The Nigeria Army recently sentenced 12 soldiers to death by firing squad for mutiny. The soldiers had allegedly attempted to kill their commanding officer during a mutiny in May at the Maimalari Barracks, Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. On May 14 this year, to be precise, a group of soldiers reportedly fired shots at Maj-Gen Ahmadu Mohammed, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 7th Division, at Maiduguri’s Maimalari Barracks. The soldiers were said to have been angered by the sight of the bodies of 12 of their colleagues as they were brought back from Chibok, where they were killed by militants who had ambushed a convoy of troops returning from antiterrorism duties.
The mutineers shot several times into the air and called senior officers “cowards”, accusing them of deliberately putting them in harm’s way. The following day, the GOC of the barracks was removed. However, the court martial, which was led by Brigadier- General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo, sitting at Mogadishu Cantonment in Abuja found the soldiers guilty as charged and sentenced 12 of the 18 soldiers to death by firing squad. The 12 soldiers found guilty of the offences of mutiny and criminal conspiracy to commit mutiny are Cpl Jasper Braidolor, Cpl David Musa, LCpl Friday Onun, LCpl Yusuf Shuaibu, LCpl Igomu Emmanuel, Pte Andrew Ngbede, Pte Nurudeen Ahmed, Pte Ifeanyi Alukhagbe, Pte Alao Samuel, Pte Amadi Chukwudi, Pte Allan Linus, and LCpl Stephen Clement.
The court martial found five other soldiers innocent of all five counts of insubordinate behaviour, false accusation, mutiny, AWOL and conduct to the prejudice of service discipline. They were, therefore, acquitted and discharged. The five acquitted soldiers are Cpl David Luhbut, Cpl Muhammed Sani, Pte Iseh Ubong, Pte Sabastine Gwaba and Pte Inama Samuel. The 18th soldier, Private Ichocho Jeremiah was found guilty of going AWOL (absent without official leave) and was sentenced to 28 days in prison with hard labour. Jeremiah was also found guilty of conduct to the prejudice of service discipline but was only reprimanded for this offence. This newspaper does not in any way support indiscipline in the army.
Indeed, military discipline and loyalty to constituted authority have remained models of organizational behavior taught in business schools. For, no national army is worth that name if officers and men are not accustomed to venerating the flag and rank but act as they please or, more specifically, disobey orders they don’t like. And we also recognize that the military has its own peculiar method of punishing indiscipline and rewarding loyalty and gallantry. However, in the case of these 12 soldiers sentenced to death for mutiny, we believe that the military must not necessarily implement the provisions of its law: we plead that their lives be spared.
As the government and military authorities have themselves admitted over time, insurgency is not a social problem our regular army was initially prepared to confront. So, the fight against Boko Haram was bound to throw up a lot of emergencies that would task the patience of even the most disciplined of troops. We hold the view that the sight of the lifeless bodies of their colleagues and the perception that the military hierarchy didn’t do much to prevent such deaths was one of such emergencies that made those soldiers react in a manner that went against the grain of military loyalty. We plead that the army should see that unfortunate incident in that light and spare the lives of these young men in uniform.
Boko Haram has caused enough damage in the polity. Among the many dead in the sect’s bestial attacks on our cities, communities and villages the people are soldiers who went down fighting that the rest of us may live. Even the soldiers who have been sentenced to death have also seen battle and are only fortunate to be alive. We must, therefore, not hand the insurgents the morbid satisfaction of seeing us shoot our soldiers for an offence that, though serious in the military, is, all things considered, pardonable under the circumstance in which it was considered. To err is human and forgive, divine.
We hasten to add that in the light of what has happened, it has become imperative for the military to review its laws and fashion out a set of more holistic and humanfriendly ones. What we have today are mostly archaic colonial bequeathals, which are too draconian to guide behavior in the military establishment. They must be changed. For, as they say, the only thing that is constant in life is change.
That change is certainly needed in the country’s military laws so that punishments meted out for offences are fair and just and commensurate with the weight of such offences in the eyes of justice. After all, the military is also part of humanity. The army will only be showing signs of strength if it overrules itself and suspends the death sentence on the condemned 12; it will be acting in tandem with global best practices in such matters.