I left prepared for the worst. Anyone who knows how Nigerian soldiers treat civilians at the least provocation will understand I was going to dine with the beast. Maybe I’ll be caught. Maybe I won’t be let in. Or maybe there isn’t even a mosque in the cantonment.
Say I’m caught, chances are the male soldiers with muscle-bound bodies will not near me lest I break into pieces (I’m a female) but there are female soldiers who, I learnt, are even more cruel.
After a successful compromise of the security system of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, on Tuesday, August 24, bandits abducted Major Christopher Datong and killed two other military officers.
This generated several reactions among Nigerians and, while speaking on Sunrise Daily, a programme on Channels Television, the following day, Kunle Olawunmi, a former Nigerian Navy Commodore, said he spent a week at the NDA and was shocked to see the gate open to everyone for Friday Jummah prayers.
“Something struck me and that was, every Friday, the gate of the NDA is thrown open and everybody has access to come and pray in the mosque,” Olawunmi said, then enjoined journalists to go to military formations on a Friday to find out.
This prompted me to visit the Nigerian Army Cantonment at Ikeja, in a long, free-flowing gown and a hijab.
I had passed the military base a few times but, apart from the red and black colours on the outside wall, I knew nothing about it. At a short distance from the entrance, I stood, surveying the environment. This is not exactly the gate of hell. People went in and left.
I approached a passer-by to ask for the nearest mosque. I did not tell her I had a mission – inside this ‘Nigerian Army’ base. Sensing that I was looking for a Jummah mosque, she directed me to one not too far away. Then I asked if there was one inside the cantonment.
“You will need a gate pass to go in,” she said. “But if you can enter sha, just take a N50 keke to the mosque.”
I approached the gate and, to my surprise, no one told me to stop. No one bat an eyelid. I walked down to the park and, as instructed, took a tricycle to the mosque. I joined the crowd to pray and even took a few pictures.
Outside the mosque, men in uniform stood around. I had seen many of them in the cantonment. Some were walking around; others were on a bus. I could not tell if these ones were there to pray.
I took a tricycle back to the gate. All of us in the tricycle alighted at different places in the cantonment. I had concealed the pictures on my phone but that did not erase the fear that someone would stop me or notice that I did not belong there. I hastened towards the gate. This time, I sighted a few officers at a post, but no one stopped me. One security post also stood empty at the gate.
If entering a military camp only takes picking the right dress and the right day of the week, how secure are the soldiers? Except in the event of a complete takeover, as witnessed in Afghanistan recently, rarely would bandits or terrorists come out to declare who they are.
Their spies would come and leave, gathering all the information they need with ease. Fridays may be for Jummah, a congregational prayer, but shouldn’t a measure of security be always in place to vet people going in and out, especially in a military camp?
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