Nigerian soldiers assault civilians with flogging and forced hair-cutting

Viral online images posted on Twitter on November 1 and 2 show Nigerian soldiers aggressing civilians in Ibadan by flogging and hair-cutting.
Viral online images posted on Twitter on November 1 and 2 show Nigerian soldiers aggressing civilians in Ibadan by flogging and hair-cutting. © Twitter

Viral images posted to Twitter on November 1 and 2 show Nigerian military officers assaulting civilians in the Beere area of Ibadan: flogging a woman for “indecent dressing” and forcibly cutting the hair of at least six men while taking their money. Oyo state government officials claim to have apprehended the soldiers responsible.


On November 1, a few days after the End SARS protests against police brutality had been put on hold in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, Nigerian soldiers from Operation Burst (a joint security team deployed by Oyo State governor Seyi Makinde to protect protesters from violent hoodlums) assaulted civilians in Beere for reasons that remain unclear. 

This November 1 post shows pictures of Twitter user Ojo Oluwatobi’s hair after he was harassed by Operation Burst military officers.

Deji, a man who had his hair forcibly cut by a military officer, shared his story with FRANCE 24's Observers.

“Before I could say anything, I felt the cold steel of the scissors parting my hair”

It was around 6pm, and I was going to work. Upon arriving at the bus stop, I heard a military man on the other side of the road say “Hey, you, come”. He ordered me to sit on the floor and said that he will have to cut my hair and that I will pay him for the service rendered.

I knew I was in for a serious thing, although I had committed no crime. I started begging him, saying that I did nothing and didn’t have money to pay for his so-called haircut. He got angry and said that he would call on his fellow soldier to beat me up if I continued arguing. Military men in Nigeria have no regard for your fundamental human rights, so I just had to obey. During this time, he also stopped another guy and ordered him to sit on the floor to have his hair cut.

He ruined my haircut. As if that wasn’t enough, he ordered me to take off my shoes, squat, and do ten frog jumps. At that moment, I almost cried. In the end, he did not take money from me, but I’m certain he tried to collect money from the other guy he stopped.

After he let me go, I asked around for a nearby barber shop to remove the rubbish he left on my head. I heard people saying “so they barbed yours too, they have been doing that since morning.

This November 1 Tweet shows images of Deji at the barber and a picture of his hair right after it was cut by the military officer.

After Deji posted about his assault on Twitter, he began to see posts about similar cases of violence that day. A video posted to Twitter on November 1 showed a soldier flogging a woman for “indecent dressing” outside what appears to be a gas station as others look on.

On November 2, another video was posted showing soldiers cutting a man’s hair.

Given the similarity of the buildings in the background, both assaults appear to have happened at the same location — according to Deji, a gas station near Beere’s main bus stop on Orita Aperin-Beere road. Deji affirmed that he also encountered the officer in the same place.

At least three more people tweeted about being assaulted in Beere on November 1. User PrimalHubLtd wrote in a Twitter thread that he was coming back from church when military officers accosted him in the street, cut his hair, and forced him to pay 500 Naira (1,11 Euros).

“Harassment, extortion, brutalizing and killing of innocent citizens by the armed forces is not new. Police and SARS brutality is like the order of the day, but military brutality is rare and not an everyday thing. The hair-cutting is new in recent years, especially here in Ibadan. We had some cases 7 to 8 years ago.”

The Nigerian Army has not responded to inquiries from FRANCE 24's Observers.

“Abuses of power sometimes come into play, especially when military officers are rotated.”

The France 24 Observers team spoke to Dr. Jumo Ayandele, a researcher specialising in African militaries and counterterrorism, who said that a number of factors, including occupational privilege and officer training, could help explain the assaults.

“When it comes to the Nigerian military, officers are really put on a pedestal. So a lot of recruits enlist not because of patriotic duty, but for the salaried job and for the privilege of being a soldier over a civilian. So abuses of power sometimes occur, especially when military officers are rotated.

We also have to consider if these troops were adequately trained to respect human rights and humanitarian intervention, and how that affects the way they interact with civilians. There are different degrees of professionalism across the three branches of the Nigerian military. The air force is seen as more professional — you wouldn’t hear of any acts of violence against civilians from them or from the navy. But you do hear about incidents perpetuated by the Nigerian army.

The military has long been trying to change its image of being able to protect the community, for example with the Nigerian Army Transformation Agenda [Editor’s note: implemented from 2010 to 2014]. However, I’m not aware of more recent campaigns.”

The Oyo State government apologizes and promises justice

In a Twitter post on November 2, Seun Fakorede, the Commissioner for Youth & Sports in Oyo State, reported that Captain Usolo, commander of the Operation Burst team, admitted to the allegations against his officers in Beere. An officer named Adesina was identified as the man who was filmed flogging a woman in the video above. Mr. Fakorede also wrote that the commander “apologised to the families of those assaulted by the erring officers”.

Mr. Fakorede then claimed that “the men involved in this distasteful operation have been arrested and taken to the barracks. This [incident] will not repeat itself again in Oyo State.”

The France 24 Observers team contacted Mr. Fakorede and Kazeem Bolarinwa A., another state official who tweeted about the incident. Neither have provided evidence of these arrests or of charges against the soldiers.

Like many of the Twitter users who responded to Mr. Fakorede’s posts, Deji remains skeptical.

“It’s one thing to come out and address people, and it's another thing to fulfill the promise. The present Oyo State governor has been trying. He says they will face justice, but what about accountability? Maybe we should keep our fingers crossed for the justice.”