Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu left; a corps member holding a ring as he knelt to ask the female soldier to marry him.
The family of a youth corper simply identified as Remi, who proposed to a female soldier, Private Sofiyat Akinlabi, at the National Youth Service Corps Orientation Camp in Yikpata, Kwara State, has said that the duo started their friendship three years ago in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
According to the family member, Remi and Akinlabi’s friendship started in Abeokuta over three years ago before the latter joined the military.
The Nigerian Army had detained Akinlabi on December 14, 2021, when viral video clips showed her accepting the marriage proposal of Remi at the camp in Yikpata, Kwara State.
The lovebirds had shared a hug and kiss to the delight of other corpers at the Mammy market.
The Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, told our correspondent that Akinlabi’s action amounted to taking advantage of her trainee, noting that the public would have been outraged and accused the Army of coercion had a male soldier proposed to a female corper during NYSC parade.
He said, “The female soldier in question violated the following rules of the NA: fraternisation while on official duty at the NYSC camp. That is, indulging in an amorous relationship with a trainee. Personnel must have served for three years before he/she can qualify for marriage.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of the matter, the close family member of the corps member told Saturday PUNCH that they had lost each other’s contact, but was surprisingly brought together by fate at the NYSC camp late November.
He said, “They have known each other before they got to camp. They met in Abeokuta over three years ago before she joined the Army but lost contact sometimes ago. Meeting on NYSC camp was like a reunion.
“They have been friends all along and Remi thought it wise to seize the opportunity of their meeting again to propose to her. He had to walk up to her as a man and not worry about her new status as a soldier because she would eventually get married.
“He got the courage and proposed to her out with a ring which she accepted. The whole thing was totally a surprise to her.
“It happened after the passing out parade on December 14, 2021. She was at the Mammy Market pressing her phone, she was just on her own and she never knew something of such would happen.
“When he walked up to her, she was over joyous and dumfounded at the same time. She is a lady and her reactions were triggered by emotions. Like men, women are still emotional beings no matter who they are.
“Remi was not holding any phone and did not record the moment. He didn’t post anything on social media and she didn’t also post it on social media. It was the fellow corpers around that did the posting on social media.”
Asked why Remi preferred Akinlabi, who is a soldier, the family source said, “He can’t explain his love for her because they so connected emotionally when they met again and he believes it is true love.”
The NYSC Director-General, Brig.-Gen. Ibrahim Shuaibu, had during a briefing in Abuja on December 21, 2021, said though the scheme “encourage(s) them to inter-marry, we have never had a situation where a corps member will go and propose (to a soldier).”
He added that the Army won’t joke with its traditions.
‘Romantic soldier may be sentenced to one-month punishment after trial’
Asked whether the soldier has been released, an impeccable military source, who craved anonymity because he was not allowed to speak on the matter, told Saturday PUNCH that Akinlabi would be tried in line with extant military laws.
The military source said upon trial, Akinlabi might be sentence to one-month punishment.
He said, “She will go through summary trial because the offence she committed is not a grievous offence that will attract court-martial.
“During her trial, if she is able to prove that she was not the one who did that (posted on social media), they might overlook it but if she had not violated the military laws by fraternising with the corper, that wouldn’t have happened.”
According to the military official, there is a law guiding soldiers and officers when it comes to marriage.
He said, “There is an extant provision in the harmonised terms and conditions of service for soldiers, ratings and airmen. The provision has been there for years. If you are a soldier, whether male or female, you are not allowed to marry in the first three years of your service.
“It is a law and it is not contestable because the first three years of service, you will be engaged as a soldier, you cannot marry. The law is there and all recruits are told at the point of joining the Armed Forces.
“Also, no soldier is allowed to marry before joining the force. Some people conceal their marriage status, but if it is known, they will charge you for perjury.
“Even after three years in service and you want to marry, you must write to your commanding officer, informing him that you want to get married and the commanding officer will make some enquiries. ‘This officer, this soldier, how is his/her way of life? Is he or she ready for marriage? If she/he marries, hope the marriage will not distract him/her from his military works?’
“When the commanding officer is convinced, he will approve it and then the soldier or officer will start his or her process of getting married.
“If an officer wants to get married to a soldier, one of them must leave the service, but an officer can marry an officer and a soldier can marry a soldier; there is no problem in that. Aside from that, an officer or a soldier, whether male or female, can marry any decent civilian.”
Meanwhile, the family source, who said Remi had been very devastated since the arrest of his lover, begged the military to release Akinlabi.
“We appeal to the Nigerian Army to tamper justice with mercy and release her. She is a woman and she has emotions. We don’t want her to be dismissed; we want her to continue her job in the military,” the source said.
In a related development, civil society organisations, including the Women Empowerment & Legal Aid, chaired by Funmi Falana, have called on the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Farouk Yahaya, to respect the decision of Akinlabi to accept Remi’s proposal.
She argued that no male soldier had been punished for proposing to a love interest in public as seen on social media.
She, therefore, declared as illegal, the detention of Akinlabi.
Also, two petitions on Change.org platform by activists Deji Adeyanju of Concerned Nigerians and Omoyele Sowore of Revolution Now have attracted over 10,000 signatures.
The petitioners shared photos of male soldiers proposing to their love interests in uniform on Facebook and called for the release of Akinlabi.