Our consideration was in receipt of news relating to the sentencing to life-imprisonment of 27 Nigerian soldiers, who participated in United Nations Peace-keeping Operations in Liberia. They were charged and convicted of mutiny and to that effect, were sentenced to life-imprisonment by a military tribunal constituted to that end.
We must confess that all the information consulted by the tribunal in reaching its judgement is not available to us. To that end, we are not in a position to critically appraise this judgement from a legal perspective. It is our understanding that some other more competent hands and heads have had a field day in this regard. Besides, we equally understand that the defence is considering an appeal of the judgement, and we would never want to prejudice a process that is ongoing.
Be that as it may, we wish to offer some ethical perspective to this whole saga. First of all, let’s deal with the preliminaries!
We understand that mutiny is a serious charge, when preferred against a soldier, who is trained to obey orders at all times. But time and time again, history has shown us that the obligation to obey orders cannot trump the tugging of one’s conscience. The obligations to obedience are never excuses to underwrite injustices or human rights violations. Such arguments like “I was bound to obey orders” or “I just did my duty”, never sufficed as grounds enough to excuse the criminal complicity of Nazi War Criminals during the Nuremberg trials. It neither justified their active complicity in convoking that “Banality of evil”, nor did it suffice to excuse the inaction that made such an abomination possible.
We are equally of the opinion that such excuses in whatever modern shape or form it assumes, would never suffice in any other occasion or context, where injustice runs the risk of having a walk-over.
To this end, we wish to submit that every human being reserves the right to disobey illegitimate orders, or orders that stands contrary to the dictates of his conscience. A soldier is trained to obey orders, but to refuse to obey orders which violate the dictates of natural justice; equity and good conscience could never be a crime in any legal tradition. To create a criminal out of a soldier, who dared protest the injustice meted out on him is to my mind a very cheap benediction that collective or bureaucratic stupidity pays to injustice.
The facts speak for themselves in condemnation of this injustice. 27 Nigerians soldiers were a part of the United Nations Peace-keeping force in Liberia. They served their charges, and fatherland creditably and gallantly, as no cases of misdemeanour or crime was hitherto preferred against any of them. No disciplinary action was recommended against any of them prior to their arraignment for mutiny.
They served well fulfilling their own part of the contract. To that end, they are entitled to the fulfilment of the other party to the contract. Unfortunately, the other party defaulted. Their salaries and entitlements were withheld from them after their service. They were not paid. They received no money although they served their part in full.
They may or may not have exhausted other avenues of getting their entitlements paid them, but there are examples in recent memory, of retired Nigerian soldiers, whose entitlements were embezzled; and who were forced to sleep on the streets of the Nigerian capital.
They decided to protest this injustice. Their protest would be deemed a peaceful one. They carried no arms to do that. There was no report of an arson or destruction of properties recorded against them and their protest. They were arrested by the military authorities for daring to protest; and arraigned before a tribunal.
They were tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for protesting!!!
According to some authorities, soldiers in uniform are not supposed to protest. That may hold true if that entertains the risk of destroying military discipline, which is a condition-sine-qua-non, in the world of the military, where obedience to a simple order may be the difference between a battle won, and a war lost. This is the ideal upon which protest from soldiers was banned or view with serious consternation in military quarters. One can understand that under normal circumstances. But the funny thing remains that no Nigerian circumstance is a normal one. Injustice is so rife and has penetrated the system so very much that only extraordinary measures can awaken our authorities from their visionless slumber. Nigeria is a state where the abnormal has metamorphosed into the normal. The Nigerian Police is on record as going on strike to protest poor conditions of service and the non-payment of their salaries and arrears. The government has on many occasions released and failed to release the money appropriated in the budget to these parastatals. But the rank and file has been on record as being owed their salaries in many years’ arrears. Tafa Balogun for instance; a Police chief was on record as stealing over 103 Million dollars Police fund, while his men were living in chill penury. This extravagant thief instituted an Operation “Fire for fire”, where petty thieves were massacred on sight, instead of being brought to justice; while his dishonourable self; who is a high thief, got on 6 months suspended sentence. What a mockery of justice?
These 27 soldiers live in a society that abided these kinds of chill injustice! They wanted their just reward for the service they performed. All they got in exchange is being sentenced to life-imprisonment by an establishment bent on laundering a non-existing image, and the deafening silence of their fellow country men and women.
The treatment of these soldiers smacks of high handed wickedness. The question the tribunal failed to answer is: Where is the salaries of these gallant men and women? Who sat on these monies? Has it grown wings and flown like all other instances in Nigeria which are too numerous to mention? Many pensioners have died on queues waiting to claim non-existing pensions. Many of them worked all their lives and contributed their hard earned cash to these funds. The funds were embezzled and these people who contributed their sweat, blood and youth to serve their country, were taken for a ride and treated with absolute disdain.
Yet, nobody has ever answered the question that justice has continued to pose: what happened to their money? Are they not in justice entitled to an answer in order to make their memories rest in peace? Is their posterity not entitled to access what their father’s worked for? What precedents are we setting in Nigeria? Is Nigeria a Black-hole of justice? What about common decency? Where are we heading to as a nation? What has happened to natural justice? What has happened to “A worker deserves his wage”? Every principle that comes to Nigeria is raped and plundered of meaning, before being deployed as a corrupt vestige of irresponsible power. These Soldiers placed their lives on the line to serve. They did not betray their country, rather their country betrayed them.
Nigeria betrayed them!
The military authorities that sentenced them to life-imprisonment are trying to cover up the fact that for years, thousands of Nigerian soldiers have perished on the job, with the compensation due them and their families growing wings and flying, without the families getting a kobo. The wives, families and kids of many dead soldiers, who we proclaimed heroes on the days we buried them, are today living in absolute poverty due to the fact that they got only promises from the military authorities that should in justice accord them the monetary compensation due them. What happened to their money? No one can tell!!! This is because a cabal of senior officers and their corrupt vestiges sat upon these funds and embezzled the entitlements due our heroic dead; and all we do as Nigerian
s is simply to keep quiet because it does not concern us.
What actually concerns Nigerians, one may ask? The plunder of our nation by leeches does not concern us. The rape of our common posterity by the elitist bandits of today does not concern us. The visionless wickedness of our government officials and public servants does not concern us. The destruction of our educational system does not concern us. The dysfunctionality of our infrastructures does not concern us.
What actually concerns us?
It seems that Nigerians of today in timidity have sold their futures, with their silence and inaction, to a gang of buccaneers, who are hell bent in ransacking every sanctuary of decency and meaning in genuflection to their yawning greed. The plight of these 27 soldiers is an advertisement of the worst form of official callousness. Those who sat in judgement over these soldiers only showed the world how leprous their consciences are. Either way, they deserve nothing more than to have history efface their memories forever. If they were tools in the hands of a cabal trying to bury their cosmic crimes, then history will rightly visit them with derision. If they were simply following their consciences, then those consciences are seriously malformed and remain a danger to our body politic. If they are obeying the orders of a higher authority to deal with these men in order to forestall future occurrence, then justice really needs a radical redefinition in the Nigerian context.
That Nigerians save for a few voices virtually kept mum at such a military outrage bespeaks of a populace sleeping on duty. The vigilance quotient of the average Nigerian happens to be 0.5 on a scale of 100. He is too engrossed in chasing after his basic Maslownian needs to understand that these needs will never be guaranteed if the higher questions bordering on social and political justice in his country are not answered. He would never be sure of his daily bread if the government remains construed as a huge distribution agency designed to distribute unearned privileges to the rich, the powerful and their cohorts, which constitutes less than one percent of every normal population. He and his children will always be raped, plundered, lied to, abused and killed by its government, if he fails to rein in the government and through mass action establish the boundaries for government and ensure compliance with it. If the people fail to govern their governments, their government will degenerate into a tyranny that will endanger the civil rights of the people and jettison its responsibilities to its citizens in obeisance to the selfish and mercenary considerations of those in power.
This is why Nigerians should seek every opportunity to protest the inanities of their government. They should never plead their fears as reasons not to engage their governments and its agencies; or hold them accountable for their actions. It is either liberty or death proclaimed Patrick Henry as an attitude that one should adopt for his country. It is either, we live as free men or we live a life, where our government is a huge slave master, and we the slaves to the capricious whims of a few corrupt men, in whose interest it is that we remain slaves.
Nigerians need an explanation from the Nigerian Army, the Defence Headquarters and the Presidency, on why these soldiers did not receive their salaries in the first place, which opened the way for their protest. We need explanations on why they should spend a day in jail, while those who starved them of their legitimate rights got off with slaps on the wrist.
If due to arrogance of power or position those responsible deem it below their dignity to explain to Nigerians the reasons for their actions, they should be aware that a Pharaoh who never knew Joseph once arose in biblical Egypt. And the rest they say is history. A woman who manhandled her aged mother in front of her kids is invariably and inadvertently teaching the kids how to manhandle her in her old age. The next generation is watching.
These 27 genuine Nigerian heroes should be released, with their positions restored; full apologies rendered them, and compensation paid them for the insults that a country they served so well meted out on them.
This is what natural justice recommends.