, I will not hesitate to warn the Nigerian government of the consequences of continued insensitivity to the complaints. A point may be reached when the population of Maiduguri would entirely come out on the streets and revolt against the soldiers. This is the easiest thing that the progenies of Mai Idris Alooma and El-Kanemi can do when pushed to the wall. Here, it will be apt to advise the military not to take the level-headedness of the population for granted.
“If you see the teeth of the lion exposed”, said my favourite Abbasid poet, Al-Mutanabbi, “don’t think that the lion is laughing.”
15 July 2011