BANEX PLAZA: Avoiding Shift in Public Sentiment

By Chidi Omeje

There is this folklore told in my place about Mr Tortoise and his unscrupulous in-law. One day, Mr Tortoise embarked on a journey to a distant land, leaving his sprawling house with assorted foodstuff to his in-law, the unscrupulous one, to look after.

Soon after he left, his unscrupulous in-law sent word across to friends that he had bought a house and invited them to come wine, dine and dance with him. His friends came from far and near, and they partied on for two native weeks until all the foods and drinks in the house finished. Not finding anything to eat again, the unscrupulous fellow began to sell Mr Tortoise’s properties, including his cooking utensils.

Mr Tortoise eventually returned from his long trip, only to behold the disaster in his house. Enraged at the foolishness and heartlessness of his in-law who had coveted his properties, he beat him up and tied him to a stake by the roadside.

Neighbors who were going to market that morning saw what was happening and asked Mr Tortoise what his in-law did that warranted such harsh treatment. After explaining to them, they expressed shock and asked the unscrupulous fellow why he had to treat his in-law in such way. They told him to his face that he is not only foolish but wicked, and left him to his fate.

Consumed by anger, Mr Tortoise left his in-law tied to the stake from that morning till dusk, to teach him a hard lesson. When his neighbors, who went to market in the morning were returning in the evening, they were horrified to see that the unscrupulous fellow was still tied to the stake. They called out Mr Tortoise, who was prancing around with a cutlass, and told him that no matter what the fellow did, it was wrong to treat an in-law that way. They told him to his face that he was not only callous but very wicked.

And that was how the neighbors’ sympathy shifted from Mr Tortoise to his unscrupulous in-law. So is the case between the wicked mob in Banex Plaza who nearly lynched two soldiers and the angry Nigerian Army, which has continued to seal the business plaza for almost a week now. .

In my assessment, what those terrible fellows did to our unarmed, uniformed soldiers over a disagreement in a business transaction was unspeakable, but sealing off the plaza, thereby shutting out thousands of other innocent Nigerians who eke out a living in that business rendezvous for almost a week now, is not exactly the best way to go.

Just like the widespread outrage that greeted the horrific killing of 13 personnel of the Nigerian Army in Okuama a couple of months ago, Nigerians were unanimous in their condemnation of the mob action against our soldiers in Banex Plaza. As a matter of fact, I have not read or heard of a single person who has come out to support the reprehensible mob action. That, to me, speaks eloquently well about the place of our soldiers in the hearts of the average Nigerian. However, I wager that if the matter is not handled with utmost tact, there will be an eventual shift of public sympathy towards the Banex business community. It might sound surreal, but that is my reading of the situation.

I sense an emerging volte-face by the public, what Public Relations experts variously describe as a reversal of opinion, a shift in the conversation, a change of narrative…

For instance, some people are beginning to tell themselves, wait a minute, is this not too much for the Banex business community? How much more would the innocent majority be punished for the sins of a villainous few?

Some others are already silently recalling what they term the sins of soldiers against civilians, and they are voicing them out in public places and trending them on social media. Some television presenters are already demanding that the Army beat a retreat from the plaza where they are currently laying siege.

All these reversals in public opinion have a way of impacting negatively on the civil-military relations paradigm. As a matter of fact, I would expect that the public relations minders of the military should by now be engaging in reputation monitoring to be able to track public opinion and adjust strategies accordingly.

The truth of the matter is that civil-military relations in Nigeria must continue to be nurtured, no matter how revolting the behavior, action, or inaction of either of the parties is at any point in time. That relationship is indispensable. It is imperative. It is apropos at a time like this. It is the fulcrum upon which military subordination to civil authority is built. It is also the key element that determines the success or otherwise of military operations, including war.

So, let the Nigerian Army be the bigger party in this very provocative situation at the Banex Plaza. It is part of the sacrifice they continuously make for peace and tranquility in the polity. May they not kill the mosquito with a cutlass.

*Chidi Omeje is the Editor, Security Digest (