Military uniform in Nigeria and probably many parts of the world has some form of solemnity and official status attached to it. The military uniform is a peculiar symbolism with a long history and tradition which has been adopted by armies for centuries.
It also calls for respect and fear and symbolises strength and power. It cannot be donned by just anybody. In all countries, Nigeria inclusive, there are legal codes that bar people from unlawfully wearing such outfits.
It, however, becomes worrisome when this symbol of authority and sovereignty of the country now becomes a piece of cloth in the possession of unauthorised people and organisations and then confiscated by the authorities in most unlikely places.
In July 2018, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) said it seized a container load of military uniforms.
The container was taken to Owerri, Imo State, where proper examination in the presence of the representative of the importers revealed the following 11 bales containing new sets of sewn military camouflage. Each bale contained 400 pairs of sewn military camouflage, 15 cartons containing Altama combat boots, with each carton containing 20 pairs and some sacks made up of garments.
Nigerians who had felt scandalised by this seizure were horrified when, barely a month after, the same service made another seizure in Rivers State. This time, the seized consignment was more humongous.
The second interception was found to contain 620 sets of completely sewn military camouflage uniforms and caps, 10,100 pieces of inner military T-Shirts and 512 pairs of military jungle boots.”
In response to these disturbing seizures, the comptroller general of the Service inaugurated a six-member panel to find out all those connected to the illegal importation of military wears into the country. Though retroactive, we still have to commend the NCS for apprehending the unscrupulous elements who attempted to bring in these controlled items just as we bemoan the unforetold calamity that could be visited on the land as no one knows for sure the number of such consignments that had escaped the notice of the NCS at our poorly-manned borders; more so when the seizures were not even made at the port of entry into the country.
If Nigerians are alarmed at the influx of military uniforms into the country, it can only be imagined their level of apprehension when they think of the infux of small arms and light weapons, even more so the smuggling of bigger and more destructive arms into the country which should not ordinarily be found in the hands of civilian elements.
Perhaps what makes the development heart wrenching is the timing; the country is at the eve of a general election.
Taking into cognisance the ominous presence of the insurgent Boko Haram sect, farmers/herders clashes, inter and intra-communal clashes, armed robbery, violent crimes and the general state of insecurity in the country, the authorities should, as a matter of urgency, make efforts at strengthening controls at the borders and generally firming up security in the land.
Benue State residents, who had for a long time been at the mercy of marauders who had sacked their villages and killed them in their hundreds and taken over their land, had alleged many times that their attackers were dressed in military uniforms. Similar claims had also been made by residents of Plateau and Taraba states. Cases had also been recorded in the not-too-distant past of political thugs kitted in army and police fatigues wreaking untold damage on opponents of their paymasters and the general public.
With a general election just around the corner, the debilitating damage that military fatigues and hardware being in wrong hands might cause is better imagined than experienced.
It is instructive to note that for consignments of military wares capable of kitting no fewer than one battalion of 800 soldiers to be smuggled into the country is, to say the least, a serious security breach.
It is our considered opinion that Sections 110, 111 and 251 of the Nigerian Criminal Code Act, L.N. 112 of 1964, 1967 which prescribe punishment of one month imprisonment or a fine of N10 and three months jail or a fine of N40 for people found to be illegally in possession of military uniforms, are not only laughable but smirk of an aberration of what a punishment should be. These should be amended and stiffer penalties prescribed to prevent the escalation of the criminal act.
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