Military fires GOC attacked by convicted soldiers

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The former General Officer Commanding the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maiduguri, Maj. Gen. Abubakar Mohammed, has been retired by the Military command.

Sources said that Mohammed was retired after he was recalled to the Headquarters of the Nigerian Army without posting for months after the soldiers’ attempt on his life.

A top military source said in Abuja that the Army authorities quietly retired him last month.

“The Maj. Gen. has been retired; you don’t expect that to be made public; issues of retirement especially in the military are confidential. The man was at the Army headquarters for some time. He was awaiting posting then but he was eventually retired about a month ago.”

Meanwhile, the NLC, TUC and human rights lawyers have urged the Presidency and the Army Council chaired by the Minister of Defence to prevail on the military authorities to spare the lives of the 12 soldiers, sentenced to death by the court martial over the shooting.

The lawyers are three Senior Advocates of Nigeria–Olisa Agbakoba, Femi Falana and Sebastian Hon – as well as Fred Agbaje and Monday Ubani.

In fact, Agbakoba, who flayed the judgment threatened to go to court to seek justice for the convicts.

He said that the process through which the court martial passed the sentences on the soldiers was unconstitutional.

The SAN, who maintained that the composition of the court violated the principle of natural justice, said he had asked his lawyers to approach the convicts for the purpose of lodging an appeal against the military authorities.

“The court martial system is totally unconstitutional. They (soldiers) have the right to go to court and appeal the judgment. Actually, I have asked my lawyers to approach them and afford them our services to lodge an appeal.”

Agbakoba submitted that the offence for which the soldiers were tried and found guilty was undefined. He stated that Section 38(12) of the 1999 Constitution stipulated that all offences must be defined.

“I have represented a number of soldiers at court martial. In particular, I represented Gen. JOJ Okulagu and my point at the court martial was that a process that allows the commander to appoint the investigator, the court martial president, members and the judge advocate is clearly contrary to all principles of natural justice.

“The basis of justice is that everybody who has the power to decide has a duty to act fairly. Without prejudice to the offence, whether the person is guilty or not, he is entitled to a fair trial.

“The Army Act that defines the work for the court martial system is unconstitutional because the basic offence contained in the Army Act is that you are charged for an offence said to be prejudicial to service discipline.

“That is what the law says–conduct prejudicial to service discipline. But conduct prejudicial to service discipline is an undefined offence contrary to Section 38(12) of the Constitution and the court has said that offences must be defined.”

Falana who acknowledged the severity of the offences the soldiers were accused of, said pardoning them was necessary in view of the circumstances informing their action.

Falana said the soldiers were erroneously charged under S ection 52(1) of the Armed Forces Act Cap A 20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 as Mohammed whose car was shot at by the soldiers was not killed.

“The soldiers were charged with attempted murder which does not attract death penalty. In the circumstance, the 12 convicts should have been charged under Section 52(2) of the Armed Forces Act which provides for life imprisonment,” he said.

The human rights lawyer called on the Army Council not to confirm the verdict but to commute it to imprisonment.

Falana said, “Before the incident, the soldiers at the Maimalari Cantonment had complained of insufficient ammunition, food and allowances. The visit of the GOC was said to have coincided with the arrival of the corpses of soldiers killed in an ambush in Chibok, Borno State on the night of May 13, 2014.

“It was the tragic situation which reportedly infuriated the soldiers. Having investigated and confirmed the circumstances which led to the mutiny in question, the military authorities removed the GOC.

“In the light of the foregoing, I urge the Army Council not to confirm the death sentences passed on the 12 soldiers but commute same to imprisonment in the interest of Justice. The facts and circumstance of the mutinous act of the convicted soldiers should be taken into consideration.

“However, if the death sentence of the Maiduguri 12 is confirmed by the Army Council, the convicted soldiers are advised to take the case to the Court of Appeal which is likely to follow its decision in the case of Yussuf & 21 Ors v Nigerian Army (2003) 36 WRN 68 wherein the sentence of life imprisonment passed on the appellants who had rioted at the Cairo Airport in Egypt was quashed.”

Also, the NLC, through its General Secretary, Dr. Peter Ozo-Esan, said it could only appeal for clemency since the military had its own judicial process.

It said, “You know the military all over the world has its judicial process. We believe that the sentences are still awaiting the approval of the Army Council. It is when that process is completed that the full details and the circumstances would be taken into consideration. Where it is possible, some degree of clemency should be shown. We therefore appeal for some degree of clemency by the Army Council.”

The TUC on its part faulted the death sentence on the soldiers, describing it as a special gift to the Boko Haram.

Its President, Bala Kaigama, recalled that the soldiers were protesting internal sabotage in the ongoing counter- insurgency operation in the North -East.

He also faulted the court’s decision to describe the actions of the soldiers as mutiny as attempts to commit murder and insubordination.

Kaigama challenged the military to look inwards and fish out the collaborators of the Boko Haram insurgents for punishment.

He said, “We would also want to remind the Federal Government and the military leadership that in as much the congress will not encourage revolt or disobedience to military authority, we will also not fail to reject and condemn the death sentence passed by the court martial on 12 soldiers protesting against the internal sabotage of the military in the ongoing war against the Boko Haram sect in the North Eastern part of the country.

“We wonder why and how such a protest against sabotage could suddenly be termed: criminal conspiracy, mutiny, attempt to commit murder (shooting of the vehicle of the GOC); insubordination to a particular order and false accusation by the president of the Court Martial, Maj. Gen. C.C. Okonkwo.

“To us, the issues are clearly more and the congress makes bold to say that the approach adopted on the issue that is already at the public domain is very incorrect.”

He called on the Federal Government and the military to look into the grievances of the soldiers, stressing that the country could not afford to lose more of them now.

A human rights group, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, warned that the sentence passed on the soldiers might spell doom for the military.

Its Chairman, Debo Adeniran, said that such judgment was ill-timed as it might dampen the morale of soldiers at the war front.

Adeniran said, “It was done at a wrong time. If they are found guilty at all, such pronouncement ought not to have been made at this material time when our soldiers are in short supply of motivation for the expedition they are forced to engage in.

“It will only dampen their spirit, because they know what led to the mutiny. It was a statement of frustration from those guys because they already knew well that the outcome of it might not be favourable.

“Those who are still in the war front will not be motivated by such judgment at this material time and that may now spell doom for the Nigerian military rank.”

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