It’s always an honor to write you, my President. I would have written to congratulate you on your nomination for the ticket but then I would be lost in the billionaires’ parade. So, like the tens of millions out there, I will whisper the congratulations in the wind and hope we have a peaceful election with no rancor. I write today, sir, about a matter that affects just a few dozen men but have an effect on their families, communities and our national consciousness. It’s the matter of the mutinous Soldiers who ran away from Boko Haram only to find themselves staring at the nozzle of a firing squad.
I will never know the way of men in the uniform. They baffle me and thinking about the way they think sometimes gives me a headache. But, you know one true thing, sir – we owe our lives to them. Knowing that they are out there makes us sleep easier at night. Knowing of their existence keeps the enemy a pole-length away. I was saddened when I read of the mutiny. It was so against the code of espirit the corps that I was beyond disgusted. Even as as a student union noisemaker, I knew the importance of espirit des corps even if we had no clue if it was of Latin or Greek origin. For us then, student riots were wars and we were all comrades united in one faith – disrupting the evil called government. We always fought to the death, as we called campus closure then.
When we found ourselves in the NYSC camp and the choice parts of the cows were missing from our bowls of soup, we turned the place upside down. Sadly, we didn’t have the security of a campus to retreat to so it was all surrender and retreat to the parade ground. But, even in our punishment, out in the blistering sun of IyanaIpaja, Lagos, our protesting voices carried to the high heavens as one. “How many people Soja go Kill O” we sang as one.
So, you can imagine my shock and discontent when I read that the soldiers ran away from battle. They deserve to be punished because if they are left to go free, that will encourage other troops. Before you know it, Soldiers will be opening pepper soup joints and soccer academies on war fronts! I know this is the line of thinking of the military command. And, I support it – to a point.
But, before we put a noose around their necks, sir, let us look at their offense. Refusing to fight. Guilty! What’s the point of being in the army if you run away from a battle!
These kids have no defense. But, let’s examine why they refused to fight. They had nothing to fight with! It’s only a mad man who goes to fight a pack of marauding tigers with a broomstick. These soldiers may be young they don’t look crazy to me.
If you have another moment, sir – let’s go a bit beyond the details. Why were they not given weapons to fight? The Soldiers allege their superiors pocket the weaponry funds and, sometimes, their paychecks too. Now, who is sitting as the judge in their trial? It doesn’t look good whichever way you look at it, sir.
Should these soldiers be punished? Absolutely.But death? That’s an overkill and I intend no pun there. Clamp them in jail. Have them frog march back to the war front. Heck, have them wash the railway cabins for all I care. But, you must not let them die, sir.
The fault, sir, is not in their conduct but in our system as a society. We failed the troops because our military leaders, when they were in power, voted for pepper soup instead of training, they contrasted a track from the ministry of defense to their personal accounts and they turned our once vaunted army into an armless brigade. As one of your immediate past ministers of defense once commented, our military forces have been leaning on obsolete equipment and sometimes no equipment for about a quarter of a century!The faults of these men are two: patriotism and hunger. They probable went into the army looking for a daily bread and not hoping to ever go to war. And, when war came, their sense of duty and patriotism drove them to the war front. But, only a mad man waits for death. He fights back. When there is nothing to fight with. He runs. It’s human instinct.
You and I are civilians, Mr. President. We don’t know the way of these army folks. But, as their commander-in-chief, you must show you have a heart; you must show you have compassion and you must show you’re a father. You must save these men from the stakes. That won’t even be playing politics, it would be leadership.As you have a great Christmas, sir – make sure this is not the last Christmas of these men who failed us in battle. They failed because we as nation failed them. This is not a time to let more blood. It’s a time to heal.
Mr. Oyamendan, a filmmaker and writer, lives in Hollywood California with his family. Twitter: @iam_ose