African viewpoint: Defending Nigeria's police and army

Anti-riot police in Nigeria (October 2008)

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Nigerian writer Sola Odunfa argues that the country's security forces deserve respect.

In the past few days, the UK and the US have been celebrating and honouring their military personnel, both dead and living.

Many of us in Nigeria got wind of what was coming when we saw UK television presenters and public officials wearing poppy pins on their dresses.

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The average Nigerian police constable, soldier or other security operative may not have attained UK and US levels of professionalism but they can only be as effective as the nation and government allows them to be”

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It was an inspiring sight to watch ex-servicemen, especially great grandfathers, proudly sticking out what remained of their chests to exhibit their medals.

I still wonder what tales they would have been telling their off-spring about their bravery in war, even though such acts may have come only from imagination.

The point, though, is that this was their day and they were entitled to sun their medals in the public square to demonstrate how much their nation owed them and their fallen colleagues.

They were all heroes. Have you ever heard of a defeated nation celebrating any war?

In all the places where official celebrations were held, citizens trooped out in their thousands in gratitude to the brave who faced enemy fire.

My mind went back to the now familiar military funerals accorded to dead servicemen when their bodies return from Iraq or Afghanistan.

Drawing a line

Apart from the airport ceremonies that are attended by senior officers, the motorcade to the soldier's home town evokes strong sentiments of an appreciative nation - no-one seems to bother about how lowly the soldier's rank was - his death at the front line had raised him into the ranks of the venerated.

Former UK servicemen at a remembrance ceremony on 13 November 13. Former UK soldiers are held in high regard by the public

The wars in which these military men met their death may not have received popular support.

From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, the US, with the UK in tow, has been fighting wars which have little political support at home.

Even when there is substantial public support in the beginning, Americans start to shift uncomfortably as soon as the first coffins are brought home.

The shift becomes a mass movement of opposition with the rise in casualties.

Most people in the US and UK draw a line between political decision-makers and military personnel who must obey the orders of their political masters.

Any public antagonism is towards the politicians while the military grows in respect for their professionalism.

Boko Haram

That brings me home to the bloodbath in northern Nigeria, where the security forces are battling Islamist militants from the Boko Haram group.

Young girls walk past a burnt vehicle in Nigeria's Damaturu town in Yobe state on 7 November Islamist militants have carried out a spate of attacks in northern Nigeria

On Friday, the spokeswoman of the State Security Service gave a chilling report on television of how some youths were "clapping and cheering as miscreants were attacking and killing security agents" in Yobe state - where Boko Haram carried out bomb and gun attacks on churches and the police headquarters, leaving more than 60 people dead.

It seemed to the police spokeswoman that, on that occasion, Nigerians cherished football more than human life.

She warned of the extreme danger of Nigerians frustrating or demoralising law-enforcement agents rendering a legitimate service.

In the US and UK, the military and police are also accused of committing abuses - but they are still respected for their overall professionalism and service to the nation.

The average Nigerian police constable, soldier or other security operative may not have attained UK and US levels of professionalism but they can only be as effective as the nation and government allows them to be.

Surely, they will not become better when we start killing them or cheering those who do.

Remember, we cannot do without them.

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's latest column, please use the form below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The article is related to contributions to war, (and peace), and remembrance. Yes, recent history paints the military in a different light but how many of you are aware, yet alone have visited the war graves cemetery in Yaba. The final resting place of brave Nigerian and other Commonwealth servicemen who gave their livers for us during WWII.

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    Comment number 18.

    I am more afraid of any security personnel in Nigeria than armed robbers on the street.A police man could shoot an a civilian with cash in his/her hand dead and get the money off them, just as any armed robber. Never run to a police officer in Nigeria if you are in danger, as you are running to a more dangerous person. This is how corrupt they are. They don’t deserve any respect period.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The Nigerian police can not compare with us and UK police their police don't pull handicapped people out Of market and villages fire AK 47 and kill them in public there is nothing to be proud of the Nigerian police check Al jazzira

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    You don't need to visit Nigeria,before you know that Nigeria is not real country,she is imaginary. Only in Nigeria will you see a 2 month old baby on payroll.Nigeria need to go back to regional system of govt.Everything in Nigeria is a sham.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I agree with Sola, despite the fact that our security forces do lack professionalism as by evident the names given to them by the public such as “Kill and Go”, “Wetin you de carry”. They have got a raw deal with their salary not being constant or regular. Training, equipment, and other benefits being nil or zero.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Egypt and Tunisia, We don't have to look far. What was the armies' response to genuine grievances of the populace in these two nations during the uprising? I sincerely doubt if the Nigerian army or police will chose to protect its citizens over corrupt inept politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    "From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, the US, with the UK in tow, has been fighting wars which have little political support at home."

    I think you will find that the UK had no part in the Vietnam war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Haven't Nigeria's army been responsible for the various coups in government since 1960? This isn't the case with the US/UK. I'm just saying that maybe there's a reason that they may be distrusted in Nigeria. The Nigerian police have also been known to prey upon the population - some (Latino/Black) communities in the USA feel the same way about police in their communities, and bear similar hatred.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The Nigerian forces are in a large part responsible for the Boko Haram case getting out of hand. They killed indiscriminately and no longer get the sympathy of the locals. They are masters in extra-judicial killings. This sadly happens in many other African countries as well.


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