Nigerian Army court martial has sentenced 54 soldiers to death by firing squad while five have been discharged and acquitted.
Details of the sentencing were sketchy early this evening. Their offences too, had not been made public.
The sentences were however handed down at the Mogadishu Barracks, also called the Army Headquarters Garrison, Abacha Barracks, Abuja.
The convicted soldiers, mostly officers involved in the fight against the Boko Haram terrorists in Northeast Nigeria, are to die on stakes, by firing squad.
The soldiers, attached to the 7 Division, Nigerian Army in Maiduguri include two Corporals, Cpl, nine Lance Corporals, LCpl and 49 Private soldiers.
The charge sheet said the soldiers 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 soldiers are the second batch of Nigerian soldiers condemned to death by Nigerian Military courts for mutiny.
The trial of the soldiers began on October 15 on allegations they disobeyed orders to join operations against the extremist group, Boko Haram.
All the accused soldiers pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The prosecutor, J.E. Nwosu, an army Captain, alleged 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.
Capt. 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.
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.
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.
Asked if the soldiers refused to fight or refused to join the operation because of lack of superior weapons, he said all units in the North-East had requested for weapons.
On the disciplinary measure taken against the 47 soldiers, who initially refused, he said the process for that was to begin when they were court-martialled.
Falana in an oral application asked to the court for the record of weapons recovered from the 47 soldiers, when they initially refused to join the operations.
The President of the Court, Brig.-Gen. Mohammed Yusuf, said the application had been noted “for action’’.
The General Court Martial was inaugurated on October 2 to try 97 soldiers, including 15 senior officers for mutiny.
Twelve soldiers fighting in the same northeast insurgency were on September 16 also sentenced to death by firing squad for mutiny and attempted murder of their commanding officer.
The new convicts were in the batch of 15 officers and 82 soldiers whose trial began on October 15 for incidents of mutiny, desertion of duty and insubordination, which took place during the war against terror in the North-east.
They were arraigned before the General Court Martial (GCM) under the leadership of Brig-Gen. Musa Yusuf as president and Lt-Col. Ukpe Ukpe as the Judge Advocate (JA).
Apart from Yusuf, other members of the GCM inaugurated yesterday at the Army Headquarters Garrison, Mogadishu Cantonment in Abuja, included: Col. UI Mohammed, Col. ML Ibrahim, Col. R Abubakar, Col. MM Bunza, Col. JD Gontor, Col. KN Garba, Col. BR Abimiku and Col. GA Ugwueze, while waiting members are Col. AT Ibrahim and Lt-Col. VO Olatunji.
The prosecuting officers include Capt. JA Orumor and Capt. RS Agwai.
Most of the defence counsel including Femi Falana (SAN) raised objections over the qualification of Ukpe to preside over the case since Ukpe doubles also as an Assistant Director, Legal Services at the AHQ Garrison.
Falana wanted to know if the JA had in anyway in his capacity been involved in the investigation or framing of the charges, which could mean that he must have taken a position that might jeopardise the trial.
Other defence counsel supported Falana’s position by objecting to the membership of Ukpe as the JA, saying he cannot be a judge in his own case.
Apart from the JA, some other issues the defence team wanted resolved was that defence lawyers must be properly served, were entitled to know the charges, must be given the charge sheets more than 24 hours before the trial date, and that they must also be granted access to their clients (the accused).
In his defence, however, Ukpe said his appointment had not in anyway violated the three cardinal principles under which he could be disqualified, saying he was neither the commanding officer of the accused when the alleged crimes were committed, nor was he involved in the investigation of the case and was never a member of the board of inquiry.
In the same vein, the prosecuting counsel insisted that the composition of the GCM was in order, explaining that the Nigerian Army adheres strictly to the division of labour where the Department of Military Police with its competent lawyers handles all cases, investigations and charges without input from the Legal Services Department and by extension the JA.
He classified the offences committed by the accused into mutiny, assault, absence without leave (AWOL), house breaking, conduct prejudicial to good orders and service discipline, and offences relating to service property, among others.
Musa also assured the accused persons that in line with Section 35(5) of the 1999 Constitution, they shall be presumed innocent by the court until it is proved otherwise, adding that the GCM would be guided throughout the trial by the principles of fair hearing and justice.
He said: “You shall be given facilities and conditions necessary for the proper defence of your cases. Let me further assure you that the GCM will base its decisions and findings on the facts presented before it. In other words, this court will not give room for or be influenced by any extraneous matter which is not presented before this court.”
Speaking further, the president laid emphasis on the court’s intention to conduct and conclude the case without undue or unnecessary delay.
The 15 officers who were arraigned public are: Lt-Col. SS Tilawan (N/10371), Lt-Col. DB Danzang (N/10414), Lt-Col. IC Ogamanya (N/10414), Lt-Col. SU Abubakar (N/10489), Maj. II Sakaba (N/10744), Capt. M Hamadikko (N/11565), Capt. Z Alhaji (N/12086), Capt MB Abdullahi (N/12965), Capt SY Musa (N/13311) and Lt- T Garba (N/13311).
Others were Lt. F Ogunleke (N/13598), Lt. A Abdullahi (N/13657), Lt. IM Okoro (N/13674), Lt. D Wunuji (N/13685) and Sec-Lt. JM Uweh (N/15173).