Corporal Martins and the extortionate cost of expression
From time immemorial, because the tongue when well-oiled by truth is capable of sparking the most redemptive of infernos, those who can always resort to cutting it out. Nigerians have veered sharply off the tracks of same opinion over the case of Lance Corporal Martins, the Nigerian soldier who sensationally named and shamed the Nigerian army over its many omissions and commissions in Nigeria`s long running war against insurgency and banditry. While many Nigerians have been quick to praise his singular courage and call for his unconditional release and even promotion, many others have faulted his folly in taking on an institution where regimentation and discipline are everything. This latter group argue that if Martins had genuine grievances against the Nigerian army, he should have canvassed official quarters within the army rather than letting loose in the way he did which undoubtedly left the Nigerian army with eggs on its face, thus imperiling Nigeria`s tenuous security situation.
An unanswered question, however, hovers large and it is whether Martins` concerns which approximate the concerns of many Nigerians would have seen the light of the day if they were lodged only within the army. Since Nigeria`s historic return to democracy, the country has sought to hurry away from the dark days when the military ran roughshod over the country, putting that universal, inalienable right to freedom of expression in, especially grave peril. This haste away from the silencer holds at its heart the fundamental recognition that without the ability and security of citizens to express themselves clearly within boundaries only delineated by the highest standards of justice, healthy and just societies can neither be built nor aspired to. Because the right to freedom of expression is such a powerful weapon in the building of virile societies and in holding accountable those who draw power from the pain of others, those countries who desire a better life for everyone hold it in explicably high esteem. In the same measures, outright dictators and the more dangerous dictator-democrats stay up at night, seeking new and inventive ways to curtail and castrate this right.
It has been a long and exhausting battle, one that has consumed many lives and hours. As long as every society continues to have those who would rather want the world made only in their own image, this battle must continue. As Boko Haram has charged at the forefront of many other insidious campaigns by terrorist and anarchists to take over the country, the Nigerian army has shown remarkable courage in confronting Nigeria`s most dangerous enemies. At the cost of the lives of many of its men and women, the territorial integrity of the country has held fast and firm.
Nigerians have watched the unfolding events, many with mixed feelings given their love-hate relationship with the army which truncated many a democratic dispensation in Nigeria and largely laid the foundation for the simmering chaos we have today. But a common wish is for the ruthless insurgents to be defeated.
This common wish is what inspires the genuine concerns Nigerians have continued to raise over the operations of their army. Corporal Lance Martins is only one of the more recent voices to do so. From recent experiences, Nigerians are well within their rights to raise such concerns. Nigeria has struggled mightily with the cancer of corruption. This cancer which continues to metastasize has spared no part of Nigeria or Nigerian institution including the army. So for many years, there have been whispers that soldiers in the Nigerian army are dispatched to the line of fire with neither the dignity nor security of adequate weapons and assurances in case of death. As soldier after soldier has been cut down by the sometimes reportedly superior weapons of the terrorists and insurgents, these whispers have continued to build into a crescendo of criticisms and concerns raised against and towards the Nigerian army and the Nigerian government which enables them. It would seem that the action of the army authorities in so swiftly silencing Martins is a boisterous indicator that something is gravely amiss.
Nigerians are well placed to be concerned and to openly raise those concerns in the hope that solutions would be found in order to strengthen the battle for the soul of the country. These concerns for which Martins recently became a vehicle can only be circumscribed by the constitution acting through the many laws that derive their substance and sustenance from it. The Nigerian army lacks both the capacity and authority to prescribe how those concerns should be raised and by whom. It would seem that since the current administration assumed power, the tendencies to prescribe how people should express themselves and the punishment of the defiant have gained more urgency and significance. However, the transience of power must quickly inform the termination of those tendencies with its hard lessons of turned tables and the shoe dropping onto the other foot.
While Nigerians must continue to rally around Lance Corporal Martins and all those whose only crime was that they raised concerns, more and more concerns and constructive criticisms must issue from the exalted office of the Nigerian citizen until Nigeria becomes a safe and secure place for all, including the unborn and those who defend them, the living and the dead.
Obiezu wrote from Abuja.
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