Following the abduction of Major Christopher Datong and killing of two other military officers at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, on Tuesday, August 24, Kunle Olawunmi, a former Nigerian Navy Commodore, said, on national television, that the gates of military formations in the country were always thrown open to Muslims for Friday Jummah prayers. He even implored journalists to find out.
This prompted an FIJ reporter to visit the Ikeja army cantonment in a “free-flowing gown” and a hijab on Friday. While her visit confirmed the Commodore’s claim, it raised a question: whether the military has a soft spot for only Muslims and would ensure thorough scrutiny of Christian worshippers on a Sunday.
To give an answer, I went to the same cantonment and a military hospital on Sunday, dressed in a waistcoat and with a Bible in hand. But I also walked past the gate of the base with ease. Like every other worshipper, I was neither questioned nor stopped. It was easy.
Then, on Monday, I set out again, this time to find out what it would like to gain entrance to a military formation on a weekday, with neither a Bible nor a hijab.
NO BIBLE/HIJAB, NO ENTRY
It was 12:31 pm and I was on my way to the Ikeja cantonment. I saw a soldier leaving a Wema Bank branch in Maryland, Lagos. I asked him if there was a First Bank branch in the cantonment, and he responded in the affirmative.
“There is a First Bank there. Have you tried to enter and they stopped you?” he asked.
“No, not really. I just want to get there to resolve something,” I said.
As we both walked to the cantonment, I stopped walking as fast as the soldier and pretended to want to buy a pen. The soldier, thinking he was helping me, didn’t bother to look back. Clearly, he expected me to catch up with him.
The pen seller could not change N500, so I walked fast to the cantonment. At the entrance, I met people being screened by soldiers with hard faces. The soldiers asked me to go back as I couldn’t justify my entry. They asked others if they had an appointment with anyone in the barracks. If they didn’t sound logical enough, they sent them out.
I was absolutely gobsmacked. This was the very cantonment I easily breezed into just 24 hours earlier, on Sunday, when I was spotting a waistcoast and a Bible. This was the same cantonment my colleague so seamlessly entered just three days earlier, on Friday, when she donned the hijab as though she was going in for Jummah prayers.
My newfound soldier-friend looked back and saw me standing with the people being screened. He told the men to let me in. It was clear: if I had not met him, there was no way I would have entered.
Inside, the cantonment differed greatly from what it looked liked on Sunday. Few people walked in and out. I also saw many soldiers in uniform, both at the entrance and in the compound.
While stepping out, even though it had just rained, I met two soldiers asking people why they wanted to enter the cantonment. The conclusion I had made was then reinforced: when Olawumi said security was relaxed on Fridays in the barracks, he was not wrong. But security is relaxed on Sundays, too. And he didn’t say it.
While there were no strict security measures at the Nigerian Army Reference Hospital, Yaba, on Monday, the reason is simple. Civilians are being treated in the hospital, too.
Clearly, all it takes to gain easy entrance to a Nigerian military formation and cause mayhem is to pick the right dress and the right day of the week — Friday or Sunday. That, considering the latest security reality in the country, might not be good enough.
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