Mutiny is not hesitating to charge into battle empty handed. Mutiny is not bringing your superiors into cognizance that you need proper weapons to have a fair chance of putting the enemy to rout. Mutiny is not pleading to be equipped before being deployed to the front lines.
The Nigerian Army has bastardized the spirit of the word. And the new definition is made to serve our unique malady– like a Peugeot 504 built for Nigerian roads. Mutiny is now the manifestation of reluctance to dash off in the right direction, like some suicidal robot, when you are gifted an opportunity to self-destruct.
Last week the Nigerian court martial found a new batch of soldiers guilty of mutiny. The Nigerian Army had to find them guilty of mutiny. The court martial set out to discover mutiny and they wound up landing a treasure trove. They found 54 cases. Their find confirms the validity of the scriptural guarantee: Seek, and you shall find.
The Facebook posts of one of the supposed mutineers have now gone public. It is a trenchant diary of disillusion. The youthful soldier, Fahat Fahat, didn’t have the wide repertoire of a well read person. But he shared that he and his colleagues were made fall guys. He wrote that they were branded mutineers because they were loath to offer up themselves for plain slaughter. They were branded mutineers because they dared to ask for better arms.
Soldiering boils down to weaponry and bravery and patriotism. Fahat and others needed arms to be of use in the field – just as the farmer needs a hoe to make ridges. The soldiers couldn’t have hurried to face the enemy with courage alone. Without weapons, they would have presented themselves to Boko Haram for butchery.
The mutiny sentence represents an abuse of the power of life and death. This is the revenge of Army chiefs for the embarrassment of being asked to produce what they didn’t have. I learnt on a couple of Christmas shopping that asking anyone for a thing he cannot provide had consequences. The child in me wanted to rid the whole market of all colorful items I liked and pointed at. Needless to say, such requests fluster the nicest parents and can force a feeling of inadequacy.
But the soldiers did not make any frivolous demand. They didn’t ask for toys or cigarettes. They asked for working tools. They asked for instruments that they could not function without. And that’s not indiscipline.
Isaac asked Abraham, his father, midway into their mountain climb, where the lamb they were going to use for sacrifice was. The lamb was what would give meaning to their exertions. Abraham didn’t produce any sensible answer. Instead, he tried to make a sacrificial lamb out of the boy. Today, the Nigerian Army is playing Abraham on 54 Isaacs.
The soldiers are no cowards like the accusers say. They didn’t shrink from the call of duty. They had signed up to defend their fatherland voluntarily. And they knew before time that they would be required to plunge into life-costing scenarios. But they did not sign up for martyrdom. They didn’t pledge to submit themselves to be killed for their belief in the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
This mutiny bazaar is a shame. It reflects the slump from the sublime to the ridiculous of an army that used to be the toast of the peacekeeping world. In those days, our troops acquitted themselves creditably in trouble spots of the West African sub-region and beyond. Our soldiers did not mutiny. The ECOWAS and UN missions tended them. Now they are learning mutiny on home soil.
The other day in Maiduguri barracks, wives of soldiers formed themselves into a roadblock. They stopped trucks that was packed full of troops from reporting to the war scene. Their husbands had not been furnished with deployment materials. They had nothing to fight with. The soldiers were being shipped off to ‘’go and die’’.
Which respectable army decimates its soldiers on purpose? The Nigerian Army tries to. And when the soldiers refuse to fall in, it arranges one hoax of a trial to achieve its desired endgame.
With this death sentence extravaganza, the Nigerian Army can claim to be at par with Shekau and his disciples in cruelty. The terrorists are clearing out as many humans as they can from the face of the earth. They kill for the heck of it. The Nigerian Army has turned to cannibalism. The Nigerian Army would slaughter a large drove of our sons and brothers for some pretty excuse.
In September, the Army sentenced a dozen soldiers to death on the same trumped up charge of mutiny. The newsbreak generated outrage. The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, was flabbergasted. Nigerians did not give him compliments. These civilians are not grateful for the extraordinary favor of being informed about the sentencing. Why are they raising hell and making noise about the military trivializing human lives? Did we want him to regret not using the other option? Did we know he could have had those soldiers tried and dispatched in the evil forest and we would have been blissfully unaware?
The Nigerian Army has made an exhibition of the sentencing. This is to pass the message that some truths consume the men who tell them. This is to warn those waiting for deployment that the ‘’weapons of our warfare are not carnal’’. Weapon or no weapon, you must run towards the adversary, like a Usain Bolt eager to breast the tape.
Our arms deficiency is proverbial. Everybody knows we are trying to snatch victory from the jaws of a near empty armory. The damage we manage to inflict on Boko Haram camp once or twice a week often results from very desperate situations. Our deprived soldiers produce those flashes of brilliance when they are cornered and have no choice other than to fight for self-preservation. The US no longer sells us arms. And we can’t fetch arms from South Africa without making ourselves the butt of a joke. But our soldiers cannot complain.
The fact that Nigeria is missing arms in this war is accentuated by the rising profile of poisoned arrows and cutlasses in dispatches from the combat zone. The locals are throwing their crude weapons into the fray because the dearth of arms on the Nigerian side leaves their villages vulnerable to attack. They are defending their own homesteads.
Governor Kahim Shettima of Borno State once called for the boosting of our military capabilities. He said that he had observed that Boko Haram insurgents were gaining momentum because they were more motivated and better armed than our troops. The Federal Government dismissed his concerns. He was of the opposition. He did not contribute any beneficial insight. He was just slandering the Presidency.
President Goodluck Jonathan tried to make Shettima apologize. Jonathan threatened to prove that the Governor was wrong by ordering the withdrawal the soldiers that guard Borno Government House. The Governor would know that the Nigerian Army was still of use if he found himself stripped of all protection. The President made his point. There is an inviolable ban on expression of certain kinds of opinion. Don’t say the troops are in need of anything. Don’t say it even if it is obvious.
Interestingly, only small soldiers stand trial for mutiny. Only little men deserve to die. The big chiefs who squirrel monies away from Nigeria’s multi-billion naira defence budget deserve for live forever. It would be too awkward to knock them off their pedestal and try them for sabotage.
Everywhere the mode of defence spending is a delicate matter. It is a top state secret. The problem is that secrecy is more likely to breed criminality. And our experience is that security vote and other defence related allocations are stolen and spent like pocket money. It’s the money our politicians binge on.
The Nigerian Army can find among its top brass a dozen Judas Iscariots who kiss well in the public and steal from the purse in secret. They can make mutineers out of those who have been making money out of the blood of our soldiers. They can make mutineers out of the generals whose greed perpetuates the conditions that make the eagerness to deploy tantamount to suicide attempt. The healing of the bitter waters must start at the spring.
The Nigerian Army cannot shy away from addressing the fundamental issues of lack of battle equipment and appalling troop welfare. These issues will not vanish into the thin air. And the Nigerian Army cannot solve them by criminalizing legitimate complaints and creating a batch of scapegoats every three months. If it persists in ‘’sharing’’ mutiny to just about anybody, we will arrive at a point when youths be unwilling to enlist in the Nigerian Army.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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