A retired army general, Ishola Williams, has condemned the Nigerian Army for imposing the death sentence on 54 soldiers accused of mutiny, saying the soldiers were justified in refusing to join operations without being properly equipped.
Mr. Williams said the soldiers were right in disobeying orders that would lead to certain death as a result of the failure of their commanding officers to provide them the necessary equipment.
On December 17, 2014 after a secret trial in Abuja, 54 soldiers of the 111 Special Forces battalion charged with criminal conspiracy to commit mutiny and mutiny were sentenced to death by firing squad by Nigerian Army’s 7 division General Court Martial.
The military said the soldiers disobeyed the order of their commanding officer to take part in an operation to dislodge Boko Haram terrorists from Delwa, a town close to Maiduguri.
Some of the accused soldiers testified that they refused to take part in the operation following the failure of the army to provide them with the necessary support equipment.
The soldiers were later transferred to Lagos where they await either the confirmation of the sentence, an appeal, a pardon or execution.
Military sources and the lawyer representing the soldiers, Femi Falana, told PREMIUM TIMES last week that they troops were held under deplorable conditions, and were denied food and care.
Contributing to a debate on an online group, AfricanWorldForum, about a statement by Governor Rotimi Ameachi of Rivers State, that the condemned soldiers had the right to protest the government’s failure to equip them, Mr. Williams, who resigned from the army as a major general, said the military hierarchy is prosecuting the soldiers to cover its failure.
“Those playing politics with the lives of these soldiers who were being sent to commit suicide in the name of fatherland and they refused, have to be ashamed,” he said. “The army’s top hierarchy is covering up its weaknesses by court-martialling these soldiers. The staff from the HQ (defence headquarters) and the generals are to blame. Period.
Mr. Williams was the Chief of Defence Operations, Planning and Training, at the Defence Headquarters before resigning in 1993.
“Anywhere in the world a soldier/soldiers is /are allowed to disobey orders which will lead to certain death because of poor officership and inadequate logistics,” he said.
According to him, in the military, “there are no bad soldiers but bad officers.”
Mr. Williams, a former honorary Secretary General of Transparency In Nigeria (TIN) and currently the executive secretary of a security research organisation, Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group (PANAFSTRAG), said while he was in the military the soldiers he knew were not mutinous and a good court would dismiss the death sentence.
“The South African constitution allows soldiers to protest. The Nigerian soldiers that I know and commanded during my career are not mutinous and will not be mutinous.
“You may wish to speak to CJTF(Commander of the JTF) in Maiduguri to be able to indict these soldiers. In a good court of law the death sentence will be not upheld,” he said. “Stop playing Politricks and Polifun with the lives of young men who were put in harm’s way without the method and tools in an environment in which demons are going crazy.
“It is sad and wicked to be unfair to them. Why were the Court-Martial (CM) held in secret? Even the presidency has not made any statement on this issue because it knows the circumstances in which these soldiers were operating. In other climes, before the CM, the Concerned Service Chief and Commanders would have resigned their commissions.”