The special court martial set up to try former Commander of the 33 Artillery Brigade, Bauchi, Brigadier-General Muraina Raji, over the escape of two Boko Haram suspects from detention at the brigade has discharged and acquitted him.
But the court martial convicted him on what it called “special findings” for which he was sentenced to three months loss of seniority.
Delivring judgment on Friday night, the presidentof the court martial, Major-General John Zaruwa said the sanction, subject to confirmation by the appropriate military authorities, was because the official failed to show interest in the escapees “who were regarded as high profile detainees”.
Zaruwa said the court martial took note of Raji’s meritorious service to the Nigeria Army for the past 33 years during which he received several commendations and awards.
“It is your willingness to cooperate with other security agencies to accept suspects for safe-keeping with good intentions which had led to this unfortunate incident of escape which led to this trial. The court found out that, in your career, you have never had any case of indiscipline, misdemeanour or misconduct. In view of all these good deeds, the court has decided to award you three months loss of seniority in your present rank of Brigadier General. This award is subject to confirmation by appropriate superior authorities.”, he stated.
The court martial was constituted by former General Officer Commanding, Three Armoured Division, Major-General John Idoko, to try Raji over alleged neglect to perform military duties punishable under Section 62(b) of Armed Forces Act (AFA) CAP A20 Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 by failing to provide guard and standing orders for soldiers on duty at the Wetland Detention Facility at Shadawanka Barracks between January 17 and February 18.
He was also charged with negligent performance of military duties punishable under the same section of AFA at Shadawanka Barracks by failing to adequately assign responsibilities to officers under him to guarantee the safety of high profile detainees at the detention facility.
The third allegation was failure to perform military duties punishable under the same law for neglecting to provide feeding for the two guards performing 24 hours’ duty at detention facility as a result of which one of them went in search of food during which the detainees escaped.
Reacting to the judgment, the lead defence counsel, Mr. Femi Falana, described it as contradictory in law for a court to discharge and acquit an accused and, at the same time, slam a sentence on him.
He said: “After exonerating the general in its verdict, the special court martial, which sat in Jos, turned round, in a rather bizzare manner, to frame a new charge of conduct prejudicial to service discipline contrary to section 103 (1) of the Armed Forces Act against him.
“Without asking the accused officer to plead to the new charge and defend himself, he was convicted and sentenced to a three-month loss of seniority. Thus the special court martial turned itself into the accuser, the prosecutor, the witness and the judge in a criminal case, contrary to all known canons of natural justice.”
Falana, nonetheless, commended the speed with which the trial was conducted, urging other judicial organs to borrow from the example.
The lead defense counsel was absent at the judgement which was initially fixed for October 4 based on an agreement of the court, the prosecution and the defence, but the court later changed its mind and went ahead to deliver judgement at about 8.30 on Friday, lasting till about 10 p.m.