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Published On: Tue, Oct 21st, 2014

These interminable court martial trials

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mutiny-in-nigeria-death-sentenceTwice in 4 four months we have had to take a strong position on the uprising by soldiers in their Maiduguri barracks against their commander. The mutiny, a rare happening in the Nigerian army, occurred on May 13-14. It was by soldiers of the 7 Division of the NA, a new division created last year to specifically put down the 5-year old Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east. In our first editorial on May 18, we commented that the mutiny was “symptomatic of deep seated problems in the army, particularly the neglect suffered by junior officers. At another level it is a pointer to why the military have not thus far succeeded in quelling the insurgency…; the sad event reflects the seeming disconnect between the soldiers and their superiors on how to effectively execute the war against the insurgents.”

Five months after, the army high command completed a court martial of the alleged ringleaders of the mutiny. The trial by a 9-man court martial panel, found 12 soldiers, all junior ranking, guilty of the charges brought against them. Five were cleared and one sentenced to 28 days in jail “hard labour.” Those guilty were to die by the hangman’s noose. The gist of the charge is that the soldiers accused their commander of cowardice and moved to kill him. The defendants, we have learnt, denied the charge.

Death, therefore, would be their punishment, the panel said. According to panel, it “considered the gravity of the offence alleged, particularly the attempt to kill the general officer commanding 7 Division, Nigerian Army, and its likely effect on the counter-insurgency operations in the North-east as well as its implications for national security.”

It ignored pleas of leniency by the soldier’s lawyers who had argued that “some of the defendants supported aged parents, others were the sole breadwinners in their family, and some of them had served in the army for 10 years, including in foreign peacekeeping missions.”

That the panel ignored the defendants’ leniency pleas was not surprising. Before the trial was concluded, Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah, had made it clear that the penalty for mutiny was death. His pronouncement bani9shed any hopes the defendants may have nursed of a reprieve by the Army Council which has to sit on the court martial report.

Now another set of officers are standing trial for deserting the front lines, putting their troops in the line of Boko Haram killers. The outcome is predictable – the death penalty.

While we do not dispute that army law prescribes the capital punishment for mutiny, we are not so sure that the trial and its outcome would help the cause of the “counter-insurgency” much. More so as the trial has failed to address salient issues brought out by so-called mutiny. In our May 18 editorial, we did say that even before investigations got under way, certain things needed to be done right to get the military campaign back on track. “Firstly, the fact that such an action took place whereby soldiers openly displayed their displeasure with their superiors is a clear indication of a breakdown in the chain of command – which is dangerous to the effective operation of the army….

“What happened in Maiduguri should give the army high command in Abuja and, indeed, the federal government an opportunity to critically look into the operations of the army and review the war against the insurgency. One of the reasons why the war has persisted, according to many, is because the army is not well equipped to fight the insurgents who are apparently better armed…The National Assembly must wake up to its responsibility and probe the financing and execution of this war that is turning into a cash cow for a few individuals at the expense of the lives of many Nigerians. The lawmakers must ensure that the military is well equipped and also get to find out how and where the insurgents acquire their sophisticated weapons. Until these measures are taken, another shameful mutiny may not too far away.”

Our position hasn’t changed, even with the outcomes of the investigation and the court-martial.


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