Nigeria entered 2016 with many carryovers. One of them is a veritable national blemish. The gratuitous incarceration of 66 ’’mutinous’’ Nigerian soldiers.
The soldiers were arrested and court-martialed for allegedly weaseling out of their deployment to the front lines. They pleaded that they were no wimps. The act hyperbolized as the crime of ‘’cowardice’’ and ‘’mutiny’’ was simply their refusal to confront the cruelest death cult in the world with a ridiculous ration of 30 bullets!
The court-martial discountenanced their defense, found them guilty, and sentenced them to death by firing squad!
That sentence, originally perverse, has been rendered indefensible by the tell-all confessions of Sambo Dasuki, the immediate past National Security Adviser. Dasuki, a believer in elite speciesism, admitted that he divvied up the national defense budget and other funds covenanted to anti-terror operations, distributed it among his friends and left the troops naked before Boko Haram!
But did Nigerian Army take the view that the import of Dasuki’s admission has demolished the foundational premise of its slapdash verdict? Did the army nullify the proceedings of the ‘’mutiny’’ trial, expunge the verdict from its records and vet the soldiers for possible re-commission?
No. The Nigerian Army did not reverse its error. It revised the death sentence to ten years imprisonment. It tempered injustice with mercy!
The Nigerian Army said it reviewed the death sentence in response to public outrage and petitions. For condescending to dilute the poison, the army felt entitled to the acclaim due a considerate judge.
The adulteration of the judgment, however, further damaged the image of the Nigerian Army. It exposed the army’s intransigence. The army would not abandon its senseless verdict: It would bend over backward to amend the verdict a bit -and still stick with it!
The army presumed that slightly attenuating the injustice upgraded it to justice. That’s obviously false. An injustice bears no repair; because no modification can alter its negation of fairness!
But the recalibration of the ‘’death sentence’’ is proof positive that the Nigerian Army came around to a grudging acknowledgment that its decreed capital punishment for soldiers who asked for arms in an apparently weapon-famished war was too abominable in its crude state. It adjusted the verdict to make it palatable.
In spite of the mitigation, though, the unjust sentence retains its obscene essence. The patina of alleviation placed on the criminalization of the objectors did not vitiate the vileness of the ruling.
This is simply because there is no plausible trade-off between justice and injustice. No such compromise is conceptually feasible as to be existentially possible. The pretense that the bargain could pass for a proper verdict merely serves to give the judge away as a conflicted hypocrite seeking refuge in equivocation!
The Nigerian Army offered the presumptive appeasement to placate the victims. But it was meaningless tokenism. The debt of justice still remains. It must be paid in full!
An irony enriches the absurdity of the death sentence slammed on the soldiers: it was declared on them long before the names of the powerful puppeteers of that paradoxical armless war leaked.
It’s actually worse. Dasuki, the head of the bandits that pillaged the war funds, was, in fact, still perched on his National Security Adviser (NSA) seat at the time of the court-martial. He was bearing rule over all the military institutions in Nigeria, including the court-martial that tried the mutinous’’ soldiers’’!
The man who made the soldiers ‘’mutiny’’ scapegoats was literally brooding over their court-martial. The man who made them the fall guys. The man who pushed the troops as sheep to the slaughter!
Let that sink in.
So was there a chance that this self-same man who forced the postponement of the general elections by six weeks to allow President Goodluck Jonathan revamp his floundering second term campaign would be indifferent to the audacity of soldiers and the blame implicit in their complaint?
Was there a chance that he would neglect to move a finger and sway the court-martial to rig the verdict against the soldiers?
Nigerians have always known that the battleground was uneven. Our troops were fleeing from the terrorists and losing vast tracts of land to them. Governor Kashim Shettima, whose Borno State territory came close to being completely overrun by the terrorists, had to cry out that Nigeria was losing the war due to a lack of weapons.
President Goodluck Jonathan didn’t like that reality check. He took it personally. He shouted down Shettima and threatened to strip the governor of military protection -to help him appreciate that the military capability of the Nigerian Army still had some use.
The stream of dispatches from the waterfront continually reinforced the veracity of Shettima’s claim that an ill-equipped Nigerian Army better was being routed by the insurgents. The troops whose lives were on the line in the field verbalized that reality. They did not get more weapons. They were disparaged, blackmailed, and lied against!
Then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Kenneth Minimah, called them cowards. He said they were fainthearted. They were not soldierly material. They had enlisted into the army because they couldn’t find a job anywhere else.
Minimah vowed to unleash more courts martial on the ’cowards’. He said, ‘’ I am setting up more court-martials to try people who ran, show cowardice, abandoned troops and equipment and ran away.
‘’Why are you in the army? Why are you running away? Is that the army we want in Nigeria?” Minimah asked.
Later, the Chief of Defense Staff, Alex Badeh, sided with the ‘’cowards’’ and validated the rationale of their protestation. Badeh, after his sack freed him to flirt with candor, admitted that the military lacked equipment and fighting spirit. Nigeria recorded needless defeats and deaths because Nigerian troops had inefficient weapons that disadvantaged them against better equipped Boko Haram terrorists.
Dasuki, still smug in his NSA sinecure, countered Badeh’s assertion. Dasuki said that Nigerian troops had good tools. And the soldiers’ combat readiness was about to get better. He would soon take delivery of a shipment of armaments in few days time. The containers were ‘’on the high seas’’!
Months after Dasuki said that the ships are yet to berth. And it wasn’t because some pirate mermaid had hijacked the goods. It was because our terrestrial Dasuki was calling things that were not as though they were.
He had evaporated 2, 378,939,066.27 dollars and 13,729,342,329.87 naira in 53 failed arms contracts. He sank 1,671,742,613.58 dollars; 2, 219, 188, 609.50 naira; and 9, 905,477.00 pounds into the phantom purchase of four Alpha Jets, 12 helicopters, bombs and ammunition.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is still trawling through the records, struggling to master the scale of the plunder and determine the size of our monetary loss. As hard as that seems, it is nothing compared to the impossible challenge of evaluating the damage in lives and property caused by the Jonathan/Dasuki regime of military-industrial-complex looting.
There is no telling how different the story of the insurgency in the North East would have been if Dasuki and his cohorts had not stolen the resources earmarked for the war. There is no telling what number short of 2.3 million internally displaced persons would be quartered in many camps across Nigeria. There is no telling what percentage of the 20,000 killed by Boko Haram would still be alive today.
President Muhammadu Buhari mentioned time and again that the theft of military allocations tipped the war on terror against Nigeria. The wall-to-wall coverage of the monumental fraud that attended the funding of the war has made it impossible to gainsay.
We know now that Dasuki and his friends were the reason village hunters and a band of youths, with an arsenal of arrows, bows, and machetes, became Nigeria's alternate army, and formed, at some point, the only respectable challenge to the insurgents.
Dasuki was the reason hundreds of wives of the soldiers under the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army Maiduguri protested against the deployment of their husbands to Gwoza.
The women lied down in front of Giwa barracks gate and arranged their bodies into a massive barricade. They asked to be crushed by an armored personnel carrier instead of the father of their children being goaded into the war front without weapons.
It is shocking that the soldiers are still languishing in confinement. We are daily assaulted by fresh facts of another niche of plunder maintained in the name of national security. Yet, the soldiers who were betrayed by their country continue to rot –burdened with unearned shame.
A recent newspaper report said that the soldiers are being dehumanized in detention. They are packed in too tiny a pen. They have no beds or opportunity to sleep. Their legs are shackled. They are starved of food.
This unjustifiable torture of these human beings for a crime perpetrated by a cream of VIP culprits tarnishes Nigeria’s claim to decency. It just has to end. No country should abide brazen injustice.
President Buhari needs to direct the release of the soldiers. Their continued punishment is a stain on Nigeria's soul.