Bullied, wounded, bloodied are words that often ring bell in the ears of Innocent Agbo. They sum up to his recent sad experiences with men in military uniform in Lagos.
On that fateful day, Agbo said he was savagely brutalised by no fewer than 10 soldiers at Maza-Maza area of the city. But what offence did he commit to attract the anger of the military men? Mr. Agbo said on that fateful morning – that was about 8am – he and his neighbour, Jerry Davids, had gone to pick a bag of rice from Festac and were on their way home. As they approached Mile 2 Bridge, two soldiers tagged named Mohammed A and Awulu M, believed to belong to Ojo Cantonment, along Lagos-Badagry Road, and were riding on a motorbike, accidentally hit him but refused to apologise or show remorse.
Agbo, who is the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Human Rights Defenders and Advocacy Centre, said he knew quite well he was hit by accident, but he was appalled at the soldiers’ refusal to appreciate the fact that they hit a human being and refused to apologise to him. He said at that point, he questioned their lack of sympathy and their remorseless attitude after hitting him leg with their bike. He said at that point, the soldiers were enraged at his boldness to question them. According to him, they packed their bike and began to gaze at him, wondering at the audacity of the ‘bloody civilian.’ He said at that point, he left the scene and crossed the road.
“When they hit me in the leg with their bike, without saying sorry, I called their attention to what they did to me. I asked them if they wanted to break my leg. When I said that, I crossed the road to the other side. But when I looked backed, I noticed that they were still staring at me furiously. I asked why they were still looking at me, when they ought to have said sorry,” Agbo told Daily Sun.
He recalled that having said that, the two soldiers and two others who arrived at the scene were aghast at his boldness. One of the later arrivals incited Mohammed to deal with me for daring to talk ‘anyhow’ to a soldier.
At that point, Mr. Agbo said one of the soldiers, Mohammed landed the first blow on him and followed up with slaps and punches. He said when he was done with brutalising him, he attempted to head back to his bike. But he said when he couldn’t take it anymore, he rushed and held onto him, insisting that he would go nowhere. But that turned out to be a fatal mistake as his fresh show of audacity attracted harsher treatment as other soldiers standing by joined in clobbering him.
“When he began to beat me, I held on to him telling him he wasn’t going anywhere until he killed me. I asked him why he was beating me like that. That made the three soldiers standing bye to join in the beating. Other soldiers also arrived and joined their colleagues in the beating spree without asking what I did wrong,” Agbo said.
He further recalled that his companion, Jerry, watched helplessly as the soldiers mercilessly pummeled him. But when he (Jerry) could not bear the sight any longer, he raised his voice against the molestation and called on the military men to stop the beating. His lame protest got him a fair share of hot slaps and punches from the soldiers around. But Jerry was smart enough to escape to safety.
Agbo said that sympathisers stood by watching and wishing that the beating would stop. But nobody dared to go over to pacify the brutal soldiers. He said the young soldiers were aged between 25-28 years. They kept raining blows on Mr. Agbo’s face, chest, and stomach. He said they so kicked him until he fell to the ground; yet some kept thumping him with their heavy boots as if they wanted to stomp him unto the concrete floor. Others pulled their thick belts and tirelessly flogged him.
“The soldiers numbered no fewer than 10. People were scared to intervene. They kept beating, kicking and flogging me but I still held onto the Mohammed. I was holding him because I wanted people to video the altercation but unfortunately no one mustered courage to do that or take snap shots,” he revealed.
He said even 30 minutes after, the men in military uniform were ceaselessly mauling him until Mr. Deke Ezekiel Becky- believed to have some military background came unto the scene.
Mr. Ezekiel said he was shocked seeing how the soldiers unleashed raw brutality on a civilian. “They numbered over 10 soldiers assaulting a civilian,” he recalled. “I noticed they were mainly young recruits. So I went and tried to placate them. I spoke to them in Hausa to stop the beating. They stopped and looked at me as I continued to plead that they shouldn’t beat the civilian again.”
He further recalled that after the beating stopped, Agbo was defiant. He stood and staggered to go but held Mohammed again but that kick-started another round of assaulting.
However, it was at that juncture that fate sent another Good Samaritan. Mr. Ezekiel said that was at the point he spotted a higher ranking military man passing by. “I sighted a sergeant in the army nearby, and rushed to invite him. I pleaded with him to come and prevail on the young soldiers.”
It was the sergeant who now ordered the young soldiers to stop the assault and leave the scene immediately. As the soldiers walked away, the sergeant begged Agbo to forgive the brutality meted out on him.
Describing Agbo’s condition after the assault, Ezekiel told our correspondent that he was bleeding profusely all over his body. “He was badly beaten. He clothes were covered in blood. As I helped him up to his feet, I was stained with blood. When I got to work that morning, my colleagues thought I had sustained some serious injury.
“Assaults on civilians by men in uniform happen all the time in Lagos. It is unacceptable. Molestation of a civilian is a dismissal offence in the army. It is totally frowned upon by the military hierarchy because soldiers should be there to protect civilians and not to brutalise them,” he said.
Because of the beating, our correspondent learnt that Agbo sustained various degrees of injuries in his mouth, back and legs. He also lost a tooth and suffered a ghastly cut in his nose. “I got a black eye and lost a tooth. I also suffered a cut in my nose which had to be stitched at the hospital. I had different degrees of injuries in my legs, my hands and in my back.
“When I told my father he pleaded I should go for a thorough medical check to ensure that I didn’t sustain any internal injuries. But after all scanning, I thank God there were none,” Agbo said.
He said even with the battering, he had refused to be cowered. He said he had through his lawyers, written petitioned to the Nigeria Army HQ on the brutal actions of the soldiers. The letter signed by Abraham Imoisili of the Imoisili and Okoh, Gibraltar Rock Chambers, was made available to Daily Sun.
In the letter, his lawyers are calling for the prosecution of the soldiers and payment of indemnities to Agbo. “We demand the immediate apprehension and prosecution of A. Mohammed and M. Awulu and also compensation to our client in the sum of N10 million for all the pain and humiliation he suffered. Failure to accede to the demands of this letter would leave us with no further alternative than to proceed to a competent court of law for enforcement of our client’s fundamental right to dignity,” the letter reads in part.
As at the time of going to press, our correspondent could not get the military’s side of the story even after inquiries were sent to Col SK Usman, spokesman, Army HQ, Abuja, through his social network link.