AFRICA/NIGERIA - Nigeria questions the role of the military after the massacre of 17 soldiers in a village in Delta State

Wednesday, 10 April 2024 military   violence   bishops  

Abuja (Agenzia Fides) - What role does the military play in the life of the country? This is the question being asked in Nigeria after the massacre carried out on March 14th of 17 soldiers, including 4 officers, by the youth population of the village of Okuama, in Delta State, in the south of the country. Officially the military had intervened to settle a dispute between the community of Okuama and that of a neighboring village. According to witness statements, the situation escalated at some point and young people from the village attacked the soldiers. Other soldiers later intervened in response to the massacre of their comrades and carried out reprisals against the civilian population. The area where the massacre took place is known for oil theft and the presence of separatists from the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a group outlawed by the Nigerian authorities. IPOB issued a statement saying the residents of Okuama initially received the soldiers peacefully but then rebelled when the soldiers tried to take some local leaders away for questioning. Another version says that an armed group in camouflage came on boats and opened fire on soldiers and civilians. Despite its omnipresent presence, the military is failing to stop the numerous kidnappings, murders and other crimes that are plunging large parts of Nigeria into insecurity. In his Easter message Matthew Kukah, bishop of Sokoto, asked "How can we say that we are in a civilized democracy when the military literally looks like an occupying army that spreads like an octopus across all 36 states and the federal capital Abuja". "It is difficult to understand why the military is omnipresent in our country," emphasized the Bishop of Sokoto, adding that this "has very serious consequences for their professionalism, their integrity and their perceived role in protecting society."
According to Bishop Kukah, it is necessary for the leadership of the state to strive for a clear strategy to resolve the general insecurity in the country. "Fighting insecurity is a challenge today. I believe that our men and women from the security services can defeat these criminals within a few months. All we hear and see are fingers pointing up," says the bishop and refers to the highest authorities of the state. The Catholic Herald Weekly, published by the Archdiocese of Lagos, publishes a detailed analysis of the state of relations between civil society and the military. According to author Olu Fasan, relations between civil society and the military in Nigeria are characterized by three factors in particular. First, Nigeria is a state but not a nation, understood as a cohesive community that "has a sense of belonging and a strong sense of a common and undivided national identity." Second, Nigeria is a fragile state that “lacks the capacity to deal with security threats from organized and non-state violence.” And thirdly, the military and police have lost the trust and respect of the population through corruption and massacres in the recent past. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 10/4/2024)