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Convicted Soldiers: Army Bows To Pressure

Posted: Aug 3, 2015 at 12:04 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Tony Ezimakor, Hassan Zaggi, Abuja and Tunde Opeseitan, Lagos

After months of silence over the fate of more than 600 soldiers and officers convicted (some to death) after being court-martialled, the Nigerian Army may have finally bowed to intense pressure as it plans to review recent disciplinary cases (court-martials), including those who deserted the war against Boko Haram insurgents in the country’s troubled North-East geo-political zones.

Nigerian Army

Nigerian Army

Army spokesman, Col Sani Usman, in a statement in Abuja, on Sunday, linked the review which begins Friday, “to the wave of litigations and petitions by some aggrieved personnel.”

Some of the convicts include 54 soldiers attached to the 7 Division, Nigerian Army in Maiduguri, Borno State, who allegedly fled the terrorists infested region, who were condemned to death on December 17, 2014, by a military court in Abuja, which found them guilty of mutiny.

The prosecutor, J.E. Nwosu, an army Captain, said the accused soldiers had on August 4, 2014, in Maiduguri, refused to join the 111 Special Forces Battalion troops, commanded by Timothy Opurum, a Lieutenant Colonel, for an operation against extremist group.

Nwosu said the operation was meant to recapture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State from the terrorists. But all the accused soldiers pleaded not guilty, arguing that they were prepared to fight, but had insufficient equipment.

One of the condemned soldiers, Fahat Fahat, reportedly took to Facebook, lamenting the death sentences he and 53 colleagues were handed.

“I am a soldier and I am sentenced to death by the Nigerian Army, (be)cause we did not go to fight Boko Haram without equipment. We ask(ed) for weapon instead (they) gave (us) death sentence,” he wrote.

Although the trial was done under cover, most of the victims said that they were sent into the battlefield without the necessary weapons and in most times, with just 30 bullets each, hence they had to run for their lives when their ammunition got exhausted.

However, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, described the trials as “a travesty” held in secret because, according to him,  “the soldiers’ evidence is a condemnation of Nigeria’s military establishment — indicating corrupt officers often divert money meant for salaries and arms.”

Falana, a counsel to the victims, further insisted that “the army was making scapegoats of inexperienced soldiers”, as his clients were aged between 21 and 25.

One of the cases referred to by the Army on Sunday, is suit: FHC/ABJ/CS/484/15, filed on May 22, 2015, before an Abuja Federal High Court to restrain the authorities from hurriedly executing the soldiers

The convicts said it was illegal for the army authorities to execute them before the findings of the General Court Martial is promulgated, besides arguing that until the confirmation and review of the findings of the court martial, the hearing and determination of their appeal against the sentence and the approval of the judgement by the President, the army cannot execute them.

They were among 72 soldiers condemned to death by three court-martial for alleged cowardice, mutiny, aiding the enemy and other charges from over 300 arrested and charged by the military authorities.

Others are four from the 81 Battalion and 12 others for firing at their then Commanding Officer, Maj-Gen. Ahmed Mohammed on May 14, 2014 at the Maimalari Barracks, Maiduguri.

Another 579 are before ongoing courts-martial, with most of the low-ranking soldiers condemned to death by firing squad for refusing to fight against the insurgents. The others were convicted for either inciting their colleagues to mutiny or protesting alleged non-payment of salaries, allowances and lack of equipment to repel the insurgents.

This was however followed by a loud outcry by both local and international bodies.

Continuing, on Sunday, the Army spokesman, warned: “The public should not misconstrue the recent directive to mean total recall of dismissed and deserter soldiers.”

Findings by Daily Independent revealed that the review of the cases came through an order by Army Administrator, Maj. Gen. A. B. Abubakar, dated July 31, which requires all accused and condemned soldiers to appear in Kaduna before a committee between August 7 and 24, which is to screen and assess all disciplinary cases arising from erstwhile Op Zaman Lafiya against Boko Haram.

Meanwhile, using its Alpha Jet, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), on Sunday, assisted ground troops of the Nigerian Army to successfully repel what would have been a massive attack on Bita village by the terrorist group.

This resulted in the death of many sect members, while several others sustained various degrees of injuries, according to a statement by Airforce Spokesman, Air Commodore Dele Alonge.

“The Nigerian Air Force, using its Alpha-Jet, provided combat air support to the ground force to attack the insurgents where they were observed to be mopping up to carry out a deadly attack on the village.

“Consequently, a large number of the insurgents were killed and several others were injured.

“Thereafter, the NAF A-Jet conducted an armed reconnaissance along Bita-Gwoza road and through Yamtege, Hamdaga, Dure and Pulka,” he noted, assuring that the NAF would continue to offer necessary support to the ground force through its intensified and persistent efforts in the ongoing fight against Boko Haram terrorists until all portions of Nigerian soil is safe and free from the insurgents.

No, Mr President

Contrary to the assurance by President Muhammadu Buhari that the sect would be defeated before year-end, helped by the reinvigorated Multinational Joint Task Force, Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Bola Akinterinwa, has warned that any promise to defeat Boko Haram in the near future may be far fetched.

President Buhari had in Cotonu at the weekend assured that with an 800-strong MNJTF, “we will defeat Boko Haram by the end of this year.”

Akinterinwa, a Professor, argued that the fundamentalist religious ideological bent of the sect to establish an Islamic caliphate, as well as its foreign link to the dream of late Libyan leader, Moummar Ghaddafi, to divide Nigeria into a Christian south and Moslem north, all combine to defer demise of the dreaded sect.

Speaking at a public lecture to mark the pullout of former Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Ade Abolurin, Akinterinwa envisaged more robust role soon to enlist the NSCDC to bolster a corruption-free electoral process and the fight against terrorism.

Addressing his audience on the theme: “The Post-Ade Abolurin Era: The Challenge of Institutionalisation,” he admonished present and future administrations of the Corps to sustain the unity and professional integrity of the agency by upholding ideals on which the Corp was founded.

Probe Security Funding

Reacting to last week’s confession by immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Olanrewaju Oshun, believes that it is an invitation for President Buhari to probe how security funds were spent under the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

Oshun noted that with the confession, it is clear that Nigerians had only been living by the grace of God rather than any reliance on the military.

According to him, “first, I would say Badeh’s confession is a confirmation that many of those who headed various portfolios in the Goodluck Jonathan administration lacked the competence to fit into their various offices. There are several questions to ask concerning his attempt to seek public sympathy.