The Nigerian military announced Thursday that it had reviewed 5,000 cases of dishonorably discharged soldiers and chosen to reinstate more than 3,000 of them and that they are fit for the battle against ISIS-affiliated group Boko Haram.
3,032 soldiers will return to their posts, an army spokesman confirmed, following an internal review of each case. Col. Sani Usman clarified that many of these had been accused of various offenses, including failure to fully execute their duties in the face of Boko Haram attacks, but they have been retrained and are considered prepared for battle. “The reinstated soldiers have shown their total readiness to be re-launched into the theatre to combat insurgency and have now commenced retraining exercise at the Nigerian Army Training Center,” he said.
The reviews are a product of the Nigerian army’s new leader, Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, who took power last month after recently-elected President Muhammadu Buhari fired all armed forces leaders and replaced them, an expected move following his defeat of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. Buratai instituted a new committee to review the cases—many brought to military leadership during the Jonathan presidency—and has allowed cases where soldiers were sentenced to death for allegedly failing to fight Boko Haram to be appealed in court.
Spokesman Usman made clear that this was not a blank pardon, however, and that many individual cases were still being processsed, while others were found guilty of their charges and would face reprimand. “It must, however, be made clear that not all dismissed soldiers were granted pardon and recalled. Those with criminal cases, for instance, have their sentences upheld,” he added.
Nigeria began a disciplinary review of its military in May, where it expelled 200 soldiers on charges of “cowardice.” At the time, it was estimated that between 200 and 4,500 soldiers could be removed from the military’s ranks in the course of that purge. In August, however, President Buhari announced that the military had been given a three-month ultimatum to destroy Boko Haram completely, which would require significant manpower as well as extended airstrikes and intelligence work to extract terror cells from potential target areas.
Before that military review, the Jonathan administration had already begun removing troops who had defied orders and refused to fight against Boko Haram, fearing for their lives. 54 soldiers were sentenced to death in December 2014 on such charges. Human rights activists at the time called for a reversal of that sentence, alleging that the men were refusing to perform a “suicide mission” and had merely demanded more weapons before fighting.