9th December, 2014
By Simon Ateba
Lagos lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Barrister Femi Falana, has contested the death sentence passed on twelve Nigerian soldiers in September by the Court Martial, saying that it was full of “grave errors of law”.
Falana, in a petition, called on the Chief of Army Staff to disapprove the findings of guilt and death sentence passed on the 12 soldiers.
He said his petition is filed on behalf of the convicts pursuant to Section 149(1) of the Armed Forces Act (Cap A20) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The section stipulates that “An accused may, within three months after being sentenced by a court-martial and before the sentence is confirmed, submit to the confirming authority any written matter which may reasonably tend to affect the confirming authority’s decision whether to disapprove a finding of guilt or to approve the sentence.”
“By this petition, we appeal to the Chief of Army Staff as the Confirming Authority to disapprove the finding of guilt and death sentence passed on the 12 convicted soldiers on the ground that the judgment of the General Court-Martial cannot be justified as it is characterized by grave errors of law which occasioned miscarriage of justice,” Falana said.
The soldiers, sentenced to death on 15 September, are Corporal Jasper Braidolor; Corporal David Musa; Lance Corporal Friday Onun; Lance Corporal Yusuf Shuaibu; Lance Corporal Igomu Emmanuel; Private Andrew Ngbede Private Nurudeen Ahmed; Private Ifeanyi Alukhagba; Private Alao Samuel; Private Amadi Chukwudi; Private Alan Linus; Lance Corporal Stephen Clement.
The travails of the soldiers started on 14 May 2014 at the Maimalari Cantonment in Borno State when they staged a protest over the brutal killing of 10 of their colleagues by Boko Haram.
The complaints of the soldiers centred on lack of adequate weapons, poor feeding and non-payment of accrued salaries and allowances.
The protest coincided with the visit of the General Officer Commanding , Major General Ahmed Mohammed to the Maimalari Cantonment .
Although the car of the GOC was shot at during the protest he was not injured.
Following the incident, the military authorities arrested 18 soldiers including the convicts, and charged them with the offences of conspiracy, attempted murder, mutiny, disobedience to particular order, insubordinate behaviour and false accusation contrary to provisions of the Armed Forces Act and the Penal Code Act.
They were tried before the Court Martial presided over by Brigadier-General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo.
Out of the 18 soldiers, five were discharged and acquitted, 12 were convicted and sentenced to death while one was jailed for 28 days with hard labour.
But Fulana said the Army investigated the immediate and remote causes of the soldiers’ protest and confirmed that their complaints were not unfounded.
Besides, he said, upon indicting Major-General Ahmed Mohammed for not attending to the grievances of the aggrieved soldiers, he was removed as GOC and retired from the Nigerian Army by the military high command.
“With respect to the soldiers’ complaints of lack of adequate equipment to fight the Boko Haram troops who are armed with sophisticated weapons the National Assembly has recently approved the request of the President & Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan for $1 billion loan to purchase military hardware for the purpose of prosecuting the war on terror,” Falana said.
He also said the convicts were wrongly alleged of mutiny.
“By virtue of Section 52 (1) of the Armed Forces Act, the offence of “mutiny” is defined as a combination of two or more persons subject to services law, to use violence or threat of the use of violence or refuse to avoid any duty or service in connection with operations against the enemy. The offence attracts the death penalty.
”From the facts of this case, the protest staged by the convicts and other soldiers at the Maimalari Cantonment was not connected with “operations against the enemy”. On the contrary, the soldiers were protesting against the negligence of the Federal Government and the military Authorities to motivate and equip them to take part in the “operation against the enemy”, Falana said.
He said the soldiers who were demanding for weapons to fight the satanic Boko Haram troops cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be said to have committed the offence of mutiny.
The soldiers, he argued should have been charged only with insubordination and not mutiny.