Alkasim Abdulkadir: Revisiting The Lagos BRT-Army Debacle

Alkasim Abdulkadir: Revisiting The Lagos BRT-Army Debacle [The Trent Voices]

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Lateef Jakande as the visionary governor of the then Lagos state was daring enough to start the Lagos metroline, at the turn of the 80s this was considered at then not only futuristic but the scheme will have changed the dynamics of mobility in Lagos State. But, the military takeover truncated this noble idea and three decades later Lagos still pays dearly for its traffic snarls and lost man hours spent in daily grid lock that grip the megapolis daily.

It was to help solve the problem of transportation in one of Nigeria’s most important city that the Lagos BRT was launched in March 2008, at then the lanes stretched from Mile 12 snaked through Ikorodu road to Funsho Williams Avenue up to CMS. However, it the corridor has since gone beyond this stretch to stand as a 22 kilometer corridor.

On the 4th of July the functionality of the BRT system came to a halt when according to eye witness accounts a BRT driver knocked and killed a soldier on a bike. Soldiers in solidarity to their dead colleague paid a tribute by unleashing a campaign of terror of several hours, attacking and humiliating civilians, journalists and burning buses along Ikorodu road. However, in a bizarre twist the Nigerian Army claimed that it neither terrorized the populace nor burnt buses but they came out there to halt a decline to anarchy. The statement went ahead to credit street urchins –area boys for the destruction of the buses that day, street thugs had hijacked the situation and soldiers had to stop them.

Journalist Stanley Azuakola who witnessed the rampage expressed shock at what officers and men of the Nigerian Army did on that day, emptying petrol and dousing buses and setting them ablaze. In his article he said he posited that he now understood the stories behind the extra-judicial carnage in the North East. It has become imperative for the Lagos State government to ensure that this sordid incident is thoroughly investigated and if found guilty the appropriate measures should be taken to forestall further wanton impunity.  It is important that the Nigerian Army checks itself for these occasional lapses which end up ridiculing the professional institution that is the last bastion of defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria.

In all of this, it is doubly hard to believe the version of the Army in spite of its purported claims, this is so because they army has a notorious history of taking on either provocative or law abiding civilians in Nigeria –one of the most celebrated cases is the commando-like attack on the enclave of activist and music maestro Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the well documented attack on his Kalakuta republic house is one incident that he not only sang about, but one that broke his spirit momentarily and further emboldened him against the Nigerian state. The act of massacres committed in places like Odi and Zaki Biam are also pointers to the brutality of an Army that turns its guns against its own, several years after no one has been punished for the crimes committed in these places.

The most telling for me is the May 2011 incident that saw the gruesome killing of a DPO -Samuel Salihu, a chief superientendent of Police, DCO Samuel Okedusi and ASP Afolabi Taofeek who went to 242 Reccee Battalion Ibereko Military Barracks on a peace mission and never came out alive. They were killed by aggrieved soldiers. The greatest disservice to all these incidents mentioned is that the culprits have always walked away free, without accepting responsibility nor receiving the adequate punitive measures.

At the end of the day we must not forget that incidents like Odi and Zaki Biam are not isolated events but are symptomatic of a greater danger that we are not far from the ambits of anarchy   –that is, that our soldiers can turn against us at a whim. Both the Army authorities and Nigerians must continue to instill in one another the tenet, that indeed the army is for us and not against us.

Alkasim Abdulkadir is currently an Editor at Citizensplatform.net, an Online News portal. He e has worked as a Producer for BBC Media Action and as a news contributor for CNN, Aljazeera, France 24 and Guardian UK. He is Contributing Editor at The Trent.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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