– It’s improper, against the Law
It was news that brought some disquiet to many Nigerians who have heard about it. Prominent Nigerians and trade unionists too have been so outraged and have voiced their dissent on the court martial and death sentence handed down to 12 soldiers.
Eighteen soldiers were charged but five were acquitted by the tribunal headed by Brigadier General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo.
Sentenced to die for an alleged mutiny and criminal conspiracy to commit mutiny were: Cpl Jasper Braidolor, Cpl David Musa, LCpl Friday Onun, LCpl Yusuf Shuaibu, LCpl Igomu Emmanuel, Pte Andrew Ngbede, Pte Nurudeen Ahmed, Pte Ifeanyi Alukhagbe, Pte Alao Samuel, Pte Amadi Chukwudi, Pte Allan Linus and LCpl Stephen Clement.
The five soldiers acquitted were Cpl David Luhbut, Cpl Muhammed Sani, Pte Iseh Ubong, Pte Sabastine Gwaba and Pte Inama Samuel.
Private Ichocho Jeremiah, the 18th soldier, was found guilty of “going AWOL – absent without leave” and was sentenced to 28 days in prison with hard labour. Jeremiah was also found guilty of indiscipline but was only reprimanded for the first office.
All the soldiers belonged to the 101 Battalion. The convicted 12 were said to have allegedly opened fire, on a convoy conveying the Seven Division Commander, General Amadu Mohammed, at an army medical centre in Maiduguri, on May 14th 2014.
Reacting to the Court martial, President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Augustine Alegeh appealed to the Federal Government to intervene and save the lives of the soldiers.
“Military Laws are recognized in our constitution and those who have been sentenced to death have the right to appeal the judgment. However we are losing so many of our soldiers to violent activities of insurgents. So why do we want to kill them. The country should consider these soldiers and rescind the capital punishment,” the NBA president said.
Another appeal came from former NBA Chairman – Ikeja branch, Monday Ubani who urged President Jonathan to stop the execution. He said although mutiny was a criminal offence in the military, the soldiers had a right to appeal the decision in a higher court.
“We must take cognizance of the circumstances in which they had to fire at their boss. They had been denied enough equipment while there. Most of them have been sent to that warfront without a proper welfare,” Ubani added.
Human Rights lawyer, Olisa Agbakoba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN, said the judgment was unconstitutional. Agbakoba argued that it was wrong for the military to be both judge and jury at the same time in such a case and insisted that the death sentence was against the law.
In the letter Agbakoba sent to the chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah and copied to the Attorney General of the Federation, Bello Adoke and several others, he urged the army boss to refrain from confirming the decision to kill the soldiers. He said the sentence was unconstitutional in that it flouted the rule of natural justice as enshrined in section 36 of the constitution.
“We fully understand that Military discipline is based on obedience to superior orders and that mutiny is a serious offence, yet the Nigerian constitution guarantees a right to fair hearing to every Nigerian. The manner, procedure and process by which these condemned soldiers were sentenced to death is contrary to the Nigerian Constitution,” Agbakoba said.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) praised the military for enforcing discipline but rejected the death sentence imposed on the soldiers.
“While we applaud these laudable efforts, we would also want to remind the Federal Government and the military leadership that inasmuch as the congress will not encourage revolt or disobedience to the military authorities, we will also not fail to reject and condemn the death sentence passed by the court martial on 12 soldiers,” TUC President, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama said.
Brigadier General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo, who presided over the court marshal said in his judgment:
“The soldiers succeeded in shooting at his staff car, thereby causing bullet impressions at the right rear door where the GOC sat.”
It could be recalled that the solders claimed that they were ambushed while on a special operation in Kalabalge LGA, near Chibok, where over 200 girls were abducted from a government college.
They alleged that after the operation, during which some military equipment were recovered from the insurgents, the solders, who arrived the operation location at night, were asked to return to Maiduguri despite the pleading to be allowed to return the next morning as the night trip would be risky. The request was turned down.
Unfortunately, the troop had to drive to Maiduguri at night and half way through their journey, they were said to have ran into a Boko Haram ambush during which more than 10 of them were killed, while some others were injured. This ugly development allegedly angered the solders to rebel against their superiors whom they blamed for the death of their colleagues.