, LAGOS, November 16 – An assault earlier this month by Nigerian naval ratings on a woman for allegedly failing to make way for their boss in traffic has sparked a wave of protests about the way the military treats civilians.
Long ruled by the army, the west African powerhouse returned to civilian rule in 1999, but critics say that nearly a decade later that the "garrison mentality" still reigns and that men in uniform enjoy a large degree of impunity.
Half a dozen aides to Rear Admiral Harry Aroundade dragged Uzoma Okere out of her car after she allegedly did not pull out of the way in time for the convoy of the two-star general.
Okere, 27, was beaten up and had her blouse stripped off in broad daylight in an up-market residential area of Lagos.
She sustained cuts to the head and whip lacerations to the chest and arms requiring three outpatient hospital visits.
She has started legal action against the navy.
"It was in a very bad traffic situation and the naval guys expected me to get out of their way just because they wanted to pass through," she told AFP.
The attack which was filmed by workers in nearby offices and posted on the Internet and shown on local television, forced President Umaru Yar’Adua to order an investigation.
"Immediately the story broke … he ordered the Chief of Defense Staff to investigate and report back to him," YarAdua’s spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi told AFP.
Days later, the country’s parliament discussed the incident as a matter of urgent national importance. The lawmakers condemned the abuse of sirens by security forces and "many big men".
The bulk of the Lagos road system was built more than 20 years ago when the city had less than half its current population of some 16 million.
Sirens blaring, military personnel, politicians and their wives and top businessmen weave their way through the gridlocked traffic behind pickup trucks filled with surly gun-toting police.
Lagos residents are normally resigned to the practice but the assault on Okere went a step too far, with a columnist in the Tribune newspaper calling it "a case of beasts against a human being".
The main opposition Action Congress party described the attack as "barbaric, appalling and unacceptable".
The Guardian newspaper said the incident "has once again tainted Nigeria’s image… and portrayed the country as a place where human rights are brazenly abused especially by the military".
Amnesty International, in a report earlier this year, slammed "the entrenched culture of impunity for human rights violations committed by the police and security forces".