By Kingsley Omonobi
ABUJA—The General Court Martial sitting at the Army Headquarters Garrison in Abuja Wednesday sentenced 54 soldiers to death after finding them guilty of mutiny. 59 soldiers were on trial on a two-count charge of criminal conspiracy to commit mutiny and mutiny.
Four of them were however acquitted.
While the judgment was going on, stern looking soldiers posted at the entry gate into the Mogadishu Barracks, turned back journalists saying they had instructions not to allow the media into the barracks.
An officer who was at the Court Martial however confirmed that 54 of the 59 soldiers were sentenced to death. The 59 soldiers who were serving in the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency in Borno state, allegedly refused lawful orders by their commander to proceed on a mission to clear out terrorists and secure a town for subsequent military deployments.
All the soldiers had pleaded not guilty to the charges levelled against them at the commencement of the trial last October. The soldiers are the second batch of Nigerian soldiers condemned to death by Nigerian Military courts for mutiny.
The soldiers, attached to the 7 Division, Nigerian Army in Maiduguri include two Corporals, Cpl, nine Lance Corporals, LCpl and 49 Private soldiers. According to the charge against them, they conspired to commit mutiny against the authorities of the 7 Division on August 4, at the Mulai Primary School camp, opposite AIT Maiduguri, Borno State.
The prosecutor, Captain J.E. Nwosu, told the military court that the accused soldiers had on August 4, in Maiduguri, refused to join the 111 Special Forces Battalion troops, commanded by Timothy Opurum, a Lieutenant Colonel for an operation.
Mr. Nwosu said the operation was meant to recapture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State from the Boko Haram terrorists.
According to him, the offence is punishable under Section 52(1) (a) of the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The prosecution called the commander of the 111 Special Forces, Lt.-Col. Opurum, as one of the witnesses. The statement of the commander was admitted by the court and marked Exhibit P1.
Mr. Opurum, in his testimony in October, said the Special Forces were tasked with advancing to recapture Delwa to clear the way for other battalions to pass through to recapture Babulin and Damboa from the insurgents.
He said he took off for the operation with only four officers and 29 soldiers as “tasked” after majority of the 174 soldiers in the unit refused to join the operation.
The witness said after he took charge of the Special Forces, he addressed and assured them that they could achieve the task given to them.
He, however, said the soldiers were “hesitant to partake in the operation” in spite of the assurances.
Under cross examination by Femi Falana, who represented the accused soldiers, Mr. Opurum said 47 of the soldiers who initially refused, later re-joined the forces for another operation.
Mr. Opurum said the 47 soldiers joined, after he called for reinforcement, as they came under attack from terrorists, who out-numbered them and had superior weapons.