The cripple, Chijioke Uraku, being received at the 302 Artillery Regiment, Onitsha by Colonel Musa Sagir and the Commander of the Regiment, Colonel Idongesit Akpan.
Recently, an amateur footage of two soldiers brutalising a physically challenged man in Onitsha went viral on the internet. His crime was that he wore military camouflage. This generated a massive outcry, and today what was the misfortune of the cripple has turned out a fortune, writes David-Chyddy Eleke
Citizen Chijioke Uraku’s only sin was that he wore a military camouflage on that fateful day at Egerton Street, around New Market Road, Onitsha, when he was accosted by two military policemen who were said to have tried stripping him of it, but he refused. His refusal was said to have angered and elicited the beating that was seen in the internet video, which led the men to throw away his wheel chair, and proceeded to beat him mercilessly, while dragging him on the tarred road.
Thanks to one of the onlookers who made a video of the scene and posted on the internet. Two days after the incident, the Army identified and arrested the soldiers involved. Showing a high level of compassion, the Nigerian Army did not stop at just arresting the men, it invited the victim to 302 Regiment in Onitsha, where it showed concern over the treatment meted out to him by its men. The Deputy Director, Information, 82 Division of the Nigeria Army, Col. Musa Sagir alongside Col. Akpan, said the Army regretted the action of the soldiers.
He said, “The leadership of the Nigerian Army under Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai frowns at the action of those soldiers and does not encourage it and we are also ready to sanction any person whenever it occurs. They have been tried by the commanding officer of 302 Regiment and they have been equally referred to the higher authority. We are concerned about what happened, and we are appealing to the public and international community that the men have violated the core value of the army for the respect for one another. The Army is a disciplined and morally sound organisation and does not condone gross professional misconduct and indiscipline,” Sagir said.
He said the Army had planned to take the victim to the hospital for proper treatment, but he had rejected, claiming that he takes exception to western medication. Sagir said the attitude of the military police men, posted to the 302 Regiment in Onitsha does not reflect the real attitude of the present force under the leadership of Buratai despite different backgrounds. He had added that a more appropriate sanction would be meted out to the men.
Uraku, a strong personality even though physically challenged displayed his fearlessness when he was called up to be placated by the senior officers. He refused to remove the faded camouflage that caused him trouble, and even wore it to the barracks when he was invited. Not even plea by the senior Army officers for him to remove it in exchange for some pairs of trousers and other clothing that were given out to him was heeded. He bluntly told the officers to keep their dresses, insisting that the only thing that can adequately placate him is to be decorated with military uniform.
He threw the officers and journalists who were in attendance into a feat of laughter when he declared that he was like the commander 302 Artillery Regiment a commander too. He quoted his rank as a colonel, saying that he is the commander in charge of Egerton command at the New Market Road, Onitsha.
Egerton THISDAY found out is a popular street around the New Market Road, Onitsha, where the cripple is equally very popular. Uraku who hails from Ikwo in Ebonyi State is said to be formerly involved in the sales of recharge cards, and has also been long in the street to the point of being popular. A resident of the street told THISDAY that, “he is not a beggar, he is a very social and friendly person. We all know him here, and just as he claimed, he usually tells all that he is the ‘commander of Egerton Street’. We usually laugh at the title. Every morning, you will see him wheeling his chair along the street and waving and greeting everyone the same way politicians always did. He is a peaceful person, that is all I can say.”
Uraku was later persuaded by a representative of the Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, the state Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Welfare, Dr. Victoria Chikwelu, to accept the gift of clothes and an undisclosed sum. The commander of 302 regiment, Col. Idongesit Akpan showed concern to him over the beating he received, but said that the gifts were not meant to be compensation to the victim, but rather a way of showing that the Army recognises his plight and wishes to identify with him. This he said too will go a long way to show that the army does not support its men to brutalise innocent people in the line of their duty.
Meanwhile, later in the day, the Nigerian Army announced the demotion of the two soldiers involved in the beating of the cripple. Cpl. Bature Samuel and Cpl. Abdulazeez Usman of 82 Provost Company in Onitsha, Anambra, to Private for human rights abuse. The Nigerian Army speaking through its spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Sani Usman, made this known in a statement. He said they were arrested, summarily tried on two counts and found guilty. “Consequently, both have been sentenced to reduction in rank from Corporal to Private Soldiers and 21 days imprisonment with Hard Labour, respectively. It includes forfeiture of 21 days pay to the federal government of Nigeria. We wish to reiterate our avowed determination to ensure that troops conduct themselves in the most orderly and professional manner at all times. Any act of indiscipline would not be tolerated,” he said.
Not done, the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, who read of the plight of one of the indigene of the state said the punishment meted by the Nigerian Army on the two errant soldiers was inadequate and should have been more stringent. He demanded the immediate sack and prosecution of the two soldiers who assaulted Uraku. The governor was speaking after a team he dispatched to Onitsha to bring Uraku for rehabilitation had brought him to the executive chambers of the Government House. Governor Umahi, donated N500,000 to the victim to aid his recovery and rehabilitation and promised to empower him by setting up a business for him.
The governor said the state government will write a petition to the Army authorities demanding the immediate sack and prosecution of the two soldiers. “Let me highly commend the Chief of Staff and the GOC of 82 Division for their quick and humanly intervention. In our society we have different sectors of our engagement, the judges or lawyers are not the most important, neither are the doctors, police, soldiers or politicians. The combination of all will make the society that is progressive. And I believe in a society where the right of one stops the right of the other begins. We commend the Chief of Army Staff on the disciplinary actions taken on those men but we believe that 21 days imprisonment is not enough, they didn’t behave like human beings and to be demoted is not enough.”
A little over a week of his being manhandled by soldiers, Uraku has somewhat risen to the status of a celebrity. Strong-willed, He was always ready to forgo any compensation by anyone, just to enjoy his freedom. But the once idle Uraku who was always found at Egerton Street may not be readily available there any longer, from the moment he became very highly sought after. THISDAY reporter who visited Egerton in the hope of seeing him was disappointed when he was told that CJ as he is popularly called does not come to Egerton regularly anymore. An official of the Ebonyi State government who came to pick CJ up on the order of the state governor was disappointed after he spent the whole day and was unable to locate him. He also sought the help of journalists who were on ground just to locate him. The governor besides cash gifts to CJ also directed his Senior Special Adviser on Welfare and Religious Matters to liaise with his family on the best way to resettle him.
This may just be the beginning for CJ as the Anambra State governor, in whose domain the incident happened had earlier instituted a panel of enquiry into the reasons surrounding the treatment meted out to him. Though officials of Anambra State government could not reveal the extent of work the panel has done, it was gathered that CJ will be testifying before the panel soon, just as another official of the state government revealed to THISDAY under anonymity that the state governor was already making arrangement to also rehabilitate the cripple as done by the Ebonyi State governor