‘'Two soldiers, caught on video assaulting a physically challenged man in Onitsha, Anambra State, have been demoted and imprisoned with hard labour.''
That was the story that emerged after the outrage caused by the actions of the soldiers in question.
They were involved in the mauling of a cripple in Onitsha whose only crime was wearing an army fatigue. But thanks to the social media, the two soldiers were captured on camera doing their bestial act and the pictures were promptly posted on various social media.
It caused outrage across Nigeria. It was understandable. This is a country where a military or police uniform, or indeed, any uniform of the armed forces, confers on the wearer the power to brutalise anybody they encounter.
The excuses are normally flimsy. If it is not obstructing them on the highway, it is wearing anything resembling their uniform as in the present case. Indeed, the uniformed personnel in Nigeria have been known for this type of brutality. They waste no time in pouncing on anyone according to their fancy. While this had gone on, the hierarchy had kept silent or at best would make half-hearted statements which went no way near addressing the issue.
But this time, things looked different as the army responded beautifully to the brutality meted out to the cripple, Mr Chijioke Uraku.
In a statement released by the Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Sani Kukasheka Usman, the soldiers' names were given as Corporal Bature Samuel and Corporal Abdulazeez Usman of 82 Provost Company.
According to the statement, they were arrested, summarily tried and found guilty on two counts. They were also consequently punished through reduction in rank, from corporal to private soldiers, plus 21 days imprisonment with hard labour. This includes forfeiture of 21 days' pay to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The Nigerian Army also reached out to the victim in what it described as its avowed determination to ensure that troops conducted themselves in the most orderly and professional manner at all times. It said that any act of indiscipline would not be tolerated.
This is a step in the right direction, even though one may view the punishment to the soldiers as not good enough. They had no right to manhandle the cripple the way they did. Even if he was a common criminal, that was no way to handle him. Perceived offenders should be accorded respect and treated with dignity until found guilty.
But here, they are treated as convicted criminals before they are heard out. The brutality of the people in uniform in Nigeria is just unacceptable. The other time, it was a female cadet who had a man beaten up for complimenting her. He was beaten and stripped naked.
It is time these people were made to know that they are sustained through the tax payers' money and should thus respect them. They should channel their energies to fighting crime and defending the nation; not brutalising hapless citizens.
We are therefore happy that at last a positive response is coming from one of the accused quarters. It is never too late for the hierarchies of the armed forces to rein in their officers and men so that sanity will prevail.