Yesterday, the General Court-Martial sitting in Abuja which tried another batch of 59 soldiers for conspiracy to mutiny and mutiny convicted 54 of the accused persons and sentenced them to death while 5 were discharged and acquitted. The acquittal was designed to give the false impression that the dubious verdict was fair and just. The soldiers were in the SF 111 Batallion which has 174 instead of 750 soldiers. The soldiers in the Batallion were neither equipped nor motivated. They are young men whose ages range between 21 and 25. Most of them joined the army in 2012.
With little or no training whatsoever they were deployed to fight the dreaded Boko Haram sect. The funds allocated for payment of the salaries and allowances of the soldiers and for purchase of arms and ammunition are usually diverted and cornered by corrupt military officers. Instead of bringing such unpatriotic officers to book the military authorities have engaged in the diversionary tactics of wasting the lives of innocent soldiers by sentencing them to death without any legal justification.
On July 9, 2014 the Boko Haram sect launched a ferocious attack on the Batallion. As the soldiers were ill-equipped and ill-motivated the well armed terrorists killed 3 officers and 23 soldiers and inflicted serious injuries on 82 others. While sympathizing with the bereaved soldiers the army authorities assured them that adequate weapons would be provided to match the sophisticated weapons of the Boko Haram sect. But without the provision of the said weapons the soldiers were ordered on August 4, 2014 to recapture Delwa, Balubulin and Damboa in Borno State from the Boko Haram terrorists. The soldiers demanded for weapons so as not to lose more officers and men in the circumstance. A few soldiers who embarked on the suicidal mission together with the Commanding Officer were ambushed by the Boko Haram troops.
When some weapons were made available on August 8, 2014, the soldiers moved to the battlefront, dislodged the satanic Boko Haram sect and liberated their captured colleagues and officers. They were commended for their bravery and sacrifice. But for some inexplicable reasons, the army authorities ordered that the soldiers be charged with mutiny for allegedly exposing the armed forces to embarrassment by asking for weapons! Thus, 60 soldiers were charged before the court-martial led by Brigadier-General M. Yusuf. The charge was however withdrawn against one of them on health ground. When the trial commenced against the remaining 59 the court-martial allowed defense correspondents and reporters to cover the proceedings. But the revealing testimonies of the prosecution witnesses embarrassed the army authorities.
In particular, the defence pointed out that by not providing the soldiers with adequate weapons the Federal Government had violated Section 217 (2) (b) of the Constitution which provides that the Federation shall, subject to an Act of the National Assembly made in that behalf, equip and maintain the armed forces as may be considered adequate and effective for the purpose of maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its borders from violation on land, sea or air.
It is public knowledge that it was when the trial of the soldiers was in progress that the President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, sought and obtained the approval of the National Assembly for a loan of USD$1 billion to purchase equipment for the prosecution of the war on terror. Up till now, the loan has not been utilized for the purchase of weapons!
It was on the basis of such revelation that the court-martial resorted to sitting in camera and prohibited the media from further reporting the proceedings. In the judgment delivered yesterday the court-martial refused to consider the evidence led in court and convicted 54 of the soldiers for having the temerity to ask for weapons to carry out the task of defending the territorial integrity of the nation. Since the soldiers were justified in refusing to commit suicide the verdict which is characterized by gross miscarriage of justice will not stand. Apart from the fact that the Prosecution did not lead any scintilla of evidence to prove the 2-count charge of conspiracy and mutiny against any of the convicts the Court-martial did not consider the defence of the soldiers in any material particular.
Convinced that soldiers who made a legitimate demand for equipment to fight the insurgents cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be properly convicted for mutiny we shall take all necessary legal measures to prevent the army authorities from giving effect to the genocidal verdict of the court-martial. We submit that the oath of allegiance taken by the accused soldiers is not a license to commit suicide. It is a solemn undertaking to defend the nation based on the expectation that the Federal Government would have complied with Section 217 of the Constitution on the mandatory requirement to equip the armed forces adequately. It is important to state that when equipment was made available on 18 August 2014, the accused soldiers fought gallantly.
Femi Falana SAN.