by Emma Chidiogo
Twelve soldiers were on Monday sentenced to death by a nine-member military tribunal in Abuja for attacking their commanding officer while on duty.
The soldiers, accused of mutiny, – a situation in which a group of people (soldiers) refuse to obey orders from their commander and try to take control of themselves – a crime in the military which is punishable by death, had on May 14, 2014, rebelled against their commanding officer during one of the battles involving military officers and insurgents in Borno state. Some of the soldiers were said to have fired shots at the General Officer Commanding, 7 Division of Nigerian Army, Maj. Gen. Ahmed Mohammed, in Maiduguri.
Of the 18 soldiers accused of violation, 12 were convicted and sentenced to death, one was sentenced to 28 days in jail with hard labour, while 5 were discharged and acquitted.
Why these soldiers revolted
The convicted soldiers were angry after a convoy of military men were ambushed on a road frequently targeted by Islamist Boko Haram militants.
Also, there were reports last month of a group of soldiers in the north-east refusing to fight Boko Haram until they received better equipment. Front-line troops often complain that they lack adequate weapons and equipment to face insurgents, while others complained of not being paid or properly fed.
Coupled with the loss of colleagues, closed friends and family members, these probably triggered the human in them. For a second they forgot the rules of the military, which they had signed up for and let emotions override the directives of their commanding officer.
Mutiny is death
The Ultimate Military Rule is “Obey First Before You Complain”. Essentially, Military officers have no right to express their personal thoughts or feelings once a command is given by their commanding officer.
Some of the crimes punishable by death which are regarded as mutiny are;
- Coup d’etat
- show of cowardice while on duty
- Forcing a safeguard
- Striking a superior officer
- Disobeying in such a manner as to show a wilful defiance of authority or command given personally by his superior officer
This is not the first time military officers have been sentenced to death for mutiny in Nigeria. On 13th February 1976, Lieutenant-colonel Bukur Suka Dimka led a coup which claimed the lives of three officers; General Murtala Muhammed, Head of State, Col. Ibrahim Taiwo, Governor of Kwara State and Lt. Akintunde Akinsehinwa, ADC to Muhammed. This led to the arrest and subsequent execution of Dimka and his co-conspirators.
Also, on 22 April 1990, Gideon Orka staged a coup to unseat the government of Ibrahim Babangida. The coup failed. Following that failure, there was a trial and the largest execution of coup plotters in Nigeria’s history. Sixty-nine soldiers of various ranks were executed by firing squad.
Even our colonial masters have not been spared of the occasional mutiny. The biggest wartime mutiny (disobedience) in the history of Britain’s armed forces occurred in September 1943. Military officers of the 51st Highland Division and the 50th Northumbrian Division who had been injured in the North African campaign were told that they were to be returned to their colleagues in Sicily, but once they boarded a ship, they were told they weren’t actually being returned to their original units at all and were instead being taken to reinforce US troops in the fight for Salerno. A total of 600 men refused to fight. It later transpired that the order to send them to Salerno had been given in error. 191 men were found guilty of treason, and three sergeants were sentenced to death. In 1982, the British government refused to offer a pardon, stating, “There are no grounds for doing so which could not be applied to many other mutineers and deserters . . . Nor which would not denigrate the actions of the many millions who fought bravely and obeyed orders at all times.”
So, there is no two way about the decision taken by the court martial in Abuja on the convicted soldiers. Although the charges were denied by the convicts, once again, in the military, it’s obedience before complain. These soldiers will have to face their death sentence before they can ‘have the chance to defend their actions’.
Court President, General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo said that while the sentences were subject to confirmation by Nigeria’s military authorities, there was no doubt about the seriousness of the offence.
The sentencing panel took into account the “likely effect on counter-insurgency operations” of the incident as well as its “implications on national security”.