The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that conditions of work are just and humane. – Section 17 (3) b of the 1999 Constitution

THE military authorities have converted the life imprisonment a court martial passed on 27 soldiers to seven years imprisonment.

On the surface, the military authorities are kind. In reality, they have sustained the notion that the poor, the weak, the commoners and those whose parents are not royalty or have connections in high places would suffer, always.

Neither our laws, nor the Constitution support the type of humiliation and anguish the 27 soldiers have gone through in their patriotic service to Nigeria. The military authorities, hiding behind military laws, threw them into jail for mutiny.

Why should the soldiers, all in the prime of their careers, with commendations from their bosses for their patriotism and commitment to duties be languishing in jail? Theirs was a story of how Nigeria punishes the just for the iniquities of others.

After their risky duties in Sierra Leone, they returned to Nigeria expecting to be paid. They were fed with stories. They pleaded, they appealed, they begged, they cajoled their bosses in order to get their allowances. They got nothing.

Soldiers, from other countries, who served in the same United Nations, UN, mission, do not suffer this deprivation. They were paid their money during their service.

Our soldiers returned and waited for their allowances, aware that the UN had paid the Nigerian government, which was supposed to pay our soldiers. They did not receive any money, no matter how they tried.

After more than a year of waiting, they decided to assemble in Akure, the barrack from where the paying authorities operate, to stage a peaceful demonstration for their entitlements which they had lost hopes of getting.

Thousands of their colleagues died in action in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Many of the families of the dead have not been able to get their entitlements some dating to 1990.

Those who were badly injured and promised treatment abroad, were dumped on returning to Nigeria – these are parts of the traditions of the peace keeping efforts that Nigerian soldiers have been involved in since the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone saw them in active services, resulting in more loss of lives.

Before this group, some injured soldiers had rioted when they were neglected. They were jailed and the Court of Appeal freed them.

The case of the 27 soldiers is more revolting. The court martial convicted the officers who did not pay these soldiers for stealing. The stolen allowances run into million of Dollars.

Their punishment was loss of one rank, or loss of one-year seniority. They did not serve a day in jail, unlike these young people whose promising careers are cut short  because they asked for their rights.

Of the 27, two are women. For Section 17 (3) b of the 1999 Constitution to be meaningful, it must apply to all Nigerians.


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