3rd October, 2014
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) has vowed to defend the soldiers who are facing trial for mutiny in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, and hopes that justice would be done.
Ninety-seven officers and men of the Nigerian Army were Thursday court-martialled for refusing to fight Boko Haram insurgents in northeast Nigeria.
Out of this number, Falana’s law firm is defending sixty-eight of them. The military court would start sitting on 15 October, 2014.
However, the appointment of Lt. Col. Ukpe Ukpe as a member of the 13-man panel of General Court Martial is causing ripples because the same officer advised the military authorities to establish the court martial, as this negates the principle of fairness.
Falana told journalists shortly after the inauguration of the court martial Thursday that lawyers would consult with their clients to take a decision on the issue of the appointment of Ukpe as Judge Advocate.
Falana also agreed with another defence lawyer, Maj. Mike Kebonkwu (retd.), that it was wrong for the accused to be taken to the trial court without being given the charge sheet and other vital documents concerning the trial.
According to Falana, “We don’t have the charge sheet; we don’t have the convening order; we don’t have the summary of evidence of those who are coming to give evidence and the law says that all accused persons are entitled to full materials for their own defence and the court appreciated that.
“Hence, an order has been made that all the necessary documents be made available to all the accused persons so that the trial can commence in earnest on October 15.
“I have no cause to doubt the integrity of the members of the court; I have taken part in a number of courts of this nature. Even where we lost, we have had to go on appeal, and we succeeded. So there is no cause for alarm. I think the President of the court has assured the accused persons that justice will be done.’’
Another counsel to the soldiers, Shuaibu Isah, from Credence Attorneys, also faulted the appointment of Ukpe as the Judge Advocate.
He said it was wrong to ask a man who advises the authorities that established the court martial to be a Judge Advocate, adding that Ukpe had taken a stance on the case and given a piece of advice that obviously aided the drafting of the charges against the accused.
Eighteen soldiers faced a similar trial on 16 September, 2014. Twelve were sentenced to death by firing squad, one received a light sentence, while five were exonerated.