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(FRANK TALK) Sanwo-Olu and the Soldier: Tales from the Expressway

By Steve Nwosu 
Maybe I should start by putting out a caveat emptor: Eversince I saw a Yellow Bus, driving on the wrong side of the road, fatally knock down an old retiree at the Mile 2 area of Lagos, I sometimes feel one-way road traffic offenders should be shot first,  and tried later.



Every time I come across social media posts by members of the military and other security agencies, it is usually a red flag on the genuineness of the said operative.



Of course, I always make exemptions for the officers in PR departments of the forces and agencies, some of whose posts I actually look forward to.
However, when I see a flurry of posts from persons purporting to be soldiers, my mind usually does a double-take: when did the army become so lax to allow serving officers and men flood the social media space?





Thankfully, the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja, during the week, put me out of my misery. According to him, most of them a fake. Cloud chasers!





Of course,  that is the only way one can make sense of the crude unguarded and unprofessional posts, from alleged soldiers, that greeted the recent encounter between Gov. Olusola Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State and that errant Army Corporal on the road to LASU, early in the week.





But, from what transpired at the scene, and subsequently in both the traditional media and social media,  it would appear there seems to be this inexplicable sense of entitlement and above-the-law mindset of members of the other ranks of our military.



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Yes! Despite regular reassurances and pledge of loyalty to the constitution and the democratic governance by the military top brass, many of their men on the shop floor seem to have their brains frozen in the pre-1999 decade. They seem to romanticise in the inglorious days of jackboots in power. When the law was anything the soldiers said.




The years when no ‘bloody civilian’, no matter how highly placed, was more powerful than a Warrant Officer. When every civilian, except those with a death wish, had to bow to the whims and caprices of even the lowliest of soldier. When a few ‘mad dog’ could manhandle the great MKO Abiola and get away with it.





It was probably that same entitlement mentality that seemed to have been at play last week along the Badagry Expressway where Sanwo-Olu apprehended several commercial motorcyclists (and other vehicles) driving against traffic, facing oncoming vehicles – in what has come to be known in our street lingo as ‘One Way’.
It would not be the first time the Lagos governor would be making similar intervention on the spur of the moment, to restore some sanity in the streets of Lagos. At one instance, Sanwo-Olu had apprehended matchet-weilding traffic robbers, while on yet another occasion,  along Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, in Victoria Island, he had arrested another motorcyclist who was operating in spite of the Covid-19 lockdown.







Before Sanwo-Olu, Gov. Babatunde Raji Fashola had also had a similar encounter with a yet another soldier who was driving along the BRT lane.
The only difference was while Fashola’s soldier was a cultured Colonel, Sanwo-Olu’s was apparently a semi-illiterate Lance Corporal. Of course, the difference in the mental capacities of the two soldiers could be discerned from their conducts upon arrest.



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While Fashola’s soldier was all sorry and genuinely apologetic, Sanwo-Olu’s was the exact opposite, eventhough his offence was more grievous. And that is even if we disregard the fact that the motorcyclists Sanwo-Olu apprehended last week were riding on a road which the laws of the state bars them from plying. But that’s another matter altogether.





Though social media do-gooders (including fake soldiers) would have us believe that the felon was begging the Governor, anyone who watched the viral video of the arrest saw what looked more like arrogance. In fact his “Oga, I’m a soldier o’ information sounded more like a threat, than appeal. He was literally dragged into one of the vehicles in the Governor’s convoy, as he appeared to put up some sort of resistance.


When he reminded the governor over and over that he was a soldier (though he was in mufti) it was like staking his right to be treated differently from other ordinary citizens.



It sounded like a conviction that he is indeed above the law. Or, at least, some form of a magic wand that was supposed to get the law to bend to his whims.







And to confirm that this above-the-law mentality is a widespread feeling among his ilk in the military, it is instructive that all those from the military who made posts in his defence on the social media are majorly from the Rank and File. It is a clear case of “he who does not know and does not know that he does not know” – the classic definition of a fool.





Of course, a few political opponents of the Lagos governor also hid under the guise of human rights and all to take pot-shots at the governor. But such opportunism is to be expected in this season of politiking, economic downturn and general angst among the populace.




But then, trending justification of this clear case of criminality on the Lagos- Badagry Expressway calls to mind the worrisome penchant of members of the uniformed services, especially military personnel, to drive against traffic at will.





Or even carry on in utter disregard of the statutes – under the guise of emergency duty calls. And riding roughshod over other motorists and road users.





Once soldiers and policemen mount those their roughly used patrol vehicles, it’s usually a license to disregard every traffic law. As soon as they get to any traffic snarl, instead of helping to clear the jam (which is usually easy the moment irrational Lagos drivers sight uniformed men), they’d jump unto the opposite, face oncoming vehicles and speed on, with reckless abandon. If your vehicle hits theirs, you’re guilty. If theirs hits yours, you’re equally guilty.


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Whenever it catches their fancy, they also commandeer people’s vehicles(especially,  commercial buses), without any compensation, and go for operation with them.





I still remember an incident in the mid-1990s when a police stop and search team stopped my brother-inlaw and I around Ijeshatedo. Surulere. Our offence? We were carrying some bags of cement at the back seat of our Nissan car! After dispossessing my inlaw of whatever little cash he had on him, one of the officers compelled us to drive to an “official assignment” a few streets away. We had been commandeered! On getting there, it turned out the “official assignment” was to a whorehouse rendezvous with his prostitute girlfriend. I guess the money he extorted from us was to pay for the ‘service’ at the brothel. All na service to the fatherland!






And there’s more:
If you, a civilian, were to wear a camouflage ensemble, even if it is only a knicker, you could march through an entire army of Generals and other senior officers without attracting as much as a raised eyebrow. But walk past a Corporal or one non-commissioned officer in the same apparel,  and all hell would be let loose. He would suddenly accuse you of impersonating a soldier. He’s sure to confiscate whatever item of clothing it is you have on, even at the embarrassment of striping you naked. It never occurs to him that military fatigues are sold a dozen for a penny at every downtown shop, and even flea markets.




There’s a simple explanation to this: With all their exposure, grooming, and education, the senior officers know the hood does not make the monk. They know that adorning the camouflage does not make you a soldier. They know the difference between the official uniforms and those picked straight off the shop shelf. But for the average NCO? No way! Without much of education, his only idea of what sets him aside from the ‘bloody civilian’, whom he regards as an inferior being, is that military uniform.





Unfortunately for the image of the army, it is this category of soldiers that we daily come in contact with.
Although I believe the Chief of Army Staff who, while confirming the arrest of one of the soldiers trolling Gov Sanwo-Olu on the social media over the arrest, said the rest were skit makers, and not real soldiers, there are still too many coincidences to make one doubt that they are indeed not soldiers.





This is more so considering the privileged information some of the alleged skit makers dished out in their rants. But, in order not to belabour the issue, let us just believe the COAS. Let us cut the army some slack on the matter, knowing, as the COAS alluded, that real soldiers are busy elsewhere- not social media. Theirs is a fairly conservative, controlled and restrictive calling.





One can almost count on the fingers of one hand, the number of serving officers who are active on social, except probably those entrusted with public relations responsibilities. Even at that, they endeavour to restrict themselves to the official social media handles of the service. So, no true soldier has, so far, raised any objections to what Gov Sanwo-Olu did on his way to LASU that fateful day.
What I don’t believe, however, is the COAS’ insistence that the actions of both the arrested Corporal and the utterances of his military cheerleaders in blogosphere do not reflect the Nigerian Army. General, sir, I beg to disagree. May be it does not represent the senior cadre, many of whom I know, and can vouch for, live up every stretch of that classical Officer-and-Gentleman billing. For the Other Ranks, however, it is a different kettle of fish, sir!


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One of the life lessons I learnt growing up is that those who actually have power are sober, and do not use it as much as the riff-raffs and other persons around them. That is why first ladies, chiefs of staff, sons and daughters of the president,  as well as friends of the president always seem to ‘fix” things more than the president who has all the powers. Even at the home front,  it is the wife (and sometimes, the children) of the bigman who throws her weight around. The bigman often sneaks around unnoticed.





The same applies in the military. While the Generals and senior officers, like the tiger that does not need to announce its tigeritude, are urbane and gentlemanly, it is the junior officers (and a few errant seniors) that always draw the roof down and make all the noise.







These rank and file are the ones who would board a commercial bus and refuse to pay, proclaiming themselves “Staff”. Of course, it is a symbiotic relationship with the commercial bus drivers, because with a “Staff” sitting in the front seat with him, he can break every law in the traffic rule book and get away with. He can do a u-turn right in the middle of the Expressway,  beat all the traffic lights along his route. He can drive, one-way, pick and drop passengers anywhere he please – irrespective of whether or not the place is a designated busstop. And once any traffic officer, soldier or police stops them, the “Staff” would declare ‘espirit de corps”. And they’re waved on to go on breaking the law.




I suspect it is this latter category of soldiers that Gov. Sanwo-Olu, like the rest of us right-thinking Lagosians, have issues with. They are the ones who have largely contributed to making the LASU corridor of the Badagry Expressway one huge ungovernable crime scene. They are the ones who either own the motorcycles or back most of the commercial motorcyclists on that corridor, many of which are unregistered and untraceable in the event of any criminality. They are the ones who regularly abduct citizens (including members of sister services) into the barracks and torture them – sometimes to death. And Lagos is only a microcosm of the larger nationwide picture. But Gen. Lagbaja would do well to inform his men that more arrests would be coming o! Not just by Sanwo-Olu,  but by his Deputy, Femi Hamzat, Commissioners, aides, LASTMA, and even regular Lagosians. That is the only way we can keep Lagos working. Shape up or ship out!
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