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Nigerian Military Panel Investigates Woman's Assault by Naval Soldiers


A four-man military panel in Nigeria is investigating an assault earlier this month by navy men on a woman for allegedly failing to make way for their boss in traffic. The widely reported attack is not an isolated incident, as Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA from Abuja.

Half a dozen bodyguards to a senior naval officer were caught on video beating and stripping Uzoma Okere in broad daylight in an up-market residential area of traffic-prone Lagos. The soldiers were angry that she did not pull out of the way in time for the convoy of the two-star general.

Okeke, 27, sustained cuts to the head and whip lacerations to the chest and arms.

President Umaru Yar'Adua was forced to order an investigation after the attack, which was filmed by workers in nearby offices, was posted on the Internet and shown on local and international television.

The main opposition Action Congress party described the attack as "baseless, appalling and unacceptable." Party spokesman Lai Mohammed described the investigation as an attempt at cover-up.

"Nigerians are not impressed by the fact that they have set up a panel. Several have been set up before and we never got to know the outcome," said Mohammed. "And in more ways than one, the matter had been swept under the carpet, especially when senior officers are involved."

Mohammed says the widely reported attack was no isolated incident.

"It is just one of the many acts of terrorism by men in uniform, whether police, army, navy or air force. And every day, around this country, extra-judicial killings are going on," he said. "People are being terrorized, being harassed."

Long years of military rule in Nigeria have entrenched a culture of impunity by security forces.

Nigerians have reacted angrily to the assault on Okere and are demanding swift and decisive action. The country's parliament treated the incident as a matter of great national importance and queried the chief of naval staff.

Several human rights and women's groups, as well as high-profile individuals are rallying to the cause of the victim.

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