Reprieve for offending soldiers
THE Nigerian Army’s reinstatement of 3,032 soldiers the other day is instructive of the institution’s commitment to justice even in the light of strict military operating rules of engagement which prescribe unquestioning obedience of orders. That move by the Army authorities is, therefore, a clear manifestation of a resolve to uphold the values of discipline, regimentation but also justice in the system with a view to bringing out only the best in officers and men.
It is equally significant to note that the soldiers who got a reprieve had shown total readiness to imbibe new orientation through retraining after which they would be re-launched into the battle against insurgency. They should also expect to have their morale boosted by the availability of more weapons (the shortage of which they pleaded for desertion and other actions), and by a new inspiring leadership in place in the military.
More important, the decision taken on all the 5,000 cases reviewed should be seen as a means to restoring dignity to and further strengthening the military institution. The soldiers were convicted by a court martial set up in 2014 for mutiny, disobedience to constituted authority and acts of cowardice. The Court Martial was authorised by the immediate past Chief of Army Staff. It is on record also that the appeal review panel was not convinced by some pleas and did not give relief therefore to those sentenced for various criminal offences. The panel’s thorough job was even underscored by its decision to apportion even stiffer penalties to those whose offences were unpardonable but were given lesser sentences in the original trial.
It is also just as well that as part of the review, soldiers who were sentenced to death and appealed also did not benefit from a reprieve as the Army authorities have to wait for the outcome of that appeal. What many of the soldiers did certainly amounted to jettisoning professionalism and compromising the nation’s security while concerned about their personal safety, contrary to the dictates of their calling.
But the benefit of the doubt for them stemmed from the belief that there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers. In this case, the blame pendulum would seem to have swung towards officers, past or present, who let their country and soldiers down in a time of great need by their alleged failure to acquire necessary and/or enough military hardware or equipment for deployment to the soldiers to confront rampaging insurgents. This was what the soldiers claimed for their unprofessional conduct, which eventually culminated in arrests, trial and punishment.
So on the perceived failure of superiors to provide adequate fighting tools, therefore, the offending soldiers seemed to have found reasonable excuse as the system truly failed them on this score. And many events later bore this out with the insurgents’ routing of the nation’s solders and gaining control of scores of local government areas at a time. Even, frantic efforts by the government then to acquire more weapons and ammunition from abroad only proved this case of guilt on the part of superior officers.
Not only that, the current investigation of some military chiefs and the regime of weapon purchases in the past as ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari is a pointer that something was actually amiss which forced a Nigerian soldier to desert or complain in battle.
With firmness, the new President, no doubt, seems to be giving the military the kind of leadership needed at a critical time like now. By giving respite to the convicted soldiers, the new leadership is also scoring a good emotional point. The loss of more men to the emboldened insurgents and the hardly reparable embarrassment the country suffered in the international community when those soldiers deserted the battlefront can hardly be forgotten. But the nation has witnessed a lot of bloodshed and could ill-afford more. This recognition and the emotional stability it gives all is good for the officers and men in ways corresponding to the feelings of the citizens or mood of the nation.
Such professional derailment must, however, not happen again. The reinstated soldiers must reciprocate the gesture of the authorities with a renewed work ethic and loyalty to the nation.
It must be said that Nigeria cannot afford to fiddle with the character and efficiency of its military institution, an institution that is revered the world over. They should maintain and keep the legacy of this respected defence force which has distinguished itself in winning wars and securing peace in different parts of the world.