The recent manhandling of a physically challenged person by soldiers in Onitsha for wearing military camouflage T-shirt has brought to the fore the need to re-educate Nigerians on extant laws governing the use of military uniforms and other accoutrements. Defence Correspondent, ABDUL LAUYA, in this special report explores the principle of distinction, sanctity of military uniform and the need to preserve them.
The use of uniforms is found everywhere - Schoolchildren often wear uniforms distinguishing them from pupils of other schools; boy scouts proudly don military-like uniforms with insignia indicating membership and rank. Bus drivers, sportsmen and women, milk deliverers, monks, nurses and security personnel of private companies all wear clothes identifying them as belonging to a particular group, service, firm or profession. They may wear uniforms of plain fabric or of a distinctive design. By its lack of variation and diversity, the uniform promotes a sameness of appearance and brings homogeneity to an otherwise heterogeneous group of people.
Armies both past and present have continued to do the same. Their best-known distinctive sign is the military uniform. Literally, the word uniform derives from the words “una” (one) and “forma” (form). Its general meaning is clothing in a particular fabric and with a particular design, colour and insignia, defined in regulations and/or by tradition for all members of one and the same military unit. Military uniforms are intended to demonstrate that their wearers belong to the armed forces of a State. They may differ according to the particular branch of the armed services and army, navy and air force uniforms may be of different colour but they are mostly similar in style. The accessories and insignia are often war or weapons-related.
In accordance with military tradition adopted by armies since the seventeenth century, it was assumed by the early drafters of the law of war that regular armies at least would distinguish themselves from the civilian population. The military uniform is a form of clothing with a particular symbolism and a long history and tradition. In an article entitled “Military uniforms and the law of war” Toni Pfanner, (2004), wrote: “The uniform reflects order and discipline, and calls for subordination by displaying a variety of insignia, including badges that indicate rank and emphasize the hierarchical structure of armies. It also calls for respect and fear and symbolizes strength and power: it includes features designed to make its wearer appear broader or taller, and thus to enhance the soldiers’ stature in the eyes of comrades, civilians and the enemy.”
The uniform helps to create an identity of appearance and an esprit de corps and is thereby conducive to the bonding process. It distinguishes the members of armed forces from the rest of the population. But it is astonishing how military uniforms, accessories and insignia found their way in civil population especially in Nigeria.
Sections 110 & 111 of the Nigerian Criminal Code Act, L.N. 112 of 1964, 1967 No. 27 states; “Any person who- Unlawfully wears the uniform of forces, etc. (1)not being a person serving in any of the armed forces of Nigeria, wears the uniform or any part of the uniform of such forces, or any of the armed dress having the appearance or bearing any of the regimental or other distinctive marks of such uniforms;
“Or (2)not being a person holding any office or authority under the Government of Nigeria or of any part thereof, wears any uniform or distinctive badge or mark or carries any token calculated to convey the impression that such person holds any office or authority under the government; is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for one month, or to a fine of ten naira, unless he proves that he had the permission of the President or of the Governor of a State or wear such uniform or dress, badge or mark or to carry such token: Provided that this section shall not apply to the wearing of any uniform or dress in the course of a stage play or in any bona fide public entertainment.
Section 111 provides, “Any person who sells or gives any uniform, or part of a or any dress, badge or mark, as in the last preceding section mentioned, to any person who is not authorised to wear the same, is guilty of an offence and is liable to the penalties prescribed in the said section. Section 251 of the Constitution also states; Any person who, not being a person serving in any of the armed or police forces of Nigeria, wears the uniform of any of these forces, or any dress having the appearance or bearing any of the regimental or other distinctive marks of any such uniform... ...in such manner or in such circumstances as to be likely to bring contempt on that uniform, or employs any other person so to wear such uniform or dress, is guilty of a simple offence, and is liable to imprisonment for three months or to a fine of forty naira.”
The Army is a uniformed service where discipline is judged, in part, by the manner in which a soldier wears a prescribed uniform, as well as by the individual’s appearance. Therefore, a neat and well-groomed appearance by all soldiers is fundamental to the army and contributes to building the pride and espritessential to an effective military force.
In October, 2015, The Army alerted Nigerians of the illegal and unauthorized use of Army uniforms, accoutrement and kits by Ex-Students of Nigerian Military School Zaria (aka Ex-Boys) in civil institutions.
By implications, it covers other civilian population who derive pleasure in abusing the camouflage uniform. The illegal practice of wearing Nigerian Army uniforms and kits by civilians apart from obvious security implications, according to the statement, impacts negatively on the image of the Nigerian Army. Brig Gen Sani Usman, has this to say: “It is pertinent to reiterate that wearing of military uniforms or kits on campus by anyone is absolutely unlawful. More worrisome, is the fact that most of the offenders are Ex-students who have deserted the Army, and are not legally entitled to have military uniforms or items within their possessions.”
The statement added that, illegal possession of military accoutrement is punishable under sections 109,110 and 251 of Nigerian Criminal Code and the Constitution”.
While the action of the two soldiers is unprofessional and contrary to civilize behaviour, the public must respect national symbols of authority including use of uniform accoutrements. In keeping with its zero tolerance on indiscipline and unprofessional conduct, the army said it has apprehended the soldiers involved in the barbaric act. A statement by Sani Usman on Friday, confirmed that the two Corporals have since been demoted to Privates and sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour to serve as deterrent to others.
Usman appealed to the general public to regard the incident as an isolated case which does not reflect the true image of the Nigerian Army. He said: Sequel to video clip of two soldiers maltreating a physically challenged man on the street of Onitsha, Anambra State, last Tuesday, in line with our zero tolerance of infringement of human rights by troops those involved Corporal Bature Samuel and Corporal AbdulAzeez Usman of 82 Provost Company, have been arrested, summarily tried based on two-count charges and found guilty.
“Consequently both have been sentenced to reduction in rank, from Corporal to Private soldiers and 21 Days imprisonment with hard labour (IHL) respectively, which include forfeiture of 21 Days pay to the Federal Government of Nigeria. The Nigerian Army has also reached out to the victim of the unjustifiable assault, Mr Chijioke Uraku (alias CJ) as widely reported by the media.”