By Ikenna Asomba
Following the decision of Federal Government to reinstate 3,032 officers and soldiers, who were dismissed from the Nigerian Army last year by the General Court-Martial set up by military authorities, three groups of officers and soldiers, yesterday, appealed to President Buhari to extend the gesture to them.
The groups, according to their counsel, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), in a petition addressed to the Chief of Army Staff, are the 70 soldiers convicted and sentenced to death in September and December 2014 by two General Courts-Martial, whose findings have not been confirmed; scores of officers and soldiers convicted and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment by General Courts-Martial, and senior officers and soldiers currently being prosecuted in Special and General Courts-Martial in Lagos and Abuja.
The petition said: “The convicts and suspects under-going trial are alleged to have committed mutiny, cowardly behaviour, loss of equipment, failure to perform military duties and sundry offences.
“In the course of the concluded trials, it was established that the said offences arose from the negligence of the authorities to provide adequate weapons for the armed forces in line with Section 217 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended.
“In other words, the only ‘offence’ proved against the convicts by the prosecution was that they had the temerity to ask for weapons to fight the war on terror.”
References to ex-CDS, ex-NSA’s comments
They made reference to recent disclosure by the immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Barde (retd) that the Armed Forces led by him lacked the equipment to fight the insurgents and the admission by the immediate past National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd), that the arms and ammunition ordered by the Federal Government would soon be delivered to the armed forces.
They said: “Since the Armed Forces were not equipped to defend the territorial integrity of the nation, the convicts did not commit mutiny or any offence whatsoever in demanding for adequate weapons to fight the insurgents.
“In fact, the dismissed 3,002 officers and soldiers who have just been reinstated by the military authorities were also alleged to have engaged in mutinous acts for refusing to commit suicide by fighting the terrorists without weapons.
“In view of the grave injustice which informed the conviction and sentences passed on the officers and soldiers by the Courts-Martial, we make a passionate appeal to the Army Council and the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, General Kenneth Minimah, not to confirm the iniquitous findings.
“But for some inexplicable reasons, the findings were not reviewed as the record of proceedings of the Courts-Martial were not transmitted within 60 days from the date of the verdict.
“Thus, by refusing to confirm and promulgate the findings the convicts have been denied the opportunity to file any appeal against the convictions and sentences at the Court of Appeal in line with Section 175 of the Armed Forces Act.
“From the facts and circumstan-ces of this case, the ingredients of the offence of mutiny were not proved beyond reasonable doubt as required by law.
“The Courts-Martial erred in law in convicting the accused soldiers of mutiny for protesting against the avoidable deaths of their colleagues in the hands of the insurgents (who have stronger fire power), the non-payment of operational allowances, hunger, failure of the military authorities to provide training and adequate military hardware.
“Having rightly pardoned and reabsorbed the dismissed officers and soldiers into the Army, it is our submission that others who were tried and convicted for allegedly committing the same offence ought to have their conviction and sentences set aside to pave way for their reinstatement.
“In the same vein, the Courts-Martial, which are sitting should be disbanded while the charges pending against officers and soldiers should be withdrawn without any further delay.
“Our submission is premised on Section 42 of the Constitution, which guarantees the fundamental right of such convicts and suspects to freedom from discrimination.”