The Nigerian military on Monday commenced the court martial of a Brigadier General, Enitan Ransome-Kuti, and four other senior officers, blamed for the loss of Baga in Borno State, to Boko Haram insurgents in January.
Mr. Ransome-Kuti, his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel G.A. Suru, and some other senior officers, were arrested for failing to repel Boko Haram attack on the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force [MNJTF] in Baga.
Also arrested were the Commanding Officers of the 134 and 174 Battalions — Lieutenant Colonel Haruna and Major Aliyu. The two battalions are under the MNJTF.
Mr. Ransome-Kuti was the commander of the multinational force during the attack.
The commanders were detained shortly after they arrived Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, from Monguno, where they took refuge with troops after being dislodged from Baga.
Military sources told PREMIUM TIMES that authorities were especially angry with Mr. Ransome-Kuti for his inability to lead his troop to counter the onslaught in Baga, despite the high calibre weapons and ammunition available to his unit.
After their arrests, the senior officers were held at the officers’ mess of the 21 Armoured Brigade, and were asked to account for the weapons lost to the insurgents.
At the trial which took place at the Defence Headquarters garrison in Abuja, on Monday, the officers were represented by counsels from the Femi Falana chambers.
PREMIUM TIMES understands that the defence team raised concerns that the military high command, led by the Chief of Army Staff, Kenneth Minimah, may interfere with the process.
According to sources at the trial, the team told the court that Mr. Minimah had made it clear that he wanted the accused officers to be severely punished to serve as a lesson to others who may abandon their duty posts.
The team cited an interview the army chief had with This Day newspaper two weeks ago, in which he said he set up a court-martial to ensure the officers were dismissed.
“The soldier knows that if he runs away he will be dismissed. So everybody was prepared to stand and fight and die, because if you run back there is nothing. And for the fact that they stood and fought back for hours instead of running caught the Boko Haram by surprise…and terrified them,” Mr. Minimah had said in the ThisDay interview.
The army chief said, “At one point these equipment came in, and with my personal effort of ensuring that officers and soldiers were court-martialed, dismissed for running in the face of adversaries, for abandoning the equipment we have and running away and so forth, the psyche of the Nigerian soldier changed.”
The team urged the court to disengage itself because it may be biased, and asked that a new court, made up of officers from the Air Force and Navy, be set up to hear the case.
The defendant’s objection was overruled by the court which said it cannot rely on media reports, sources told PREMIUM TIMES.
It however promised that the process will be fair and that any officer not found guilty will be set free.
Officials also told PREMIUM TIMES that as of Tuesday, the accused officers were yet to know what charges were filed against them.
The court-martial is the second involving senior officers in the fight against Boko Haram, as those affected by previous trials since 2014, were mostly non-commissioned personnel, many of who were either sacked or sentenced to death.
In January, 22 top military officers were court martialled at the Ikeja Military Cantonment in Lagos.
The officers included a Brigadier-General – J.O Komolafe; 14 Colonels – A. Laguda, V. Ebhaleme, V.O. Ita, and 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; one Major – M.M Idris; five Captains – M Adamu, O. A. Adenaike, M. Gidado, M.M. Clark and S. Raymond and one Second Lieutenant – S.O Olowa.
In December 2014, 54 soldiers were sentenced to death for conspiracy to commit mutiny and 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 on their superior officer.
Also in December, 2014, over 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.