The Nigerian Army yesterday barred journalists from further covering the proceedings of its General Court Martial, GCM, which commenced sitting on Wednesday at the Army Headquarters, AHQ, Garrison, in Mogadishu Cantonment, Abuja, to try 97 soldiers for various offences of mutiny, conspiracy to commit mutiny, among others.
The Court Martial commenced hearing on Wednesday, in the matter of Nigerian Army against LCpl Andrew Ogolekwu and 58 others, who were arraigned on two count charges of conspiracy to commit mutiny and mutiny.
All the soldiers pleaded not guilty to all the charges preferred against them, which enjoyed very wide media coverage in an open court, as against the previous practice of shutting out the media from the proceedings.
Upon its inauguration, the GCM President, Brig- Gen. M. S. Yusuf, had declared that it was an open court and its businesses would be done in the open court, with the media giving it unhindered coverage.
However, when journalists appeared again in court yesterday, for the continuation of the trial, they were asked out of the court midway into the proceedings.
About 10 a.m when the second prosecution witness (pw2) in the case, who is second in command to the Commanding Officer, 111 Special Forces Battalion, Lt-Col Timothy Opulum, PW1, commenced giving evidence, an unidentified man went round the court whispering to journalists that an “officer outside wants to see you.”
When asked what the problem was, the plain clothes man, suspected to be Army personnel, said “I don’t know.”
Spokesman of the Garrison, Colonel Aliyu Yusuf, outside the courtroom, however addressed the journalists to bear with them that the Army would send invitations across to them whenever the time was right.
Asked if that was a subtle way of shutting out journalists from the proceedings, he simply said, “we will send invitations to you at the appropriate time.”
During the court proceedings on Wednesday, there were serious issues of national security bordering on military operations that were raised and considered in the open court, which was gradually said to be putting ongoing operations in the North East at risk.
At a point, during the proceeding, the GCM President, who became apparently uncomfortable with the revelations of military strategies, had to stop the witness and counsels to give explanations on the need not to probe into military operations to endanger national security.
In spite of this, the Defence counsel, apparently interested in doing all they could to stop army from securing conviction and the obvious death sentence for their clients, went ahead to demand sensitive operational information, strategies and documents from the witnesses.
Our correspondent learnt that the military authorities were unhappy with this idea in an open court, necessitating the barring of the press and other persons who have no business in the GCM.
It would be recalled that the last court martial in the AHQ Garrison carried out a discreet trial of 18 soldiers accused of mutiny and only made it public on the day of judgment when convictions and sentences to death by firing squad as well as life imprisonment for attempted murder were pronounced on 12 of them by the GCM on September 15.
The trial of 59 soldiers, who were arraigned before the Gen Yusuf-led GCM, began on Wednesday, when a 2-count charge of mutiny and criminal conspiracy to commit mutiny, was read to them in open court, by the Judge Advocate, Lt-Col. Ukpe Ukpe.