AGAIN, SOLDIERS ON THE RAMPAGE

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    The military authorities should look into the complaints of the affected soldiers and deal with them professionally

    Nigerian soldiers of the Special Force deployed in Borno State where there is an on-going counterterrorism operation against Boko Haram insurgents recently barricaded the Maiduguri Airport gate in protest, firing gunshots sporadically into the air and forcing many residents around the area to flee for safety. The shootings by the soldiers were said to be protests against their redeployment from Maiduguri to another location in the northern part of the war-torn state.

    For sure, the battle to contain Boko Haram has been difficult. Until lately, the insurgents were carrying out their grisly atrocities particularly in the Northeast, at will. And the feeling out there was that if the insurgents were causing such murderous havoc, then it stands to reason that our armed forces were not doing well enough. This was further accentuated by reports of shortage of vital supplies in the frontlines – from ammunition to food, complaints that can do a lot of damage to anyone’s morale. But there are procedures for dealing with those challenges.

    It is sad that the war-wearied soldiers have to resort to violent protests anytime they want to draw the attention of the military authorities to their inhuman conditions. This is not the first time the soldiers, under special squad operation, will be protesting about their plight since the war against the terrorist Boko Haram group started many years ago. According to reports, the soldiers, who had been deployed since February 2015, said they ought to have been released to return to their original unit to see their families after serving over three years at the same operational location. There are reports that many of the soldiers have resorted to taking hard drugs in order to muddle through both the psychological and physical trauma of their long stay in the war zone.

    While it may be convenient for the military authorities to describe the affected soldiers as acting illegally and that they must be dealt with according to the Military Act, we will like to once again, say that it is not in line with the global military pact or practices to keep fighting soldiers in a war zone for over three years. Apart from the urgent need to allow them have access to the immediate families, it is unwholesome and a huge risk to the counter-terrorism strategy. Apparently because of the precarious situation, there are reports that many prominent persons in the country now regularly lobby military authorities for their relatives not to be posted to the war zone.

    Rather than threatening to deal with the protesting soldiers for their perceived unlawful action, we advise the military authorities to look into the complaints of the affected soldiers and deal with them professionally; after all the soldiers are humans. They deserve a good life like us; they need to have access to their families in spite of the national duties. They are patriotic Nigerians who stay awake day and night in order to make our nation a better place for us to live in. They are our heroes, fighting the enemies of our country. They also deserve to be treated humanely and with respect.

    The huge international embarrassment of regular protests by aggrieved soldiers can be avoided if the military authorities keep to best practices in the deployment of troops and other welfare matters. The military must face up to the question of what led to the incident in the first place. The point here is that if the issues of trust in military leadership are not addressed, we will continue to witness this short of unruly behaviour within the military which may not bode well for our democracy.