What if the commander is a saboteur?
By Tochukwu Ezukanma
I was recently a guest on a radio talk show. I was to discuss the Nigerian government's inability, thus far, to contain and defeat the Boko Haram. At one point, the talk show host asked my opinion on the court marshal of mutinous Nigerian soldiers that heckled their divisional commander and shot at him. My opinion is that the court marshal that sentenced twelve of them to death was appropriate. A number of my listeners that called into the radio program disagreed with me. They argued that due to the circumstances that provoked the mutiny, the military hierarchy should be lenient with the mutineers. But, to me, no special circumstance (even, if the commander is a saboteur) invalidates the need for them to be punished with becoming severity.
A Nigerian army general was once quoted as saying that, “if I am ordered to shoot (and kill) my father, I will shoot him as a soldier, and then, return home and bury him as a son”. There is something dreadfully weird about a man that shoots his father, and then, goes home and buries him. For he shot his father, not in the thrall of hate, fit of lunacy or flush of delirium, and not due to lack of a sense of filial commitment and responsibility or disdain for tradition and societal expectations, but in obedience to an order. Is it not evident that in obeying orders, his actions are totally devoid of reason, emotions and sentiments?
Having lost its patients with protesting students that had, for months, occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the Chinese government ordered soldiers to forcibly eject them from the square. As the soldiers advanced towards them, an elderly woman knelt down before one of the soldiers, pleading with him not to shoot at the students. He shot her in the head, and moved on. To a crowd of on lookers, it was outrageous: mindless, heartless murder of an innocuous woman. However, to the soldier, he did nothing wrong. He was ordered to attack the students and anything that stood in his way was an impediment, impeding his doing his job, and needed to be removed. And it is this mentality that makes the military the military.
A man is a soldier not because he is proficient in the use of guns and bayonets, and is armed and outfitted with a military uniform, but because he has been drilled into obeying orders unquestioningly? The word infantry evolved from the French word for “child” because of the child-like compliance instilled in troops. And without this blind obedience to orders, no army can exist, as it cannot be a disciplined force but a band of uniformed and armed thugs.
So, when those soldiers at the Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri scoffed and shot at their divisional commander, Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, they were in gross violations of military conventions and ethics. A man that taunted his commander is not a soldier. He is, at the very best, a ruffian. But then, thugs, ordinarily, except for sociopaths amongst them, whose behaviors must therefore be psychotic, do not shoot at their leaders. So, those that ridiculed, and shot at, their commandant are worse than thugs. They are essentially swashing bravos. The existence of such individuals in the Nigerian army poises a mortal danger to the Nigerian military and the security of the country. So, their court marshal and sentence to death was most splendid.
Undoubtedly, the Nigerian military, like every other Nigerian institution is in a bog of ineptitude and graft. Not surprisingly, there are disquieting reports of corruption and inefficiency amongst the officers. Consequently, troops are not paid their allowances and those in the battle field are denied adequate arms, ammunition and ration. And in fierce battles with terrorists, they are also sometimes denied back-up, reinforcements and air support. In addition, there are allegations that some officers are saboteurs; thus, sabotaging the troops in their operations against Boko Haram.
The “peculiar environment and circumstances” that provoked the mutiny and should (according to the callers) necessitate clemency for the mutineers were that they were on a secret mission and were ambushed by the insurgents; they suffered causalities. Due to the secrecy of the operation, they suspected saboteurs must have tipped off the insurgents. After repelling the insurgents, they were ordered to return that same night through an insurgent infested territory. As they had feared, they were ambushed again and their ranks decimated. It was seeing their dead comrades being brought into the Maimalari Barracks, Maiduguri, that prompted their jeering, and shooting at, their commander, whom they blamed for the deaths of their comrades.
Inherent in their behaviors is a delirious notion that they reserve the right to suspect, arraign and sentence the divisional commander. Usually, most soldiers may not always understand the strategic doctrine of the military high command and the strategic and tactical plans of their officers. Still, despite their ignorance of what informs the officers' decisions and orders, they have no choice but to unthinkingly comply with them. If thousands of combatants are to make their individual determinations of the correctness and erroneousness of the professional conducts and orders of their commanders, and then, decide on what orders to obey or disobey and what officers to punish or reward, the military will invariably crumble into anarchy.
So, irrespective of the limitations and supposed blunders and crimes of the commander, men under his command still must obey him without demur. It is in the purview of the commander's superior officers, and not men under his command, to adjudicate him and penalize him, if need be.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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