I was recently a guest on a radio talk show. I was to discuss the Nigerian government’s inability, thus far, to contain and defeat the Boko Haram. At one point, the talk show host asked my opinion on the court marshal of mutinous Nigerian soldiers who heckled their divisional commander and shot at him.
My opinion is that the court marshal that sentenced them to death was appropriate. A number of my listeners that called disagreed with me. They argued that due to the circumstances that provoked the mutiny, the military hierarchy should be lenient with the mutineers. To me, no special circumstance invalidates the need for them to be punished with becoming severity.
A Nigerian army general was once quoted as saying that, “if I am ordered to shoot (and kill) my father, I will shoot him as a soldier, and then, return home and bury him as a son”. There is something dreadfully weird about a man that shoots his father, and then, goes home and buries him. For he shot his father, not in the thrall of hate, fit of lunacy or flush of delirium, and not due to lack of a sense of filial commitment and responsibility or disdain for tradition and societal expectations, but in obedience to an order. Is it not evident that in obeying orders, his actions are totally devoid of reason, emotions and sentiments?
Having lost its patient with protesting students that had, for months, occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the Chinese government ordered soldiers to forcibly eject them. As the soldiers advanced towards them, an elderly woman knelt down before one of the soldiers, pleading not to shoot at the students. He shot her in the head, and moved on. To a crowd of on- lookers, it was outrageous: mindless, heartless murder of an innocuous woman. However, to the soldier, he did nothing wrong. He was ordered to attack the students and anything that stood in his way was an impediment.
A man is a soldier not because he is proficient in the use of guns and bayonets, and is armed and outfitted with a military uniform, but because he has been drilled into obeying orders unquestioningly? The word infantry evolved from the French word for “child” because of the child-like compliance instilled in troops. And without this blind obedience to orders, no army can exist, as it cannot be a disciplined force but a band of uniformed and armed thugs.
So, when those soldiers at the Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri scoffed and shot at their divisional commander, Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, they were in gross violation of military conventions and ethics. A man that taunted his commander is not a soldier. He is, at the very best, a ruffian.
Undoubtedly, the Nigerian military, like every other Nigerian institution, is in a bog of ineptitude and graft. Not surprisingly, there are disquieting reports of corruption and inefficiency among the officers. Consequently, troops are not paid their allowances and those in the battle field are denied adequate arms, ammunition and ration. And in fierce battles with terrorists, they are also sometimes denied backup, reinforcements and air support. In addition, there are allegations that some officers are saboteurs, thus sabotaging the troops in their operations against Boko Haram.
The “peculiar environment and circumstances” that provoked the mutiny and which should necessitate clemency for the mutineers were that they were on a secret mission and were ambushed by the insurgents. Due to the secrecy of the operation, they suspected saboteurs must have tipped off the insurgents.
Inherent in their behaviour is a delirious notion that they reserve the right to suspect, arraign and sentence the divisional commander. Usually, most soldiers may not always understand the strategic doctrine of the military high command and the strategic and tactical plans of their officers.
So, irrespective of the limitations and supposed blunders and crimes of the commander, men under his command still must obey him. It is in the purview of the commander’s superior officers, and not men under his command, to judge and penalise him if need be.
*Originally published in the Daily Times newspaper of Friday, January 9, 2015