|Femi Falana, SAN
Femi Falana, SAN, has issued the following statement in connection with pending and completed courts-martial in which he is defense counsel:
With the support of the multinational force drawn from neighboring countries, the Nigerian armed forces have carried out successful operations against the satanic Boko Haram sect in the last couple of weeks. In the process, the terrorists have been dislodged from many of the towns and villages in the north east region illegally seized and occupied by them since last year. Although the war on terror has not been fully won, the armed forces and the federal government deserve commendation for the success recorded so far in the task of restoring the territorial integrity of the country. With the recent acquisition of vital weapons for the armed forces by the Federal Government it is undoubtedly clear that the troops have been mobilized and motivated to discharge the constitutional duty of defending Nigeria from the forces of internal insurrection and external aggression.
In view of the disclosure by the Federal Government that it has just acquired adequate equipment for the armed forces and invited foreign instructors to train the soldiers on the use of the equipment, the officers and soldiers who had consistently demanded for weapons to fight the war have been vindicated. Therefore, the military authorities ought to discontinue the ongoing trial of officers and soldiers and set free the 70 soldiers who were convicted and sentenced to death for mutiny by two courts-martial which sat in Abuja last year. Since the alleged offence of mutiny arose from the legitimate demand of the convicted soldiers for adequate weapons to fight the rag tag army of the Boko Haram sect, the basis of their conviction and sentence can no longer be justified.In the alternative, the army authorities should conclude the case of the convicted soldiers without ant further delay.
It would be recalled that 12 of the soldiers were convicted in September while the 58 others were convicted in December last year. Since then, the army authorities have neither allowed the convicts any access to their family members and lawyers nor compiled and transmitted the record of proceedings of the courts-martial to the Chief of Army Staff for the purpose of confirming or varying the conviction and death sentences imposed on the soldiers. This has delayed the promulgation of the findings and denied the convicts the opportunity to challenge the verdicts of the courts-martial at the Court of Appeal. As if that is not enough, the army authorities have detained the convicts incommunicado in underground cells in a military guardroom in Apapa, in Lagos State instead of committing them to prison as required by the Armed Forces Act.
In the light of the foregoing, we call on the Chief of Army Staff as the confirming authority to confirm or vary the conviction and sentences passed on the soldiers by the courts-martial. Owing to the inexplicable delay in the confirmation or variation of the conviction and sentences the soldiers involved have not been able to file their appeal at the Court of Appeal in line with section 183 of the Armed Forces Act (Cap 20), Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 which stipulates that :”Subject to the provisions of this Part, an appeal shall lie from decisions of a court-martial to the Court of Appeal with the leave of the Court of Appeal: Provided that, an appeal as aforesaid shall lie as of right without the leave of the Court of Appeal from any decision of a court-martial involving sentence of death.”