While holidaying Nigerians make merry with drinks and food for Christmas, 54 Nigerian soldiers sentenced to death for refusing to fight Boko Haram, have endured days without food since being transferred from Abuja, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report.
The soldiers, moved from Abuja to a holding cell in Lagos last Sunday, are held under conditions military sources have described as terrible and inhumane.
They are awaiting confirmation of their death sentences by the military council, and thereafter, an appeal that may bring them freedom or the death stake.
Our military sources said the convicted soldiers, all shackled by their legs since departing Abuja on Sunday, are crammed in two cells without beds or food or any form of care.
“The first cell has 30 soldiers. The second is underground and has 24 soldiers,” our sources said. “There are no beds, no mattresses. The soldiers have not been fed since Sunday.”
PREMIUM TIMES can confirm that the soldiers were held without food from Sunday when they arrived Lagos, till Wednesday night.
It is not clear whether the situation has changed since Wednesday.
The convicted soldiers, involved in the fight against the Boko Haram terrorists in Northeast Nigeria, were attached to the 7 Division, Nigerian Army in Maiduguri, Borno State.
A military court sitting in Abuja condemned them to death on December 17 after finding the soldiers guilty of mutiny against the authorities.
The prosecutor, J.E. Nwosu, an army Captain, said the accused soldiers had on August 4, in Maiduguri, refused to join the 111 Special Forces Battalion troops, commanded by Timothy Opurum, a Lieutenant Colonel, for an operation against extremist group, Boko Haram.
Mr. Nwosu said the operation was meant to recapture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State from the terrorists.
All the accused soldiers pleaded not guilty to the charges, and argued that they were prepared to fight but had insufficient equipment.
One of the condemned soldiers, Fahat Fahat, recently took to Facebook where he lamented the death sentences he and 53 colleagues were given.
“I am a soldier and I am sentenced to death by the Nigerian Army, (be)cause we did not go to fight Boko Haram without equipment. We ask(ed) for weapon instead (they) gave (us) death sentence,” he wrote.
The soldiers are the second batch of Nigerian troops condemned to death by military courts for mutiny.
Many Nigerians have condemned their sentencing, arguing that the soldiers are being made scapegoats for the corruption that led to the diversion of funds allocated for military supplies and equipment.
Femi Falana, who is the attorney for the convicted soldiers, Femi Falana, described the sentence as “genocidal.”
Mr. Falana confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that the soldiers are currently held in very “dehumanising conditions”
He said the decision of the military authorities to keep the soldiers in a holding cell in the first instance is illegal. He said since a court has given judgement, the soldiers should have been taken to a prison, not a military cell.
Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, also said convicted soldiers held in Jos, Plateau State, face even worse conditions than those incarcerated in Lagos. The soldiers in Jos are held in underground cells, he said.
On Friday, the military warned activists and politicians from attempting to ridicule its justice system, saying recent comments about the trial and other happenings within the force in the fight against Boko Haram, could be inciting.
In a statement, defence spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, however said “it is obvious that most of the comments and sensational stories in the media have been oblivious of the fact that the processes are still ongoing and yet to be concluded”.
Our sources said the 54 convicted soldiers are held under very deplorable conditions ahead of the confirmation of the sentencing, an appeal or their execution. They said the soldiers barely manage to survive.
However, Mr. Olukolade, a Major General, told PREMIUM TIMES the Nigerian military will not violate rights of its detainees. He said claims that they are being maltreated are “lies”.
“The military is not involved in that kind of scenario being painted. All the lies are aimed at blackmailing the justice process. The rights of any detainee will not be violated but the military will not yield to blackmail. The law is following its due cause,” Mr. Olukolade said.
Editor’s Note: This report has been updated to reflect comments by the lawyer representing the convicted soldiers.