Couple of weeks ago, the media reported that the Nigerian Army sentenced 54 soldiers to death by firing squad for the offences of mutiny and conspiracy to commit mutiny. The condemned soldiers were charged for refusing to obey orders from their commanding officer, Col. Timothy Opurum, to take part in an operation to recapture towns and villages in Borno State from Boko Haram.
Some of the accused testified that they refused to partake in the operation because they did not have the equipment to effectively carry out their duty; while others professed ignorance of the directive. A few others said their medical condition made it impossible for them to go on the said assignment. The harsh penalty has since elicited domestic and global condemnation.
In some military institutions, mutiny is a serious offence that carries the death sentence. But what really is a mutiny, and does the accused deserve to be executed? We’ll come back to these questions.
No one who has ever gone to war returns unscathed. When you go into the battle zone, one of three things is likely to happen to you: Death, physical injury or mental damage. In essence, if you don’t die in battle, something else dies in you; you will never be whole again. Besides, wars are very costly in other ways. It is for these reasons that many nation-states are hesitant to send their boys and girls to battle. And when they do, they are generally well-cared for.
But long before they become combat-ready, the government and its military establishment make available several things in readiness for war and the post-conflict environment. This is called “Combat Readiness” of troops. Professional armies are supposed to have this in place. Otherwise, the aims and objectives of the government will be abridged. For any nation’s Armed Forces to be effective therefore, it must be properly manned, properly equipped and properly trained in modern warfare (which included terrorism and counterinsurgency).
In addition to the aforementioned, three other things matter: civilian and military leadership; compensation; and morale. All these affect the cohesiveness and battle readiness of the troops (be it in the trenches, jungles, air, sea, or cyberspace). This leads to a simple question: “Is the Nigerian Armed Forces prepared and combat ready?” And by extension, is the Nigerian military ready and able to take on ragtag armies like Boko Haram? In the last two decades at least, many military strategists and professional soldiers do not consider the Nigerian Armed Forces “modern, ready or capable” of the demands of the 21st century.
Frankly, I doubt if any of the Service Chiefs – Air Marshal Alex Badeh, Major-General Kenneth Minimah, Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin, and Air Vice-Marshal Adesola Amosu –thinks in the affirmative. If indeed the Nigerian Armed Forces is not modern, ready or capable – why send its men into the battlefield. Why send them to confront a better-armed better-equipped and better-motivated Boko Harm? Why send them to their death and or to psychological injury?
Doing so is akin to sending them to commit suicide. And any officer or Commander-in-Chief that sends his men to commit suicide in the battlefield deserves to be severely reprimanded.
There have been several mutinies in history. For instance, there was the French Army mutinies of 1917; the 1931 Invergordon mutiny; the Velos mutiny of 1973; the Fort Bonifacio mutiny in 2006; and the 1st Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, British Army mutiny of 2013. What these tell us is that wherever you have the army, or men of the sea, there will always be mutinies. Since the war against Boko Haram began, there have been several cases of “disobedience, revolt and desertion.” In fact, mutinies are not foreign to colonial and post-colonial Nigeria.
What is a mutiny anyway? According to publicly available sources, mutiny is a “concerted disobedient or seditious action by persons in military service, or by sailors on commercial vessels. Mutiny may range from a combined refusal to obey orders to active revolt or going over to the enemy on the part of two or more persons. In the armed forces, it is considered one of the gravest crimes against military law.”
But what if the order is unlawful? Say, executing such a directive might lead to the death of innocent civilians, or that the result might be considered a crime against humanity? Or, as in this particular case, what if the soldiers were right: They didn’t have the necessary equipment to effectively carry out their duties?
I am not sure what the Nigerian military law says about unlawful orders. It is however pertinent to note that public records show that the “US military law requires obedience only to lawful orders. Disobedience to unlawful orders is the obligation of every member of the US military, a principle established by the Nuremberg and Tokyo Trials following World War II and reaffirmed in the aftermath of the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War.”
Let me touch upon a point I made earlier: The Nigerian Armed Forces is not ready for modern warfare. It is especially ill-equipped to take on Boko Haram. I am not sure anyone in and outside of the military would dispute this fact. This being the fact, how do we – how do the generals, the President, the National Assembly and the public – expect our combatants to effectively engage and defeat threats like Boko Haram?
Those who sign up to join any of the military branches know and understand the fact that they may be killed on the battlefield. Every soldier knows that. Nonetheless, every soldier should have a fair fighting chance. They need not die needlessly or “die for nothing.” To execute these soldiers for disobeying unlawful orders is not only unconscionable, it is inhumane.
You don’t go to war unprepared; just as you don’t carry out surgeries without the necessary training and equipment. Who ventures into the sea without the proper gears? Why ask our soldiers to fight Boko Haram when they are not ready and do not have equipment? We therefore call on the highest authorities within the Nigerian military to spare the lives of these men. Or else, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces should spare their lives and let them return to their loved ones.
Now, is the narrative I have given you the correct version of things and events? Is this really what happened? Were those soldiers sent to commit suicide or what we have here is an act of cowardice?
In spite of the pronouncement of the President of the General Court Martial, Brig. Gen. Musa Yusuf, what many Nigerians would like to know is this: Were the condemned soldiers truly guilty of mutiny and conspiracy to commit mutiny, or perhaps they did the right thing by refusing to obey unlawful orders – orders that would have led to their being slaughtered?
If those soldiers were combat-ready and yet refused orders to engage Boko Haram, then, that would be mutiny, cowardice. No nation, and certainly no military institution, can afford to have a group of weaklings in its rank and file. Whatever it was – legitimate mutiny or cowardice – I would suggest that the National Assembly, in concert with the Presidency, set up an investigative panel to answer a series of questions, such as, “What’s the problem with the Nigerian Armed Forces?”
Frankly, not everyone is cut out for military service. Not everyone has the kind of courage you find in men and women who wear military uniforms. Not everyone has the tener cojones to defend the integrity and sovereignty of their nations. Soldiering, therefore, is one of the highest and finest callings anyone can respond to or gravitate towards. It is love, one of the rarest forms of love. In response, the military high command and the civilian leadership must also provide all that it takes to make soldiers ready, willing and able.
In the last couple of years, and especially since the inadequacy of our military against Boko Haram became apparent, many have been wondering: What happened to the Nigerian Armed Forces of yesteryears? But to ask this question is, in my opinion, being ignorant of the Nigerian situation. Who does not know that every aspect of the Nigerian society is rotten? Every private and public institution in the country is corroded. Every single one of them is – including the Judiciary.
For instance, if you turn on the lights on our High Courts, the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court, you would be surprised at what you’ll find. It’s been alleged that many of our judges have homes and bank accounts, at home and aboard, that are beyond their legitimate income. The higher echelons of the military, many have posited, are even worse.
The complaints against the Nigerian Armed Forces are many, too many to chronicle here. But let’s take a few. First, there is the issue of professionalism: Many of the soldiers, for the most part, are nothing but amateurs. They are not properly trained and so are not versed in military ideology and etiquette. Second, there are many boys who joined the military, not out of patriotism or nationalism or a sense of duty and service to the nation, but because they were unemployed or underemployed and so saw the military as a source of supplemental income. Military service, then, is simply a part-time job.
Third, there are men who joined simply because they saw the military as a vehicle to propel them to the upper echelons of the Nigerian society. They reasoned that if they stayed long enough in the Navy, Air Force or the Army, they may rise to the rank of Colonel and above (in any of the services). And so we had/have many officers who hold/held those ranks but are not true officers.
How could this have happened? Well, I cannot think of a period in post-colonial Nigeria when traditional and religious rulers were not given slots for their wards in the Nigerian Military School, Zaria, or the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. The children and relatives of former and serving officers were/are also accorded such spaces. Essentially, admission to these elite schools was not always by merit or some set standard, but by “who you know…who knows you.” These types of favoritism also extended to officer military training abroad.
In the end, their loyalty, for the most part is not always to the military or the country, but rather to their benefactors. And of course such an officer ends up not respecting their commanding officers, their subordinates, or military traditions. And they also tend to develop a sense of entitlement. How does such a soldier give his all to the military and the country when religion, ethnicity, and godfather-ism have come to trump professionalism and nationhood?
You then add these to the cathedral of political corruption, the endemic social decay, under-funding, and the unpreparedness and the disillusionment of modern military service. So, tell me: How does such a military face a more determined, better equipped and highly motivated Boko Haram?
Consequently, the time has come to reorganise the Nigerian Armed Forces. This is not the 1960s, the 1970s or the 1980s. Times have changed! This once great institution should be redesigned to meet the challenges of an interconnected, interrelated and a more complex world. But first, spare the lives of the condemned soldiers.