Chris Agbambu, Bola Badmus, Ayomide Owonibi-Odekanyin, Akin Adewakun and Sunday Ejike
SOME prominent Nigerians, on Tuesday, warned President Goodluck Jonathan to tread with caution on the death sentence passed on 12 Nigerian soldiers for munity by the military tribunal, headed by Brigadier-General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo.
According to them, the warning became necessary because of the far-reaching implications of the judgment, which the Trade Union congress (TUC), on its own, rejected.
Some legal practitioners, as well as other stakeholders in the country, in their separate reactions, noted that notwithstanding the extant laws that guided the trial and conviction of the soldiers, the president needed divine guidance and wisdom to handle the matter.
The soldiers from 101 Battalion, who were arraigned before a Court Martial, had, on May 14, allegedly opened fire on a convoy conveying the 7 Division Commander, General Amadu Mohammed, at an army medical centre in Maiduguri.
In handing down the judgment, Brigadier-General Okonkwo said, “the soldiers succeeded in shooting at his staff car, thereby causing bullet impressions at the right rear door where the GOC sat.”
While acknowledging the procedures followed by the tribunal, those who reacted warned Jonathan against taking any haste decision on the judgment, which, they said, is still subject to confirmation by top military hierarchy.
In a reaction, President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Augustine Alegeh, on Tuesday, appealed to the Federal Government to intervene.
Alegeh, who stated this in Abuja, while inaugurating the NBA Committee on Constitutional Reforms of the association, said “military laws are recognised in our constitution, and those who have been sentenced to death have the right to appeal the judgment.
“However, we are losing so many of our soldiers to violent activities of insurgents. So, why do we want to kill them? The country should consider these soldiers and rescind the capital punishment.”
Former chairman of NBA, Ikeja branch, Monday Ubani, also appealed to the president to use the power conferred on him as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to stop the execution of the soldiers.
Ubani, who admitted that mutiny is a criminal offence in the military, however, said the convicted soldiers had a right to appeal the decision at a higher court.
He also appealed to the military authorities to temper justice with mercy and consider the circumstances that led the soldiers into shooting at their GOC.
“We must take into cognisance, the circumstances in which they have to fire at their boss. They have been denied enough equipment while there. Most of them have been sent to that warfront without a proper welfare,” Ubani said.
According to Taiwo Taiwo, a former Lagos NBA chairman, the decision was in line with the military law.
“The court martial is in line with military law and practice. I have no objection because they actually committed the offence. I know they have a right of appeal. I don’t think we have had the last of it.”
Also commenting on the issue, Mr Adekunle Ojo, also a former NBA chairman, pointed out that the decision to sentence the soldiers to death could backfire.
“It was a case of gentlemen who were ordinarily asked to go for a duty and despite serious warnings on the way that they should not go, they went because they were obeying the orders of the GOC and unfortunately, about seven of them lost their lives in the process and others had to turn back.
“They revolted because they were embittered. By and large, it could constitute an offence, but then, a lot of things should have been put into consideration.
“The judgment, as it were, was high handed and severe for what happened and considering the circumstances of the case itself, we are still fighting these insurgents and the crisis has not abated in any form.
“The judgment is not necessary at this point in time and, above all, it can send a wrong signal to others still in service. We should not create a crisis situation,” he said.
Immediate past chairman, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Mr Jide Ologun, said “I think the fact that we are in a democracy does not mean military laws no longer exist. Military law is military law.
“The army form a critical sector of any society which we can’t afford to toy with. As a result, there must always be discipline within its rank and file.”
According to him, the soldiers knew the implications of their actions and, as a result, must be ready to face the consequences.
For Dr Samuel Nzekwe, former president, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), “though the judgment must have been delievered, based on the extant law, I still believe the president can reverse this or commute it to a light judgment.”
A right activist and lawyer, Mr Fred Agbaje, denounced the verdict of the military panel, saying it undermined the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
In a text message last night to the Nigerian Tribune, he said: “It’s only in Nigeria that workers’ legitimate demands will amount to mutiny and death sentence is the repercussion of such demands. Is life that cheap in Nigeria?
“The right to life, coupled with the right to fair hearing vested in every Nigerian, cannot be lightly toyed with in any trial, whether administrative, court martial or even by the regular courts.
“Hence, to decree death sentence to a citizen of this country without the fullest compliance with the rules governing jurisdiction, fair hearing or want of due process is a travesty of Sections 6 and 36 of the constitution, which provisions supersede any other laws, including marital laws.”
Honourable Segun Olulade, Chairman, Committee on Information, Publicity, Security and Strategy, Lagos State House of Assembly and Honourable Wahab Olumuyiwa Jimoh, in separate interviews with newsmen, said the verdict was in line with the military tradition but doubted if it would help the country win war against terrorism.
According to Olulade, it was unfortunate, adding that it was a selective application of laws, in order to protect some interests.
“I am not looking at the content of what they (soldiers) did and what they did not do, but if the law of the land says if you are charged with mutiny, you should get death sentence, then that is the law,” he said.
The lawmaker, however, said the morale of the Nigerian military could only be affected positively or otherwise in relation to fighting and winning the war against Boko Haram, depending on the soldiers’ perception of the death sentence on their colleagues.
Honourable Jimoh, who frowned on the death sentence, based on personal assessment, lamented that the country was tending towards collapse.
He, however, described the death sentence on the 12 mutinous soldiers as mere experimental process towards re-energising efforts at winning the war against Boko Haram, adding that “we can see it as just an experimental process, I don’t what to conclude.”
Meanwhile, the TUC, on Tuesday, condemned the death sentence passed by the martial court on the 12 protesting soldiers.
In a statement issued and signed by its president, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama, the union said “it lauds the effort of the military to retain the discipline that it is noted for, as exemplified in a military court that sat in Abuja on Monday, September 15. The court reportedly found 13 out of the 18 soldiers standing trial for mutiny and other offences guilty.
“We also appreciate the court’s judgment because, apart from bringing to the fore the constitutional role and code of conduct of our military, it will further check the excesses of some security operatives who betray their oath of allegiance to the country through sabotage.
“While we applaud these laudable effort, we would also want to remind the Federal Government and the military leadership that inasmuch as the congress will not encourage revolt or disobedience to military authorities, we will also not fail to reject and condemn the death sentence passed by the court martial on 12 soldiers.
“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. We reiterate that we abhor the temperamental response of the tried soldiers to the needless loss of lives of their colleagues due to needless orders from above, and do urge the military to put its house in order and fish out all the Boko Haram apologists within its ranks.”
The union added that “the death sentence is not only a special gift to the Boko haram terriorist, but the surest means of demobilising the rank and file of the Nigerian soldiers.
“Our position is that the Federal Government and the military leadership should look into the grievances of soldiers, especially now. We say no to death sentence, because we cannot afford to lose more soldiers.”
The 12-hour wait for judgment
By Chris Agbambu –Abuja
IT was a tortuous wait on Monday night, before the military court martial sentenced 12 soldiers to death over mutiny and attempted murder.
The army high command in Abuja had, on Monday morning, invited journalists to cover the judgment of 18 soldiers arrested in Maiduguri on May 14 for mutiny and an attempts to murder the former General Officer Commanding 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major-General Ahmed Muhammed.
However, as early as 2.30 p.m, journalists numbering over 60 had started converging on Mogadishu barracks, venue of the trial.
Oblivious of the fact that they were in for a 12-hour journey without any explanation, the journalists had though they would soon be invited into the court hall. Not long after, it was torrential rain, with journalists looking for shelter, with no apologies from anyone.
Not until 9.45 p.m that journalists were invited into the court room to listen to the judgment of the court martial, presided over by Brigadier General C. C. Okonkwo, who read through the charges preferred against the 18 soldiers.
The prosecution counsel, Lieutenant-Colonel A. A. Audu and U. Ukpe, had slammed a six-court charges of criminal conspiracy, to wit, mutiny, attempted murder, disobedience to particular orders, insubordination and false accusation.
The soldiers all pleaded not guilty to the six-count charge, hence the commencement of proceedings.
They were accused of firing shots at armoured plated Jeep, gathering in front of the military hospital demanding GOC to address them before the bodies of the dead soldiers, ambushed while on their way from Chibok would be moved to Maiduguri teaching hospital.
The court martial found 12 of the accused soldiers guilty on three-count charge of conspiracy, mutiny and attempted murder and were discharged on counts four, five and six.
At about 1.30 a.m. on Tuesday, the court rose for 30 minutes to decide the verdict to be meted out to the 12 soldiers.
However, the court reconvened at 2.35 a.m. and pronounced the verdict on the 12 soldiers: On count one, conspiracy, for which they were sentenced to life imprisonment; count two, mutiny, death penalty; count three, attempted murder, for which they bagged life imprisonment.
Meanwhile, David Robert, Mohammed Sanni, Stephen Clement, Ichocho Jeremiah and Sabastine Amah were discharged and acquitted and were set free, while Ichocho Jeremiah was sentenced to 28-day imprisonment with hard labour.
The court also announced that the sentences were subject to confirmation by the Chief of Army Staff, while it finally rose at 3.30 a.m.
Chris Agbambu, Bola Badmus, Ayomide Owonibi-Odekanyin, Akin Adewakun and Sunday Ejike