The lives of 54 Nigerian soldiers may soon be terminated by firing squad. These soldiers were recently found guilty by a General Court Martial for mutiny and cowardice in the line of duty. The combatants, attached to the 7 Division, Nigerian Army in Maiduguri were convicted for failing to fight against the Boko Haram insurgents in North east of the country. They include two Corporals, nine Lance Corporals and 49 Private. According to the charge sheet, they conspired to commit mutiny against the authorities of the 7 Division on August 4, at the Mulai Primary School, Maiduguri, Borno State. According to the prosecution, the soldiers had refused to join the 111 Special Forces Battalion troops, commanded by Lt. Col. Timothy Opurum to fight and recapture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa all in Borno State from the Boko Haram. And for this, they were guilty under section 52(1)(a)of the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. While the sentencing falls purely under military jurisdiction, we call on the authorities to take another look into the issue with a view to softening the capital punishment. By their calling and training, soldiers are expected to be brave in the face of danger, especially when such involves defending the country against any external or internal aggression. These convicted soldiers cannot claim ignorance of the hazards of the profession they willingly chose. Soldiers the world over foreswear loyalty both to the authorities and their countries at any time and in any circumstance, even at the risk of losing lives. That is why the state treats them with respect. It therefore smacks of utmost betrayal of the same society which has sacrificed a lot for their wellbeing when they shirk the responsibility of protecting it against threats from any quarters. Under no circumstance should soldiers abandon their posts in the face of terror and give up weapons to Nevertheless, there is a pervasive perception that junior soldiers are merely scapegoats for the incompetence of their superior officers. That is why we are insisting that those at the helm who have stolen billions of naira set aside for barracks development all over the country and yet , have failed for five years to conduct a true and professional war against Boko Haram terrorism be brought to book for their misdeeds. This is because some of these soldiers have for long complained of lack of sophisticated equipment to confront an enemy armed to the teeth. To ‘err is human to forgive divine’. While we do not justify the actions of these soldiers, we believe the authorities could still reform them into patriotic citizens who would put the interest of the country above theirs. That is why we plead that the conviction which carries the death penalty be commuted to life jail terms. A life sentence with parole after some years, would not only have reformed them but it will enable them appreciate the folly of their action. The country cannot afford to waste the lives of 54 citizens at this time that everyone is yearning for national reconciliation and unity against the forces of violence and disintegration.
*this was published in the Daily Times newspaper dated: Friday, December 19, 2014