On a bright, sunny Tuesday morning in Lagos, Col. Saki Abdullahi (not real name), got into his personal car and hurried to the bank to sort out some issues with his account and perform some transactions. He was dressed immaculately in his well ironed and starched uniform and you could see your reflection in his well-polished shoes.
As he approached the gate of the New Generation Bank in Victoria Island, one of the Security Guards beckoned on him to open his boot for the usual search. Col. Saki knew the drill and with one touch of a knob near the seat, he flicked open the boot just as the guard walking past him noticed his uniform and rank.
The Guard immediately closed the boot with the briefest of glimpses into it and signaled for his colleague to open the gate. Col. Saki found this rather curious because, on previous visits to the same bank branch, he had been subjected to more scrutiny by the guards on duty.
He parked his car and walked towards the security doors that granted access into the banking hall. He was briskly saluted by the guard and when the door appeared to disallow him entry (on account of his car keys and belt), he was still given swift access. Generally, the Staff was all super courteous and helpful and he left the bank in next to no time.
On the drive back to his office, he had a call and he hesitated as he could not find his hands-free device, but the person on the other line was not someone he could ignore his call. So, he picked and put the phone to his ears and began a conversation. He got to a point and had to slow down in traffic. A Lagos State Traffic Official (LASTMA) who got in front of his car and attempted to stop him because he was on the phone and driving, took one look at him and moved on.
Then it dawned on him that the reason the LASTMA Official did not bother to approach him was the same reason the guards and bank staff were so nice to him. He was in his Army uniform and in Nigeria that confers a special status and privilege on the wearer.
All over the World, members of the Armed Forces, Police, and other Uniformed Government Security are accorded some form of respect and privilege. It is an unwritten rule borne out of respect for the sacrifices that they make daily for the rest of the citizenry to enjoy the most basic freedoms and security. These privileges however do not in any way place uniformed personnel above the laws of the land or above the rest of the civil populace.
The unbridled privileges and rights that years of Military rule have inadvertently conferred on Uniformed Personnel have created a class of citizens that cannot be questioned and led to a growing army of Impostors, fakes, and impersonating Uniformed Officers of the Law.
In Nigeria, it is a normal sight to see men of the Armed Forces beating up and molesting citizens for daring to wear camouflage clothing on the Streets, as this is deemed as an attempt to impersonate a member of the Armed Forces. Curiously, these outfits are readily available online, and wearing them in other parts of the developed world is not considered a crime or impersonation.
Section 110 (1) of the Criminal Code makes it unlawful for any person who is not serving in any of the Armed Forces in Nigeria to wear the uniform of the Armed Forces or any part of the uniform of such Forces, or any dress having the appearance or bearing any of the Regimental or other distinctive marks of such uniforms. Camouflage is a part of the military uniform and so it falls under this law.
So, the basic reason for outlawing the wearing of camouflage amongst civilians is security, but if we look at countries with the strongest armies in the world and the prevalence of citizens being allowed to wear camouflage and other dress articles associated with the military, we also notice crimes committed do not have a correlation with the wearing of uniforms. So, the real issue is not the uniform itself, but the access, privilege, power, and rights it confers on the wearer.
Just this past week, it was widely reported that 2 suspects were nabbed by the Oyo State western Security Network codenamed, Amotekun for producing and selling fake Amotekun uniforms. This was after 6 persons were arrested while posing as members of the Corps. Amotekun has launched just over a year ago on January 9, 2020, and already criminal groups are making counterfeit versions of its uniforms. So, you ask yourself, why would anyone want to buy counterfeit versions of Amotekun uniforms if not that they believe it’s a means to access power and riches that they would otherwise not be able to get if they were in civilian dress.
While growing up in Lagos in the early ’80s, uniformed personnel boarded public transportation and were exempted from paying fares. This was done as a form of respect and appreciation (especially after the Civil War), but the sight of uniformed personnel wearing just an article of clothing in the uniform e.g., the Cap, T-Shirt or Pants on a weekend private outing just to avoid paying their fare has become embarrassing. Once Commercial Drivers put uniformed personnel in the front seat of their vehicle, they are emboldened to break all the traffic rules including driving against traffic (One Way Driving).
The uniform of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Police, and other Government Security Agencies have become so powerful, that they serve as a form of identification. You are not allowed to request to see the identification card of anyone in uniform, to do so can lead to physical intimidation.
The Military High Command has done its best in recent years to improve military and civilian interaction and to create lines of communication for the civil populace to report incidents of misconduct. These actions have led to a manifest improvement in the civility of interactions between the two sides.
During the last nationwide #EndSARS protests, an Airforce Officer was lauded by all for the manner he was able to calm down the protesters and ensured there was no destruction of property and no loss of lives.
As we continue on the journey of nationhood, we have to decide as a people what form our respect and the privileges, we accord our men and women in uniform should take.
As we mark Armed Forces Remembrance Day and the sacrifices of our Fallen Heroes, we owe it a duty to discuss how we honor them, while maintaining the rule of law across the board and the dignity of the rest of the civil populace.
‘Long live the Armed Forces, Long Live The Federal Republic of Nigeria’