By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has nullified the conviction of a former Chief of Transformation and Innovation at the Nigerian Army Headquarters, Major General Ibrahim Sani by a Special Military Court Martial.
In a unanimous judgment, a three-man panel of Justices of the appellate court led by Justice Abubakar Datti Yahaya invalidated court-martial proceedings that resulted in the conviction of the appellant.
The verdict followed an appeal marked: CA/A/791/2017, which Sani lodged to challenge the sentence that demoted him from Major General to Brigadier General.
The appellate court held that totality of evidence that was adduced before it indicated that the appellant was denied fair hearing in the trial process that took place at the Army Headquarters Garrison, Mogadishu Cantonment, Asokoro, Abuja.
The Court of Appeal held that the entire proceedings of the Special Court were conducted in a manner that breached and denied the appellant his right to a fair hearing.
According to the court: “The proceedings and judgment of the special court-martial in respect of charge No: NA/COAS/GI/39/16 filed before the lower Special Court Martial is hereby set aside.
“An order is made for the retrial of the charges against the appellant by another Special Court Martial.”
Specifically, the Special Military Court Martial, led by Air Vice Marshal (AVM), Gbum (NAF/1366), delivered the judgment that was set aside by the appellate court on July 20, 2017.
The appellant was arraigned on July 4, 2016, on a nine-count charge that followed alleged fraudulent role he played in the management of a large parcel of land allocated to the Nigerian Army in Asokoro, Abuja.
Charge against him bordered allegations that he made false documents, as well as cheated, contrary to sections 56(2), 66(a), 90(a) and 113(3) of the Armed Forces Act (AFA), CAP A20, LFN, 2004.
However, the appellant pleaded not guilty to the charge, even as the charge against him was reduced to 8-counts.
Shortly after the prosecution closed its case, the appellant, made a no-case submission, insisting that no prima-facie criminal case was established against him.
In its ruling, the Court Martial, further struck out count 5 of the charge on the premise that the prosecution failed to establish a nexus between the appellant and allegation that he unlawfully obtained the sum of N15million from one Brigadier General Koko Essien.
Subsequently, in the course of the trial, the appellant, made interlocutory applications both orally and formally, challenging the jurisdiction of the Special Court Martial on the basis of contravention of section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the competence of its President.
The appellant equally raised the issue of likelihood of bias and denial of his right to fair hearing under section 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), contending that if his trial was allowed to continue before the Special Court Martial convened by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. T.Y Buratai (N/7630), he would not get justice.
His objection was dismissed by the panel which went ahead and convicted the appellant on five counts of the charge, a decision that was voided by the Court of Appeal.
Reacting the appellate court’s decision, counsel to the embattled Major General, Mr Mahmud Magaji, SAN, said the judiciary had proved that it is the last hope of the common man.
He said: “By this decision setting aside the judgment of the Special Court Martial, the proceedings, conviction and sentence of the court never existed in the eyes of the law.
“They are null and void. Therefore, the Nigerian Army is obligated to obey the judgment by restoring the appellant to his rank as a Major General with all his benefits and entitlements in the Nigerian Army.”