EXCLUSIVE: Inside the secret military trial leading to death sentence for 54 soldiers

On Wednesday, the Nigerian Army’s 7 division General Court Martial convicted 54 soldiers for conspiracy to commit mutiny and mutiny and sentenced them to death by firing squad.

In a trial that began in October, the soldiers, from the 111 Special Forces, were charged for disobeying a direct order from their commanding officer, Timothy Opurum, a Lieutenant Colonel, to take part in an operation to recapture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State from Boko Haram terrorists on August 4.

Some of the accused soldiers testified that they refused to take part in the operation following the failure of the army to provide them with the necessary support equipment.

They explained that owing to a lack of equipment, they lost three officers, 23 soldiers plus 83 others suffering various degrees of injuries after their units were ambushed by Boko Haram fighters during an operation to retake the town of Bulabulin in Borno on July 9.

Some of the accused soldiers said they did not attend the briefing where the operation was announced, while others said they did not join the mission because they were ill and there was no medical personal attached to their unit to give medical assistance. Two other soldiers said they were given leave to attend to some administrative problems as at the time of the briefing.

Much of the trial was conducted in secret as journalists were barred mid-way into the deliberations.

PREMIUM TIMES has now obtained a copy of the closing addresses of the prosecution and defence just before the soldiers were convicted and sentenced. Below are some of the main points argued by opposing counsel.

The Prosecution

The prosecuting counsel, J.E. Nwosu, an army captain, in his closing address, argued that the soldiers conspired to commit mutiny by refusing to obey a direct order from their commanding officer to take part in the operation.

Citing related cases and judgements, Mr. Nwosu argued that on the first count of conspiracy to commit mutiny, the accused need not have met, held a meeting or communicated with one another to fall foul of the charge.

“My Lords, as the court held in Nwosu Vs The State (supra), proof of how the conspirators connected with or among themselves is not necessary,” he said. “Indeed these soldiers need not know each other.  They need not have even started the conspiracy at the same time.  Also express words need not pass between each and every one of the conspirators who do not even have to meet physically.”

He said the soldiers were walking “lackadaisically” in camp and refused to attend the briefing. He said they refused to leave their trenches and tents even after the commanding officer personally went to them individually to plead with them to be part of the operation. He said the soldiers’ demand for provision of adequate support equipment before they take part in the operation was a “hollow excuse.”

“The situation was so terrible that commissioned officers had to drive operational vehicles themselves since Bn [battalion] drivers were part of the mutineers,” he said. “All the actions of the accused soldiers happened at the same time and the prosecution contends strongly that they shared a common criminal intention to mutinise against the authority of 7 Div.  The prosecution humbly submits that there must not be a formal meeting of the conspirators before they could be said to have conspired,” he said.

Mr. Nwosu argued that the soldiers were guilty of mutiny as charged for refusing to obey a direct order from a superior to take part in an operation for which they are paid. He said the soldiers chose to join voluntarily and should have explored the available channel of leaving if they felt they cannot cope.

“My Lords, as very senior officers, you are aware that the (Nigerian Army) is not a conscript army. Joining the NA [Nigerian Army] is a voluntary act and if a service personnel feels he cannot cope, there is a procedure for discharge which these soldiers are familiar with. The NA is not an organization with a trade union where members down tools to protest poor wages or poor working conditions.

“We strongly argue that their decision not to participate in the operation was not excusable. The prosecution submits that this second element has been proved before the court and therefore urges the court to so hold.”

The Defence

The defence team, made up of Femi Falana, a senior lawyer, and O.A. Oyebanji, a retired army major, opened its closing address by pointing out that its objection to the judge advocate of the GCM [General Court Martial], who is the legal adviser of the Commander, Army Headquarters Garrison, which conveyed the GCM handling the case, was overruled.

Citing definitions of mutiny from several legal authorities, the defence argued that the first count (conspiracy to commit munity) was a duplication and thus defective as conspiracy is embedded in the definition of mutiny. It also added that the count did not disclose the act of mutiny the soldiers conspired to commit.

“We therefore submit that count one is bad for duplicity,” the defence argued. “We also wish to submit that this charge as preferred is vague and ambiguous. The particular of offence didn’t disclose the actual act of mutiny which the 59 accused soldiers conspired to commit.

“My Lords, it is not part of our system of criminal justice that the contents of a charge should be subject of speculation and inference. The law is clear that the essential elements of an offence should be disclosed in a charge.”

Mr. Falana also said that the charge as it was presented violates the soldiers’ constitutional and human rights to fair trial and so should be quashed.

Arguing that the charge of conspiracy purports an agreement between two or more persons, he stated that the prosecution failed to prove that there were prior agreements by the accused to commit the alleged crime.

“My Lords, from the totality of evidence adduced in the course of this trial, the prosecution has failed to establish that there was an agreement between the 59 accused soldiers to commit mutiny. It is strongly contended that the prosecution has failed to establish the existence of any previous agreement to be mutinous in the face of irrefutable evidence that all the accused soldiers were not in the same place on that day so could not have formed the necessary common intention to ground a charge of conspiracy.”

He argued that the court-martial lacks the jurisdiction to hear the case since the soldiers belonged to the 111 Special Forces Battalion and not the 7 Division. He asked the GCM to dismiss the case on that ground.

On the second count of mutiny, Mr. Falana said the order from the commanding officer was an aberration of Nigerian military protocol where commanding officers are not allowed to pass orders directly to soldiers. He said since the commanding officer did not follow laid down army protocol, the order was not legitimate and the soldiers were under no obligation to obey it.

“Was the order legitimate and did the order followed the normal and standard procedure in the Nigerian Army for such an order? The obvious truth is that a Commanding Officer has no business giving operational orders or order to advance directly to soldiers. It is within the general service knowledge that a Commanding Officer is not expected and should never descend to the level of directly giving an order to a platoon or section to advance.”

Mr. Falana argued that soldiers demanding better weapon to fight the enemy could not be said to have been involved in mutiny. He also added that from evidence provided during the trial, the accused soldiers have distinguished themselves in previous combats with the insurgents and thus could not be accused of cowardice.

To buttress the gallantry of the soldiers, the defence counsel recalled how the soldiers were mobilised to extricate their commanding officer and other soldiers who had been pinned by superior fire from Boko Haram in Delwa on August 20. He said the soldiers did not only carry out the mission successfully, but also managed to recapture the town from the insurgents.

“We therefore submit that the accused soldiers didn’t deliberately and by collusion disobey the order given by the Commanding Officer,” Mr. Falana said. “They only requested for adequate support weapons commensurate to the weapons being used by the insurgents. They never said that they won’t fight rather they were ready and willing to fight if they are properly equipped. Their actions rather than strike at the foundation of discipline have ensured cohesion and unity. They had fought the Boko Haram insurgents with courage, commitment and loyalty to their country.  They deserved commendation and not condemnation.”

In a statement Thursday, Mr. Falana faulted the conviction of the soldiers, saying the court-martial refused to consider the evidence led in court.

“Apart from the fact that the Prosecution did not lead any scintilla of evidence to prove the 2-count charge of conspiracy and mutiny against any of the convicts the Court-martial did not consider the defence of the soldiers in any material particular,” said Mr. Falana.

“We submit that the oath of allegiance taken by the accused soldiers is not a license to commit suicide. It is a solemn undertaking to defend the nation based on the expectation that the Federal Government would have complied with Section 217 of the Constitution on the mandatory requirement to equip the armed forces adequately.

He said the convicted soldiers were sent on a suicide mission by army authorities, ill-equipped and poorly motivated.

“The soldiers were in the SF 111 Batallion which has 174 instead of 750 soldiers,” said Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

“The soldiers in the Batallion were neither equipped nor motivated. They are young men whose ages range between 21 and 25. Most of them joined the army in 2012.

“With little or no training whatsoever they were deployed to fight the dreaded Boko Haram sect.”

Mr. Falana also accused the army hierarchy of diverting funds allocated for payment of salaries and allowances of soldiers and for purchase of arms and ammunition.

“Instead of bringing such unpatriotic officers to book the military authorities have engaged in the diversionary tactics of wasting the lives of innocent soldiers by sentencing them to death without any legal justification,” Mr. Falana said.


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  • clairvoyance

    Why not sentence Badeh, minimah, and others who have stolen funds met for the Army, ihejirika is the worst culprit whose son spend $30k weekly to fly his girlfriend from New York 2 California his father his the richest general in Africa. How did he come about this massive wealth. This young men like us shouldn’t be killed o, don’t kill our youths, kill those pot belly thieves in Abuja and elsewhere. Nigerian youth will react.

    • Bidemi Lukman

      Nigerian you should react by using thier vote to send GEJ back to Otueke come Feb, 2015

      • anyi

        Federal government of Nigeria present administration is highly corrupt. What am saying is that THEY SHOULD LET GO FREE all the soldiers involved in their so called charge of mutiny. Let that prosecutor pick up the same arm and take position against the insurgents himself.

    • Steve

      Kill who? Jonathan and his criminal gang will NEVER try it. Kill them? under what topic? The whole world know the truth and God’s willing these innocent men will be released by Buhari, come May 2015 and then Jonathan and his criminal gang will then be made to explain to Nigerians what has become of over $32b they looted from the treasury in the name of defence.

  • Bidemi Lukman

    Falana needs not stress himself too much, the evidence abounds that NA lacks necessary equipment to fight BH. As confirmed by Director General of National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mr. Mike Omeri, when giving reason why
    Nigeria cancelled military training with US, he said Americansrefused to share vital equipment needed for the training. Instead, the American trainers demanded to use equipment belonging to the Nigerian army which, according to the government, are being used in the fight against the insurgency in the North-east. If we don’t have reserve to train soldiers how are we sure they have enough at the war front. Besides, this further proves that the soldiers were not adequately trained.

    FG has severally said US is not selling us needed weapons to
    fight BH.

    2015 is just around the corner when Dumbo and his cohorts
    will vacate Aso Rock to continue their stealing ministry in Otueke.

  • Save Nigeria Father

    Mine is for them to get presidential pardon and that we cannot achieve by crucifying the same man who may do that. From the foregoing the prosecuting counsel’s case overwhelmed the defense counsel. But enough of blood-shedding in any form.

  • Oleku

    Can we have the names of the 54soldiers–any SS&SE citizen among them should be left off the chain without any further delay–let the Mohammedans bear their cross alone–when Imam Buhari ati Atiku ati Ciroma vowed to make the Arewa north ungovernable none of the Mohammedans spoke out against such utterance–the burden of their silent which can be perceive as consent should be theirs alone and none other–during the 60’s onslaught on Igbos we bear it all alone so why should any Igbo soldier be sacrificed for a sharia course–they want sharia give it to them and ultimately split this unholy Union of a country let every one return to their natural God given hereditary–I have nothing in common with a Mohammedan from the North or the Yoruba from west–lets split biko

    • DetribalisedNigerian

      My God!!!!! You really have no iota of grey matter in your skull nor empathy in your heart Wendall Slim aka Reno Omokri….. You claim to be born again Christian but pursuit of money has blinded you to your principal’s ineptitude and hardened your heart.
      May what you wish for these poor soldiers be yours and your family’s portions Amen!!!!

      • Folahan

        The guy is closer to insanity than he really thinks

    • ayoyo

      I agree with you, let us split and everyone goes back to their region/town/village, and get out of Yoruba land

  • kwango

    Our gallant and respected Army led and fought as ECOMOG, fought in Sierra Leone and other African countries without any court martial for mutiny. Bad administration and leadership should concern all as the consequences on the short and long term are too devastating. A mentality of extreme carelessnes for the life of others is becoming a norm in this country and this is unfortunate. That’s how Nigeria gradually started to accept corruption as a way of life, nowith it’s incompetence, mediocrity, death of others etc. God save us from these dangerous leaders!!

  • MushinSpeaks

    They are denied ammunitions and rather than provide some, they gladly gave them death sentence!

    How much more should we continue to lose our soldiers to insurgency?

    CHANGE; CHANGE; CHANGE CHANGE!

  • Akinwunmi King

    Killing these guys will be very disastrous. This is part of our faults for voting Jonathan in 2011.

  • OMOSTAR

    THIS IS INJUSTICE. THESE SOLDIERS MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO DIE.

  • BOJUTO STEPHEN

    Infact d nigeria military is nt even shame of publishng such informatn,Gvt hs 2 kwn dat is d top oficers dat causng all d problm,give thm death penalty is nt d wayforward,they have 2 solve where d problem is,by first punishng d top officers,bcos they seen insecurity hs an opprtunity of makng money in d country.We all kwn Nigerian army went 4 liberia war and other in d world and they did credibly.The govt nid 2 acused d defence mimister and those dat among 4 fallng d country so long nt d junior officers

  • abc

    Nigerians are funny. Mutiny in military always carries heavy punishment from live sentence in civilised states to Death sentence in third world countries. The question here is, did they really abandon their duty post or refuse an order. it doesn’t matter weather BH had superior weapons, an order is order in Military. The military needs discipline, from the happenings in NE it is clear that the soldiers just take on their hills as they sight BH, then why the nonsense claim that they carry superior weapons, when 90% of the weapons BH use were the same weapons the military abandon and run away. The problem here is that this guys never read about the rules in military b4 they join. But nobody force them to join NA. In other countries like israil and Eritrea young men we drafted into the military as national service mandetorary. We shouldn’t be running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. At some point we have to accept bitter decisions in right direction. people in NE were complaining that the military were afraid to engage BH which is the fact every one knows, then we have to punish the defaulting ons to serve as deterrent to others in the front line. This fight had to be fought and won.

    • Onike24

      sir, what exactly is your point?

      • abc

        Thank you for asking, I mean we let them face the law. They had no reason for mutiny.

        • Onike24

          really? do you really think that the soldiers mutinied because they were cowards ? let us be fair oh……..

    • DetribalisedNigerian

      Your view is highly slanted and obviously biased against the soldiers. Did you read Falana’s argument at all before jumping here to the comments box?? The GOC flouted the chain of command by directly ordering them to face boko haram, their arms and ammunition were grossly inadequate and archaic at least to face the insurgents not to also talk about morale being at an all time low due to unpaid remuneration and seeing the corpses of fellow soldiers boko haram had decimated. You’re really an ignorant person with a one-way traffic kind of logical reasoning!!!

      • abc

        mr tribalised. Let me ask you one thing, should it one day you wake-up and find out that somebody had killed your brother and you know the way to the house of the killer what will you do? Would you start running away at the sight of that man or you will take the fight for him to revenge your brother. If your answer is the former then you are coward. How will you tell me that seeing the corpses of their fellow soldiers will make their morale low. True soldiers turn aggressive and wild when they see their fellow men killed. True soldiers never thought of renumeration while in front line, all that is in their mind is to win the war first. You are here telling me mr. Falana said this and that, did you know that he is paid to defend them, therefore use every argument to let them free just to get his fees. Let me tell you I am from NE and I know first hand how cowardice NA are in this fight. A fight that a young untrained vigilantes and hunters are winning NA had no any reason to run away from BH. This forum isn’t enough to educate you on this, be objective and meet unbiased and brave people from NE they will tell you if given the half of NA weapons in NE they will finish this boys in a week. The army that runs away and leaves all their weapons and tear away their uniforms if they hear a loud sound, the Army that hide under civilians beds when they see smoke in far distance. Wallahi, if I join the army to protect my country people I will rather stand and die alone to my death than to run away and said my morale is affected by allowances. How much were the vigilantes paid that flush them out of several town, how much is the pay of cameroon army that kills them in hundreds when ever they clash. The weapons that cameroon art were using the last time I saw them on Tv is the same NA are using. Nigerian army needs to know why they are called ARMY.

        • Guguru

          So, why did you not join the army? Why all the pontification?

        • atruenigerian

          If you foolishly decide to fight someone who is very well armed because he is responsible for your brothers death without a weapon, you’ll equally end up dead just like the brother you were trying to avenge his death. This is not about being a true soldier, if they weren’t true they won’t be there in the first place. To understand what I mean you can take a trip to Bornu to fight BH without any weapon and let’s see how true you are, it’s very easy to talk when you’re not the one wearing the shoes. You have no idea how many soldiers are dead already all in different name of fighting BH, even the so called developed countries you mentioned don’t condemn their citizens to a senseless death.

  • Comfortkay

    Nigerian Army is not in a position to provide good weapons for the soldiers. Nigeria government allocate One (1) trillion Naira about 6,5 Billion Dollars to security every year and there is no good weapons and our Military Chiefs purchase fairly used weapons and pocket the rest of the money. This sentences soldiers must not die they love their country and they want just to fight terrorist with good weapons.

  • kday

    This Military Mutiny issue is someone who hires a armed security company to guard it’s valuable. Your contract specifically states your requirement for ten armed guards with automatic rifles. One day your factory got robbed by armed robbers and your guards all fled. When you heard, you were mad and understandably so. Shortly, all the guards were rounded up and arrested for complicity in the robbery. But during interrogation you learned that despite paying the security company for ten armed guards, you were only assigned five guards with two pump action rifles among them. It also came to light that your guards had not been paid their salaries for months. What would you do? Would you let them be charged to court for complicity and not do anything knowing what you know? Like Jonathan is doing right now. Or would you go after the company you hired to do a job but ended up defrauding you?

    • Mohstone

      Good question for Jona to answer but as usual he doesnt know what to do.

  • bikky

    Add 54 to 12 will give us 66, that means 66 soldires added to almost(if not more than) 20,000 people killed by Bokoharam in last four years,one will deduced that President Jonathan assignment is on course, plan to reduce Nigerians especially Northerners in order to retain presidency comes 2015,what I am saying here is that court martial is an extension (in house ) bokoharam sponsored by the present Government to reduce Northerner before February 2015 general elections. All I have here is that we need to shun religion and ethnic biggotry to elect next Nigeria president,here it begins with you by vote right an dstart orientate and opening the eyes on Nigerians to the evil being perpetrated by this present Government. It is my prayer that Almoghty God should give us courage to speak the truth in the face of oppressors. Now it begins with you VOTE WISELY.

  • Lanre

    Again the Yorubas (Falana and Oyebanji) working to defend the rights of these soldiers. We Yorubas never learn. Nigeria is The Land of Injustice.

    • TAWANDA INCOMMUNICADO

      They are attorneys getting paid to defend clients !! A court-martial is a court of law and every accused has a right to legal representation. In cases where the accused cannot afford the costs,the state is bound by law to provide lawyers for them.
      Falana one of the best in his field hence that may be why the accused insisted on him !

    • 4betternaija

      Must you bring tribe in it? Which kind thing be this now?

  • TAWANDA INCOMMUNICADO

    I am not in support of capital punishment for these soldiers,they erred in their duty by disobeying lawful orders and displaying cowardice in the face of the enemy however justice should be tampered with mercy in their case since it has been proven that the Army was generally ill-equipped.
    The death sentence should be commuted to prison terms !!

    • Gele Williams

      The purpose of punishment is to modify behaviour.The behaviour of the dead cannot be modified. Capital punishment is not the best for Nigeria. Jail them for sometime and set them free for we still need them as a developing nation- Falana, your efforts shall yield results.

  • nigerian

    funny country. same government killing its own soldiers and protecting the BH Sponsors by all means. may God save us.

  • Guguru

    LOL! Nigeria is a useless nation. Jonathan hangs out and drinks bear with Ali Modu Sheriff, a known terror sponsor, and yet decides to kill his soldiers who complain about lacking proper equipment. Shedding blood of innocent people have become Jonathan’s mark of success.

  • Guguru

    Any parent allowing their child to join the Nigerian Army should have their heads checked.

  • Antie Me

    This is inhuman, these soldiers shouldn’t be allowed to die. Temper justice with mercy by giving them jail terms to serve. Killing them will demoralize other young soldiers to want to leave the army. For God sake equip the Military so they can protect the country better.

  • Dan maikoko

    One way or the other the chaff will be separated from the grains. Once those who show bravery are sent to the army and later those who seek political position go to the army. With threat that we face only those who want to genuinely defend the nation should be in the army.

  • Collins Ikem Ejiofor

    The way I’m seeing things going, Nigerian soldiers will soon resign enmass and that will be very disastrous! May be when that happens, the federal government will hand over defense contract to Tompolo,Asari,Bayloaf and the rest of them,and until that happens,the carnage continues!

  • Fidelis Eriurhore

    May the Almighty God bless Falana and his likes, who can still speak the truth in our country where truth is almost DEAD

  • Ilesanmi

    If I may ask, is the General court Marshal meant for low rank soldiers only. Because there were cases of Generals and cornels who either organized an ambush of our soldiers for the Boko Haram or set our armored tanks ablaze. Where are these officers? Were they secretly court marshaled?

  • Raymond

    David Cameron will indeed go down in history as the man who took the UK out of the European union which might also possibly lead to the break up of the UK itself. He played a cynical political move by promising a referendum he wasn’t obligated to hold and lost badly. During negotiations with the EU to get some concessions for the continued stay of the UK in the EU, he said all options were on the table including taking the Britain out of the EU if he didn’t get what he wanted. He was just bluffing. He actually meant “yes” when he was saying “no”. Just like a woman playing games. And he then fought passionately during the campaign to stay in the EU but lost badly. What a miscalculation of epic proportions!! How can one man be allowed to do so much damage to the UK? Shouldn’t there be checks and balances to prevent this from happening?