EDITORIAL: No to Death Penalty for Our Soldiers

FILE PHOTO: The soldiers sentenced to death for mutiny in September 2014

On September 16 2014, a court martial in Abuja sentenced to death by firing squad 12 soldiers of the 7th Division of the Nigerian army in Maiduguri, Borno State, for mutiny. It also convicted the soldiers of criminal conspiracy and attempt to commit murder, for which they were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The events leading to the court martial occurred on or about May 14, 2014 when the soldiers allegedly shot at the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 7th Division, Major-General Abubakar Mohammed. The soldiers reportedly felt that their superior officers, under the leadership of General Mohammed, had shown a callous disregard for the lives of their junior colleagues, sending them on a mission that had a high level of risk to their lives. The risky timing of the mission, they believed, could have been changed to avoid the near certainty of the men being ambushed by Boko Haram. They were thus protesting against an apparent failure of responsible judgment and a duty of care by their superior officers.

The incident of May 14 was an embarrassment to both Nigeria and our armed forces. It was further evidence of the deplorable state of affairs within the army and it came at a time when the army was under intense scrutiny of the international community on their professionalism and commitment to human rights. The whole world had also been wondering why our armed forces were unable to search and rescue over 200 schoolgirls abducted from Chibok.

PREMIUM TIMES does not in any way condone the actions of these soldiers. Using violence to express frustration and dissent is never justified. There are due processes, which should be followed to register displeasure and discontent. Investigating the incident and punishing the misconduct is right and proper.

However, the death sentence meted out to the soldiers is deeply flawed and condemnable on many grounds. To begin with, it is arguable that the charges preferred against the soldiers were disproportionate to what actually transpired. There is no evidence that anyone was hurt during the protest for which the soldiers were charged and condemned. It would indeed be a tragic commentary on the state of the Nigerian army if so many armed soldiers with the intention to kill were unable to inflict any harm on their target.

The more likely story is that these soldiers acted without intent to kill. If so, an essential element of the crime for which they were charged was not present.

Secondly, there were several mitigating factors. The credible allegations of corruption, high rate of combat-related mortality, non-payment of allowances to fighting men on the frontlines and absence of rotation are all factors that easily mitigate the charges. In law, these factors, together, support a defence of provocation or, alternatively, of post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are serious doubts whether the court martial under the Army Act complied with the essential rules of fair hearing. The guarantee of fair hearing in criminal proceedings under Nigeria’s Constitution requires a clear separation of the roles of the prosecutor, judge and defence. Yet, in a court martial, the Army is the investigator, prosecutor, defence counsel, and the judge. This is akin to placing soldiers charged before a court martial beneath the protections provided for in our constitution. We agree that persons who opt to go into the armed forces subject themselves to a special regime with its own forms of discipline. We draw the line, however, at any suggestion that our men and women in uniform should thereby be placed outside the protection of the Constitution.

These clear flaws persuade us in PREMIUM TIMES that in this case, capital punishment cannot be supported or justified. Indeed, the facts of this case demonstrate the savagery of the death penalty as a form of punishment altogether. Legalized killing in the name of justice or in this form is both insidious and hypocritical. It is murder.

Above all, far from engendering discipline at a time that we need it most in our armed forces, the fate of these valiant men could seriously undermine discipline in the armed forces, which is the bedrock of military ethics. No action has been taken to address the corruption at senior levels of the armed forces that exposes our country to the mortal threat by what was thought to be a rag-tag insurgency. It is corruption and the associated poor weaponry and equipment available to the armed forces that have exposed our men and women in uniform to avoidable death and danger. Until this problem is addressed, our fighting men and women will feel that they are being led to slaughter by a country unfit for their sacrifice.


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  • Island man

    Let the corrupt Generals be tried and persecuted first, the soldiers should be release to their families
    The fundamentals of the issue is corruption, led to none payment of allowances as at when dues, no sophisticated weapon to combat insurgents, they were been ambushed and killed by bk against the orders given to them by their GOC.

  • Miss Tom-Laywer (England)


    Brilliant and scholarly editorial opinion – perhaps the best i have read in a Nigerian newspaper. Kudos!
    I endorse the main (not all) strands of the arguments presented here against execution of these soldiers.
    In particular, there is nothing in Nigeria’s military law derogating from general law on criminal responsibility.

    Section 320 of Nigeria’s Criminal Code in fact prohibits death penalty for attempted murder; as follows:
    Any person who-
    (1) attempts unlawfully to kill another; or
    (2) with intent unlawfully to kill another does any act,

    or omits to do any act which it is his duty to do, such act or omission being of
    such a nature as to be likely to endanger human life; is guilty of a felony, and is
    liable to imprisonment for life.

    • Uzoma

      I disagree with you. There is nothing brilliant or scholarly about this editorial. To earn those labels, the editorial ought to have stuck to the facts and, in particular, refrained from justifying the soldiers’ actions. Those soldiers mutinied and mutiny is a crime that attracts the death penalty under military law _as it is currently_, not as we would like it to be. If Premium Times, which has made a profession of railing against impunity in any form, truly wanted to help those soldiers it could, indeed should, have started by conceding that they erred seriously and then gone on to plead for leniency based on the excuses invoked in the editorial. The business of securing a nation is serious enough not be entrusted with young men who think they can get away with disobeying orders given by their superiors–not to talk of shooting at same. Even in the very regimented order of the military I want to believe there are proper channels for dealing with grievances. The proof is the GOC involved has since been retired by NA.

      • DDA

        Is the GOC suppose to only be retired? What are the implications of given a wrongful order that led to the death of many soldiers by the Commander? What are the implications of given a wrongful order that led to the seizure of Nigerian government weapons from NA to the enemies (BH)? Was there fair hearing during the trial at court martial?