By Kingsley Omonobi
Abuja—Minister of Defence, Mansur Muhammad Dan Ali yesterday said some provisions in the proposed Armed Forces Act, if approved by the National Assembly and the Presidency, would ensure efficient, fair and swift administration of justice in the military.
They include the establishment of Judge Advocate System by both military and legal professionals to address the issue of dispensation of justice and the instances of reversal of Court Martial decisions at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
Speaking during the submission of the report by the committee set up to review the ‘Armed Forces Act, Cap A20, Laws of the Federation of Nigerian 2004’ yesterday , the minister also welcomed the proposal for the strengthening of the National Reserve Forces, Command and review of findings; awards and penalties to reflect the current realities which will serve and act as deterrent to other offences.
He said, “These notable reforms made by this committee will go down in history as a ground breaking effort geared towards bringing the Armed Forces Act up to date in the 21st century and consistent with international standards and best practices” adding, “This review exercise will boost the morale and enhance the welfare of our armed forces who are performing creditably well in the battlefield in spite of all odds.”
Recalling that the current Armed Forces Act Cap 20 LFN 2004 was an amalgamation of the hitherto individual laws operated by the three services, he said, “While the laws from where the Nigerian Armed Forces copied her own law had undergone several reviews reflective of the ever changing status of the world, ours has remained stagnant thus failing to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the serving officers and the society at large.
“The changing nature of our security environment which assigned our troops to internal security operations, counter insurgency operations and peace support operations, requires that soldiers have a solid outlook based on human dignity, rights, morality and tolerance.”
Chairman of the Review Committee which had representatives of the Defence headquarters and the services, Mrs. Chibogu Ibekwe said, “The extant armed forces act has been in operation for over 24 years and has during the period, generated considerable measure of controversies and debates arising from the application of its disciplinary provisions within the context of the military justice system which centers around threshold issues of non compliance with the minimum standards on constitutional rights and due process”
She said, “There are provisions in the extant act that place enormous powers on convening officers of Court Martial’s. This has led to widespread and persistent complaints of denial of fair hearing, convictions based on insufficient or relevant evidence, substantial and procedural irregularities, selective trials, failure to give reasons for findings and undue command influence among others”.
“All of these undermine the credibility, impartiality and independence of the military courts and result in sub standard miscarriage of justice. This has given rise to several instances of cases decided by Court Martial’s at the appellate courts”.
“Besides the issues of non compliance with constitutional right provisions, there are still other inherent gaps and deficiencies in the act that have diminished the positive impact of its application” Mrs. Ibekwe added.
Present at the report presentation were the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin, Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar and other senior officers from the services.