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Sexual harassment makes me regret joining the Army – Female soldier

A female soldier, Lance Corporal Philomena Nnamoko, tells ABDULLATEEF FOWEWE how her superiors refused to grant her discharge request after several maltreatments for allegedly refusing their sexual advances

What motivated you to join the Army?

I’m Philomena Nnamoko, and I hail from Enugu State. At 39, I am a single mother to a 23-year-old son. Joining the Army in 2009 was driven by the loss of my husband to provide for my son. I had no other job opportunities and lacked the funds to improve my situation.

Can you share some highlights of your military experience?

Unfortunately, my experience in the Army has been extremely bad. I faced termination and abuse while stationed in Ibadan, where I experienced an attempted rape in the guardroom. The frustration became too much and I was sent out of Ibadan barracks and for rehab the following day in 2010.

Can you share some notable moments about your time in the military?

Let me begin with an incident that occurred on May 29, 2018. I approached a fellow soldier to greet him when I went to use the toilet at night, but I received no response and mentioned his name to inform him that I had greeted him. In response, he asked me to greet him properly and expressed his unwillingness to respond to female soldiers. I informed him that we harboured no animosity, but he harboured a desire to physically harm me. This took place in the evening when there were no witnesses. It was at this time that I excused myself to use the restroom. Upon exiting, I noticed someone by the door; he then proceeded to warn me against repeating my actions. I felt ashamed and suffocated, leading to punishment. At that moment, a colleague intervened and informed him of my ill health. He beat me so harshly that my wrapper fell off, leaving only my pants.

That night, I felt immense sadness and retreated to my room to get dressed. I went to report the incident to the National Youth Service Corps camp commandant. However, on my way there, he found me and assaulted me to the point of losing consciousness. When I regained consciousness, I discovered that I had been conveyed to the camp medical reception station. When I was discharged from the MRS, the camp commandant instructed me to go to the military police at the Abeokuta barracks and report what had happened, as the soldier who assaulted me had left the day before while I was still hospitalised. Despite my poor health, which included a swollen face, impaired vision in my left eye, difficulty chewing, and numerous injuries, I went to the military police as commanded.

When I got there, I was directed to write a statement. Upon finishing, I was ordered to remain in the guardroom and was handcuffed to my hands and legs. I was shocked and saddened by their actions, especially considering my condition. I spent four weeks in the guardroom, crying every day, pleading to be allowed to speak with one of the commanders. They consistently denied my request until the NYSC camp orientation training finished when a captain arrived and ordered my release. I questioned him about the offence I had committed that justified my being held in the guardroom for four weeks, despite my fragile health. He yelled at me and told me to be quiet and go back to my barracks. As soon as I arrived at my location in Ijebu-Ode, I officially reported my illness to the MRS. They then referred me to a suitable facility for proper treatment since I was diagnosed with fibroids.

Additionally, they directed me to a dental hospital to address the issue with my teeth. During my initial appointment, my supervisor provided me with a pass. However, by the time my second appointment came around, my previous boss had left for a training course. A new captain was assigned and he denied my request for a pass, even though the MRS had written a letter indicating the critical condition of my health. He callously told me to die if that’s what I wanted and claimed that he would have treated me worse if he had been the one to beat me. I was frustrated; I went back to the MRC to report the situation. Unfortunately, they explained that they had done all they could and were unable to intervene. As a result, I began receiving treatment during my free time. I travelled back and forth on the same day. Eventually, three of my teeth were removed and they informed me that I would require eyeglasses.

What happened after?

They scheduled an operation for August 29 to remove the fibroid. The day before the surgery, I went home to gather the necessary items, including clothes. Shortly after arriving home, I heard a knock on my door. When I opened it, I met seven soldiers led by a sergeant. They questioned why I hadn’t returned to duty, and I explained that I was preparing for fibroid surgery the following day. Without further ado, the sergeant commanded them to take me. Despite being in a wrapper, they handled me roughly, causing the cloth to fall off, after getting to the barracks they threw me into a guardroom without providing any cover. The next day, I started to bleed. Later on, I heard that I fainted and they went to inform the captain about it, that they wanted to take me to the MRS, but the captain initially refused, claiming that I would wake up again. When I did not wake up, they were finally granted permission to take me to the MRS where I received drips. However, they later referred me to another hospital to continue my treatment.

Despite this, the captain refused to let me go and instructed them to take me to the guardroom with the drips still attached to my hand. A woman working at the MRS questioned the captain about why I was being treated this way, but he dismissed her without providing any explanation. After the woman sought the assistance of our cantonment commandant and asked him the same question, he claimed to be unaware of such treatment. Meanwhile, he had previously assured me that actions would be taken, but failed to follow through. However, once the woman reported the situation, the commandant instructed an ambulance to take me to a hospital in Ibadan. Upon arriving at the hospital, my blood pressure was high, which resulted in me spending three weeks before undergoing the necessary surgery. Subsequently, I was brought back to Ijebu-Ode.

What happened when you got to the barracks?

The warrant officer noticed my presence and questioned why I refused to join my colleagues for the operation, despite being aware of my health condition. He instructed me to return home, change into my uniform, and resume my duties. At that moment, I approached the PA that I wanted to speak with the commanding officer. However, the PA came back to inform me that the CO did not wish to see me and instructed me to go home and dress appropriately. Following this, I went to an office to request a voluntary discharge, only to be informed that there were no available sheets of paper to write the request. Consequently, I went back home, changed into my uniform, and returned to the barracks. From that point onward, I worked tirelessly until I finally received my leave, disregarding my health condition. As I had already informed them about my intention to seek a voluntary discharge and they were all aware of it, I was subsequently charged and demoted. Some of my colleagues advised me to report the situation to the legal service.

Did you report the case to the body?

I visited the place and reported the incident. They pleaded for my forgiveness, but I questioned the prevalence of forgiveness in the Army, considering the excessive misconduct. Dissatisfied, I sought assistance from the human rights department, who called the responsible parties, only for them to shun the invitation. I also resorted to presenting my case in court, where the accused also disregarded the court’s summons. Despite these efforts, my suffering persisted when I was relocated to a new barracks in Osun State. There, some idle soldiers instructed me to be on duty every day and assigned me to perform sanitation tasks.

However, there was an instance in 2022 when the barracks was undergoing renovation. On a particular day as I was leaving the barracks to celebrate my birthday, a captain accused me of failing to greet him in the presence of many soldiers. I tried to explain that I hadn’t noticed him. Then he began to threaten me, saying that if I was tired of the job, I should just leave. He warned that if they caught me, I would be arrested and punished. Later on, he instructed me to go to the guardroom. It was at that moment that I decided to pack my belongings and quit the job without even requesting my pension. I returned home and gathered my entire luggage outside. I tried to find a vehicle to help me convey my belongings, but they refused to allow the vehicle into the barracks.

I stayed there until October 26, 2022, when they sent me back to Ijebu-Ode. They then told me to report to the intelligence squad on November 1. My acting commanding officer advised me to rest and not do anything, assuring me that my discharge request would be approved soon. A second female lieutenant came to our barracks after that and asked me to write another voluntary discharge letter. This marked the 10th letter that I had written.

 Were you discharged after that?

Despite the assurance that my request would be approved in the next few days, my name was not included. This was disheartening as three sets of names were approved last year, none of which included mine. Furthermore, my new commanding officer blocked my account; it was reopened on December 22, 2023, but unfortunately, when it was reopened, there was no money remaining in the account. I have not received my salary since October and it seems that the welfare of the soldiers is of no concern to them.

How has this experience impacted your perception of the military?

I have faced mistreatment from the captain who denied my request for a pass to seek medical treatment during our peacekeeping mission in Sudan. Another officer, the Regimental Sergeant Major, also subjected me to a similar treatment by assigning me to perform tasks meant for two individuals. As a result of my refusal to date either of them, I have become a target of their maltreatment. I deeply regret joining the Nigerian Army; especially as many female soldiers have already left due to the mistreatment they have faced due to their refusal to have sexual relationships with the superior officers.

There was a day I was asked to cut a tree despite noticing bandages on my arm, and after that, I was assigned to clean two buildings, each with over 20 rooms. There are numerous instances when a female soldier would experience humiliation without limitations, as speaking up would result in demotion. This type of threat prevents the female soldiers from opening up. Many situations like these have occurred. The first time I encountered such a situation was when I was in the guardroom in Ibadan. The RSM was there. When I resumed, there was a newly attached soldier. He asked me out and I rejected his advances. Everyone present can testify to this. This incident marked the beginning of the issues I faced within the system. He came to the guardroom and physically assaulted me in the presence of the RP. He was pulling my hair, dragging my trousers and underwear halfway down, forcefully hitting my head against the wall. In the presence of the on-duty soldiers, my buttocks were left bruised without any action being taken or anyone advocating for me.

Meanwhile, there are soldiers in the barracks who commit the heinous act of raping underage girls, soldiers who have stolen and committed various crimes without punishment. They are mistreating me because I refused to engage in sexual activities with them. If there is no one to fight for me, I will use my last drop of blood to fight against this injustice. One day, while I was serving punishment in the guardroom, a Major General came to visit our barracks. As soon as I heard his voice, I started crying loudly in the guardroom. Thankfully, he heard my cries and asked the soldiers accompanying him where the distressed cries were coming from. They told him not to worry, explaining that it was a mad civilian woman they put in the guardroom. Upon hearing this response, the Major General decided not to bother checking the guardroom that day.

How have your colleagues supported you during the trying period?

I am grateful for the support of most of my colleagues who show me kindness and empathy. Most times when such situations occur, some will not show me any pity because of fear of punishment. Moreover, if those in higher positions lie against you, it is impossible to defend yourself. The more you try to defend yourself, the more charges will be brought against you. If witnesses are called upon, they will support the higher side, even if they are wrong, as they fear punishment and demotion. This leads to immense frustration and intimidation, and I am exhausted. Moreover, none of my family members supported my decision to join the Army, causing me to conceal everything I was going through from them.

Some advised me to transfer to another location due to the excessive mistreatment. All I want is to finally leave this job, and as I depart, they should compensate me so that I can forgive them and avoid taking legal action. If my documents are eventually approved, I will receive a pension. If they refuse, it will encourage me to fight until I receive every kobo I deserve. God will surely fight on my behalf, as I have no one else to rely on.

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