Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has condemned the death sentence passed on 54 soldiers by an army court-martial.
In a statement Thursday, Mr. Falana said the convicted soldiers, the second batch to be condemned to death by a military court, had been sent on a suicide mission by army authorities ill-equipped and poorly motivated.
The soldiers, attached to the 7 Division, Nigerian Army in Maiduguri include two Corporals, Cpl, nine Lance Corporals, LCpl and 49 Private soldiers.
They were found guilty Wednesday by a General Court-Martial in Abuja after facing a two count of criminal conspiracy and mutiny.
Of the 59 soldiers initially arraigned before the court, five were discharged and acquitted while 54 were sentenced to death.
Mr. Falana said that the acquittal was designed to give the false impression that the “dubious” verdict was fair and just.
“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.
On July 9, 2014 the Boko Haram sect launched a ferocious attack on the Batallion killing three officers and 23 soldiers and inflicting injuries on 82 others.
Despite assurances that adequate weapons would be provided to fight the terrorists, according to Mr. Falana, authorities failed to fulfil their promise.
On August 4th, and after the insurgents had annexed more territories in Borno State, the soldiers were ordered to recapture Delwa, Balubulin and Damboa from the Boko Haram terrorists.
“The soldiers demanded for weapons so as not to lose more officers and men in the circumstance. A few soldiers who embarked on the suicidal mission together with the Commanding Officer were ambushed by the Boko Haram troops,” said Mr. Falana.
“When some weapons were made available on August 8, 2014, the soldiers moved to the battlefront, dislodged the satanic Boko Haram sect and liberated their captured colleagues and officers.
“They were commended for their bravery and sacrifice. But for some inexplicable reasons, the army authorities ordered that the soldiers be charged with mutiny for allegedly exposing the armed forces to embarrassment by asking for weapons.
“Thus, 60 soldiers were charged before the court-martial led by Brigadier-General M. Yusuf. The charge was however withdrawn against one of them on health ground.”
Mr. Falana, who served as defence counsel to the convicted soldiers, said that midway into the trial, journalists were shut out of the military court to avoid further embarrassment to the army.
“It is public knowledge that it was when the trial of the soldiers was in progress that the President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, sought and obtained the approval of the National Assembly for a loan of USD$1 billion to purchase equipment for the prosecution of the war on terror,” he said.
“Up till now, the loan has not been utilized for the purchase of weapons.
Mr. Falana also faulted the judgment delivered on Wednesday, noting that the court-martial refused to consider the evidence led in court and convicted the 54 soldiers for having the temerity to ask for weapons to carry out their tasks.
“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.
“Convinced that soldiers who made a legitimate demand for equipment to fight the insurgents cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be properly convicted for mutiny we shall take all necessary legal measures to prevent the army authorities from giving effect to the genocidal verdict of the court-martial.
“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.
“It is important to state that when equipment was made available on 18 August 2014, the accused soldiers fought gallantly.”