The Nigerian Army on Monday opened the trial of 22 of its officers, accused of mutiny in connection with the military’s ongoing fight against the insurgent group, Boko Haram.
The court-martial proceedings of the army officers, including a Brigadier-General, began in Lagos amidst tight security.
The trial began at the Officers Mess of the 9th Brigade Headquarters, Ikeja, after two postponements, with journalists barred from covering the proceedings.
Femi Falana, counsel to the one of the defendants, said the recent procurement of military weapons by the army is a testimony that the officers were ill-equipped and ill-motivated.
“The military authority has told the world that they have just taken delivery of military equipment, I feel there is no need to put them on trial, that is why we congratulated them in the successes so far recorded,” said Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“This confirmed that as at the time they were arrested there was no weapon to fight, but now that they have weapons, they should release the boys to go and join others to fight.”
The accused officers include one Brigadier-General, J.O Komolafe, and 14 Colonels: A. Laguda, V. Ebhaleme, V.O Ita, I.B Maina, I.A Aboi, I.M Kabir, M.H Abubakar, A.A Egbejule, N.N Orok, C.A Magaji, A.O Agwu, A.J.S Gulani, O.O Obolo and A.M Adetuyi.
Others are Major M.M Idris; Captains M. Adamu, O.A Adenaike, M. Gidado, M.M Clark, S. Raymond; and one Second Lieutenant – S.O Olowa.
The soldiers, charged with mutiny over ongoing battle against Boko Haram insurgents in the North-east, were initially billed to be arraigned on January 16, but the court martial was postponed at the last minute.
Again, on January 19, the next adjourned date, it was postponed.
The trial was the first time senior Nigerian army officers would be put on trial for offences related to the military’s campaign in the North East.
Those affected by a gale of court-martialling that swept through the Army since 2014, were mostly non-commissioned personnel, many of whom were either sacked or sentenced to death.
In December, 54 soldiers were sentenced to death for mutiny. The Army said the soldiers disobeyed a direct order from their superior officers to take part in an operation. The soldiers however said they only asked for support equipment before embarking on the operation.
Twelve other soldiers had been previously sentenced to death by firing squad for shooting at a car conveying their commanding officer, Ahmed Mohammed, a Major General.
The soldiers revolted after some of their colleagues were ambushed and killed by Boko Haram extremists, an attack they blamed their commander for.
Also in December 200 soldiers were sacked after an overnight trial. They had been held in detention for three months and denied communication to their families or legal representation.
Mr. Falana, who did not attend Monday’s hearing as his client, General Komolafe’s case was not scheduled, said the trial should not even hold because the soldier’s position that they were not well equipped had been corroborated by the recent procurement of weapons.
Mr. Falana’s argument was based on the disclosure by Alex Badeh, the Chief of Defence Staff, that the challenges in fighting insurgency have been ameliorated by the recent delivery of military hardware.
Recently, following a massive deployment of many newly-acquired military assets, the Nigerian Army have recorded a series of victories against the Boko Haram insurgents, retaking territories hitherto controlled by the terrorists.