Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ms. Okere and the Nigerian Navy

Recently, a young woman Uzoma Okere was severely beaten and stripped naked in the streets of Lagos by junior officers (ratings) traveling with Rear Admiral Arogundade, the officer in charge of the Lagos Garrison. Why? Because she, apparently, did not clear her car from the traffic to allow the military royalty right of way. What is astonishing is the attempt by the Navy to cover up this event, by inventing their own rather stupid, ridiculous and pathetic narrative all intended to exculpate the Rear Admiral's mad dogs for a crime against Ms. Okere's humanity. We are now told that she was the aggressor--having, according to the Navy, forcibly retrieved the WHIP with which one of the ratings menaced her while she was inside her car. Moreover, we are told that Ms Okere's father, himself a retired colonel in the Nigerian Army and currently the Sergent-at-Arms in the House of Representatives, begged the Rear Admiral for forgiveness on behalf of his daughter. The bullshit from the Navy goes on.

This barbaric, shameful event would have been another reason to cry for my country Nigeria for its continuing failure to protect its own citizens in the so-called democratic dispensation we have had with us for almost a decade. The Navy has yet to explain what its men were doing with Whips in an otherwise normal Lagos street. Did they not get the memo about the end of military dictatorship in Nigeria?

But I am hopeful that Ms. Okere's public humiliation will become a signal event marking the refusal of Nigerian civil society to allow remnants of the culture of military dictatorship to fester. I am encouraged by the response of Ms. Okere herself, her father, the Lagos State Government, and various Women's and Civil Society organizations across the country to Ms. Okere's encounter with Naval bestiality. As I understand it, Ms. Okere has rightly refused to let the matter go away, unlike countless other victims of military voilence in the past. Her case must help inaugurate a reversal of the culture of civilian traumatization by the military in Nigeria. Thankfully, her father has exposed the lie in the Navy's crappy story; not only did he not apologize to Rear Admiral, the retired colonel also declared Arogundade unfit to be a ranking naval officer, as he bears full responsibility for the action of the ratings attached to him. For once, it seems, Mr. Okere's concern for his daughter's safety and defense of her integrity against the lies and intimidation of the Navy has trumped the pernicious esprit de corps responsible system corruption within the military.

But I must thank the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, for declaring the state's condemnation of the violence visited on Ms. Okere. By providing the victimized woman full legal support, the governor and the state have taken a firm stand against military exceptionalism. But what about President Yar'Adua who promised the nation that he will defend the rule of law? Why has he not dissociated his government from this terrible, criminal action by the navy against a citizen? The least he could do is to advice the navy to dismiss Rear Admiral Arogundade from the military services. In the meantime, the court case now instituted against the Rear Admiral and his ratings by Ms. Okere must be allowed to take its full course. Nigerians must say with one voice: NEVER AGAIN!

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