Sagay, Falana laud pardon for soldiers
• ‘Army yet to disband courts-martial’
HE recent directive by President Muhammadu Buhari to the Nigerian military leadership to review all cases of sanctions against soldiers being tried for alleged misconduct in the course of their services in the anti-terror war in the Northeast has continued to attract diverse reactions.
A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) had called for the disbandment of the courts-martial set up by the military authorities to try soldiers alleged to have engaged in acts considered as misconduct. He also called for unconditional pardon for all the soldiers convicted by the courts.
But a retired Commissioner of Police, Samuel Adetuyi, in an interview with The Guardian called for caution in handling cases of misconduct and indiscipline among security operatives especially in the military because, according to him, “discipline and good conduct apart from armaments are the invisible and most potent weapons to conquer and overwhelm foes.”
Adetuyi, who now works as a security consultant and legal practitioner, noted that the military all over the world has its own tradition of award, reward and discipline of its ranks and file, which the personnel swore to uphold at the point of joining.
He stressed that any uninformed measure to detract from this tradition could spell doom for loyalty and performance in the military.
Falana had noted that the former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, had admitted that the military under him was without necessary and relevant weapons which vindicated the court-martialed soldiers whose reason for alleged misconduct was ill-equipment and failure to pay them operational allowances.
Also, constitutional lawyer and Professor of Law, Itse Sagay, in his comments, called for immediate pardon for the soldiers and discontinuation of the military courts. He said in addition, the soldiers after pardon, should as a matter of justice, be immediately rehabilitated into the military.
According to the legal icon, it was unfortunate that the soldiers were made to suffer double jeopardy; first they were sent to the battle field ill-equipped for no sin of their own; secondly, they were subjected to unjustifiable trial and deprivations and humiliations that followed it.
Sagay said: “The action of the military authorities is condemnable because by sending the ill-equipped soldiers to the war front, they had only sent them on a suicide mission.
“The former Chief of Defence Staff’s confession that the soldiers were not well equipped and the admission by military authorities that the allowances of members of the military were mismanaged have removed the moral basis upon which the soldiers were convicted. The absence of the moral basis has also removed the legal basis upon which they were sentenced. To that extent, their sentences could no longer stand and they should consequently be released without condition and be rehabilitated into the military.”
In his own contribution, a former Vice Chairman of the Ikeja branch of the Nigeria Bar Association, Niyi Akinmola, supported immediate pardon for the convicts, arguing that the confession of Badeh vindicated and absolved them of any culpability, adding that the military authorities only made them scape-goats to cover their own inefficiencies.
The senior lawyer while commending the new Chief of Army Staff, Major- Gen. Yusuf Burutai, who, upon the assumption of office, set up a panel to review cases of the convicted soldiers, noted that nothing short of outright disbandment of the courts would serve true justice.
He lamented the failure of the former Chief of Army Staff, Kenneth Minimah, to confirm the death sentence on the 70 soldiers within the period stipulated by the rule and before his retirement from the army to enable the convicts exercise their rights to appeal against their conviction.
The Nigerian Army Headquarters, alarmed at personnel running away from battle against the Boko Haram, ordered a wave of court martials with some of the troops tried for acts of cowardice, indiscipline, desertion or mutiny. And verdicts from the general courts-martial came in droves. In December, 54 soldiers of the 111 Special Forces Battalion attached to the 7 Division Maiduguri were sentenced to death for mutiny, for disobeying direct order from superior officers to take part in an operation aimed at dislodging Boko Haram terrorists from Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State.
Asked for further clarifications, the Army spokesman, Col Usman, told The Guardian on telephone: “I have to issue the earlier statement to emphasize that AWOL (Away Without Leave) and deserted soldiers will not be recalled. We cannot tolerate acts of indiscipline and acts of cowardice. The Nigerian Army is only reviewing cases based on the spates of petitions. The generals court-martial has not been disbanded. I have not seen any correspondence to show any on-going general-court martial has been disbanded.”