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Published On: Mon, Oct 6th, 2014

Army leadership and its convicted warriors

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Chief-of-Army-Staff-General-Kenneth-MinimahTuesday Column by Adewale Stephen

Music played at weddings always reminds me of the music played for soldiers before they go into battle … Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

While the entire country was anticipating the breaking of any cheering news on the missing war jet, we were greeted with the news that the twelve of the Nigerian soldiers had been sentenced to death by firing squad for mutiny and attempted murder of their commanding officer. These were the same soldiers who openly protested the ambush and subsequent massacre of their colleagues by members of the Boko Haram, in the Chibok village. This occurred when Boko Haram opened fire on their General Officer Commanding on May 13 2014.

Mutiny is the gravest military crime, for it strikes at the very heart of military discipline, and desertion was not far behind for similar reasons. Let there be no ambiguity in this, what the rebellious soldiers did was very wrong and should be condemned by every right thinking person. Because, the military as a vocation is unlike any other profession, it is a job that requires the utmost sacrifice from those who decide to take it up as a career, and it demands utmost loyalty and high sense of responsibility from those who voluntarily sign up. The soldiers are expected to be fully committed to an assigned task, they must not compromise in whatever circumstances. It is this unrelenting devotion to the standard of duty and courage, absolute loyalty to others, and of not letting the task go until it has been accomplished, that makes the military such an enviable institution.

However, while it is apparent that the purpose of this outrageous verdict on the 12 was to act as a warning or deterrent to others, I should point out that this is definitely not going to achieve any positive results. The military leadership should have used that ugly incident as a signal to make a serious reflection on its activities. According to the former American army chief Collin Powell, ‘Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems, is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.’

Rather than implementing this harsh verdict, army leadership must concede that they are the ones who have failed to regard their soldiers as their children. Therefore they failed to follow them into the deepest valleys, and failed to look after them as their own beloved sons. Thus the soldiers failed to stand by the nation even unto their death. If Clausewitz’s assertion that the principles of war do not change over time but are immutable, then perhaps too, the principles of military leadership are also immutable, or at least analogous. Thus the pillars of classical leadership still have their application today.

I am sure the Army leadership is familiar with the term ‘positive reinforcement.’ Evan Munsing in his paper, ‘What Caesar Told His Centurions’ explains that effective welfare packages and rewards for the troops are important aid in maintaining unit effectiveness and morale. Is our military leadership doing enough to lift the moral of its soldiers? The answer to the question is very clear to all and sundry. Sound welfare packages have always been the source of discipline in the military and not vice versa, for example during the Roman Empire, aside from sound welfare packages, the Romans rewarded the first soldier over the walls of an enemy city with the ‘corona muralis,’ (a crown made of gold). Other awards might be given in the form of torques or bracelets of (somewhat) precious metals. These rewards were presented to the recipient in front of the whole army, and when worn with one’s uniform they were considered very impressive to soldiers and civilians alike.

The Aftermath of the Russian March revolution of 1917 showed the importance of loyalty, and the actions of soldiers through undermining the authority of officers and their subsequent desertion left evidence,, that discipline accompanied with sound welfare packages is the glue that holds groups together as one in responding to orders. We always love to talk about the existing discipline in the UnitedStates’ marine and army,yet Bryan Bender in his survey, ‘Army Morale Declines in Survey’ submitted that discipline problems can no longer be denied by either service since the 1990s. Particularly since the surge in Iraq, there have been increasing concerns that the human material America is enlisting in its military is too weak, thus resulting in the rash decline in disciplinary standards.

It is also sad that the 27 soldiers imprisoned for ‘mutiny’ by a military tribunal led by General IshayaBauka, were later pardoned in December 2010 by the Nigerian army. However, their other colleagues are yet to be paid the disputed allowances and their monetary entitlements. Till date, there is no record of the officers that diverted their $5,040 monthly peace keeping allowance, and if they will ever be identified or punished by the army. Under this kind of system of unjust practices, total and unalloyed discipline cannot be exhibited among the rank and file.

That soldiers are not allowed to go on strike does not mean that their disputes of interests should not be addressed effectively and adequately. Rather than overheating the already effervesced situation, the Nigerian army should grant a full pardon to these ‘Maiduguri 12’. What the nation requires at this critical point in time is a show of mercy and not vice versa. These convicted soldiers have been complaining, long before they protested that they were outgunned by the insurgents, and frequently were not paid in full, felt abandoned on the battlefield, and always fought without enough ammunition or food. Unfortunately, the Army leaders turned deaf ears to their cries until the situation eventually got out of hand. At a time such as this, the Nigerian army must embrace principles of justice over military policies because as Thomas Paine once said, “an army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.”

Adewale Stephen is the Head of Programme at Africa Dialogue Mission, Abuja, and can be reached on  08031509489

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