By Kingsley Omonobi
ABUJA — FIFTY-FOUR soldiers, who were sentenced to death on Wednesday by the General Court-Martial following their conviction on a two-count charge of conspiracy to mutiny and mutiny, have described their sentence as gross miscarriage of justice which cannot stand.
Fifty nine soldiers were put on trial by the court-martial, while five of them were discharged and acquitted.
The condemned soldiers, in a statement they issued through their counsel, Mr Femi Falana (SAN) argued that sending them to go and confront heavily armed Boko Haram terrorists without providing them with adequate weapons was asking them to go and commit suicide.
They said their refusal to obey orders of the Commanding Officer of the Special Forces Battalion, Lt. Colonel Opurum, was as a result of non availability of arms and ammunition to prosecute the instruction of the commander.
According to Falana’s statement, “Yesterday (Wednesday), 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 five 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 Special Forces 111 Battalion which has 174 instead of 750 soldiers. The soldiers in the Battalion 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 battalion. As the soldiers were ill-equipped and ill-motivated the well armed terrorists killed three 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.
“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 characterised 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 two-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.”