The Nigerian Army has dismissed 203 soldiers after a secret court martial held in the dead of the night, for allegedly disobeying a direct order from their commanding officer, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
One of the sacked soldiers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the soldiers were dismissed for asking for support equipment, following the army’s plan to convey them in a tipper for an operation in Bama and Gwoza, two strongholds of Boko Haram insurgents.
The soldier, who is originally of the 19th Battalion in Okitipupa in Ondo State, but attached to the 7th division in Maiduguri, said the army detained them for over 90 days before dismissing them after a midnight trial. He said they are owed up to five months in unpaid salaries.
Narrating the event that led to their dismissal, the soldier said his unit reconvened in Maiduguri last August, after they were dislodged by the insurgents in Damboa in an operation where their commanding officer and several other soldiers were killed.
He said they were given two weeks pass and that at the expiration of their pass, they were issued new uniforms, boots and 30 rounds of bullets each as opposed to the statutory 60 rounds. And were going to be conveyed in a tipper lorry to Gwoza and Bama for an operation.
He said having engaged the insurgents in several past battles, majority of the soldiers argued that the operation would be fierce, and therefore requested support equipment.
“So we asked for support weapons. No support weapon was provided. Our CO (Commanding Officer) said he would discuss with the GOC (General Officer Commanding) of the 7 Division at the headquarters. When he came back, he said we should stand down. We thought all was well,” our source said.
But the request made by the soldiers fetched them more than they bargained for.
The next day their new CO, Mohammed A, a lieutenant colonel from 195 battalion, Agenebode, ordered them to submit their weapons and uniforms or be charged with mutiny.
“On the morning of 16 of August, after the GOC briefing, our commander started calling our names and he said anyone whose name is called should submit their uniform and weapon. He added that anyone who failed to do that would be charged for mutiny. We were surprised at what was happening.
“He started from the most senior soldier among us, a warrant officer who had served for almost 30 years. They asked us to go back to the barrack. It is a war zone and our weapons had been taken from us. Staying around was of no use so we left Maiduguri back home.”
The next order from the army hierarchy was for the soldiers to report to the 4th Brigade headquarters in Benin where they were detained for three months.
“They kept us in the fenced field at the officers’ mess in 4th battalion headquarters. When we first arrived at Benin they took statements from us and took it to Maiduguri. The original charge against us was for deserting but after our statements were taken they changed the charge to disobedient to particular order. They said we disobeyed the CO’s order. They seized our phones, we couldn’t communicate with our families for the 90 days we were kept in detention,” our source said.
After they were released on December 24, they were conveyed to their various units. The soldier said on getting to their units, a court martial was set up at about 11.30 p.m. where they were tried and dismissed. He said the next morning, they were evicted from the barrack with their families.
“It was dismissal without benefits. After 17 years in service. Even people that served for 30 years were dismissed without benefits. We had no legal representation.”
Army spokesperson, Olajide Laleye, a Brigadier General, could not be reached for comments on Thursday. Calls and messages to his telephone were not answered or returned.
The dismissal of the 203 soldiers followed a wave of court-martialling of other soldiers for mutiny and other offences.
On December 24, a military court-martial that sat in Abuja sentenced four soldiers to death by firing squad for alleged mutiny.
That judgment came just about a week after another batch of 54 soldiers were condemned to death for refusing to fight the deadly Boko Haram sect.
The 54 soldiers belonged to the 111 Special Forces battalion attached to the 7 division of the army in Maiduguri. They are to die by firing squad, the military court ruled.
The soldiers were accused of disobeying a direct order from superior officers to take part in an operation aimed at dislodging Boko Haram terrorists from Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State.
The soldiers said they refused to take part in the operation because the Army did not provide them with the required combat and support equipment needed for such operations.
Earlier, in September, 12 soldiers were sentenced to death for allegedly shooting at a car conveying their commanding officer, Ahmed Mohammed, a Major General.
The attack occurred May 14 at the army’s 7 Division, Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri, headed at the time by Mr. Mohammed.
Others were also sentenced to life in jail for criminal conspiracy and attempt to commit murder.
The soldiers revolted after some of their colleagues were ambushed and killed by Boko Haram extremists, an attack they blamed their commander for.
Yet, more soldiers remain on trial for their conducts in the fight against the extremist sect, and face being sentenced to death.
On December 23, another batch of 118 soldiers were transported from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, to face charges in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
It is not clear when the troops would be arraigned before the military court, but our sources said unlike their colleagues who were convicted December 17, the 118 soldiers are accused of offences less than mutiny.
Also, 22 top officers, including a brigadier general, are being held at the Ikeja Military Cantonment in Lagos, preparatory to being arraigned for yet unclear offences.
They could not be arraigned on December 22 because the court was not properly constituted.
Their arraignment has now been scheduled for a date in January.
The convicted soldiers, apart from the four that were sentenced December 24, have been moved to Lagos to await appeal, pardon or execution.