A while back, a close friend of mine and neighbour, decided to pursue his dream of joining the Nigerian Army. Was it a cool decision for his friends and family? Yes. Were we expecting him to preserve a chunk of his admirable gentle nature which we all loved him for, despite the rigours of military training? I didn’t see why not!
Anyway, he successfully scaled through selection and began active service. He visited home whenever he could, but everyone could tell he obviously wasn’t the same person. His first strange behaviour as a soldier, started when he aggressively threatened to beat up an elder sibling whom he once revered, for ‘crazily thinking’ he was the same ‘old submissive civilian’.
On one of his visits, we had planned a weekend getaway, so we joined a local bus headed for our hangout location. While in the bus, we chatted away, and had a few laughs until he began narrating the torrid experiences he had gone through as a recruit, and how some of his friends didn’t make it because they either lost their lives or sustained severe injuries. Soon enough, it was time to pay our fare, and of course, the rock-faced bus conductor didn’t dare request payment from my soldier-friend who was partly kitted out in his uniform. I stretched out to pay for mine, but was immediately rebuked by my friend who ordered the conductor not to collect any money from me. That seemed rather awkward, but the bus conductor who was far much older than we were, persisted.. (After all, I was just a mere civilian passenger who was privileged to sit next to a soldier). My soldier-friend didn’t speak any further and remained silent until the bus stopped. He hastily jumped down, and seized the conductor by his pants, while he pulled out the scary looking belt attached to his uniform. It was stunning how he tirelessly whipped the bus conductor who kept screaming out in pain, and only stopped the whipping when other drivers at the park strongly pleaded with him to forgive their poor colleague. We slowly left the crowded scene in a walk of shame (well at least, for me who couldn’t bear the eyes of bystanders staring at me in a weird way). I couldn’t help but wonder.. What engineered my soldier-friend’s sudden strange and aggressive behaviour? Was he trying to protect me by depriving someone else of his rights and money? Or was he more concerned about a mere ‘civilian’ bus conductor who hurt his army ego by demanding bus fare from his friend who was sitting right next to him? I pondered real hard and made a solid resolution to confront him head-on. Well, I really did try to break the awkward silence that had ensued between us, but on a second thought, I wouldn’t hurriedly advice a man who just mercilessly whipped a bus conductor with a monster belt and was obviously still fuming in rage. I wasn’t prepared to be at the receiving end of that belt just yet!
I never had a second chance to advice my soldier-friend who later relocated, and we lost contact. Now, I’m asking. Do our soldiers lose a bit of their conscience and humanity at the Academy? Is there a radical or monstrous anti-civilian ideology which makes it difficult for our soldiers to perfectly fit into society? What does the military do to these men?
Nimi Princewill is a Nigerian-born writer and social reformer.
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