THIS time of the year is usually devoted to the remembrance of the Armed Forces, the forgotten soldiers – our war heroes who died that we might live as well as their survivors; and we may also add that this is perhaps the best time to remember those of them who were brutally suppressed in the line of duty.
This is where we remember the absurd charge of mutiny against the 66 Nigerian soldiers for which they were sentenced to death in the first quarter of 2015; but which was later commuted to 10 years imprisonment.
There was a general outcry and total disenchantment with the way the case was handled but with their usual attitude, like the scattering fowl, which once it sees one of its chicks, all is complete, Nigerians have since forgotten that case, hence it now becomes imperative to remind us of its basic principles.
On assuming office, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff, as he then was, under heavy pressure from all quarters, ordered a legal review on which he finally based the communal of the death sentence to terms of imprisonment. Our original argument is today as valid as it was almost two years ago.
A legal review is not totally objectionable but still more expedient is a moral review of the circumstances around the purported mutiny if the end of justice must be truly served. The soldiers had been charged with disobeying their Commander after they were ambushed in Borno State by a band of marauding Boko Haram insurgents.
At first, the soldiers resented when the Commanding Officer ordered them on a particularly dangerous night expedition. On a second thought, however, they proceeded on the journey that eventually claimed the lives of their platoon commander, a young Captain and a number of their colleagues.
Enraged by the Commanding Officer’s poor sense of judgment that came at such a great cost; and more so, the soldiers were being sent on a suicide bid – ill-equipped for battle as they were given only 30 bullets each and no food ration – they confronted the Commander.
Here was a clear case of misplaced aggression: money voted to fight insurgency was brazenly diverted into private pockets by the military leadership that later turned round to dispatch soldiers to the war front, almost bare-handed and on empty stomachs, as it were, for them to go and perish. And on refusing to proceed on the suicide mission, they were charged with insurrection. This is the very height of injustice, depicting that might is still right.
It was a clear manifestation of total systems collapse being blamed on the innocent soldiers. If nothing else, the sordid revelations in the ongoing Dasukigate scandals point only in one direction – funds meant for the procurement of arms and ammunition were criminally diverted to other devious purposes.
The 66 soldiers deserve nothing less than an unconditional pardon. Their conviction was patently defective and unjust. It is immaterial that their conviction was done by a military court. After all, those concerned are citizens first and soldiers after that.
Besides, the Nigerian Army is a formation of State that is run on the tax-payers’ money and it cannot be higher than the society in which it exists. Neither can it exist as an island unto itself.
The inalienable right to life guaranteed under Section 33 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not exclude soldiers.
Every living soul, including the soldier, has a right to self-determination. Everyone desires life over death. When the soldier enlisted in the army, it was clear to him that he was not signing for suicide; but for the defence of his nation’s territorial integrity.
Are there no limits to obedience? In plain truth, not only is man under no moral obligation to always obey unjust laws, he is also under no moral obligation to always obey just laws.
Sometimes, it may be necessary in the interest of the greater good to violate a just and sensible law. A man who refuses to violate a sensible traffic law in order to avert a possible fatal accident would be a moral idiot. Even for a zombie, it would be fool-hardly to jump into a deep well simply because the commander has so ordered.
The military must also realise that legal absolutism – the position that one is never justified in violating any law under any circumstance – belongs in the past.
In military parlance, the soldier must obey the last order because, in their estimation, the disobedience of even a bad law is wrong as that fosters a general disrespect for all laws, including the good ones. We object to this because it is like insisting that children must be made to eat rotten fruits along with the good ones lest they get the impression that all fruits should be thrown away. But isn’t it also likely that someone forced to eat rotten fruits may because of that develop distaste for all fruits?
By far the greatest, but unsung, dividends of governance under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration could reside in the lives of the 66 gallant soldiers. Had the Jonathan administration continued in power, the men would have long been sent to the gallows, going by the impunity of that era as espoused by Marshall Alex Barde, “They could have been tried, condemned, executed and buried in the field – all in five minutes”.
Again, there are worse offences than mutiny and one of them is the diversion of funds meant for the procurement of military wares, at war-time, into private pockets. This explains why the merchants of death, those erring military leaders, besides being charged for corruption, must also be held accountable for the lives of the soldiers who were dispatched to their early graves.
The Buhari Administration must now step forward to complete the good job it has already started: the ongoing Armed Forces remembrance will be most auspicious for the President to exercise the prerogative of mercy to order the release of the 66 gallant soldiers.