A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has called for a review of the case of Brigadier-General Enitan Ransome-Kuti convicted by a Special Court Martial in October.
In a letter to the Defence Minister, Mr. Falana said Mr. Ransome-Kuti’s conviction and sentence were fundamentally wrong, unjust, and illogical.
Mr. Ransome-Kuti, 51, faced a Special Court Martial over a three count charge of cowardly behaviour, failure to perform military duties, and miscellaneous offences relating to military property.
The first count – of cowardly behaviour – was later struck out by the military court, but Mr. Ransome-Kuti was found guilty of the other two counts: earning him a dismissal from the army and six months imprisonment.
“The discharge and acquittal of our client on the charge of cowardly behaviour, which was the tripod on which the charge of failure to perform military duty and miscellaneous offences relating to property rested, ought to have brought the whole trial to an end,” Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said in the letter dated December 7.
“This is because it was the dislodgement of MNJTF from Baga that brought the two charges of failure to perform military duty and miscellaneous offences relating to property to life.
“It is therefore our contention that the court having ruled that the withdrawal from Baga was legally justified, ought to have discharged and acquitted our client on the remaining charges as well.
“The obvious fact is that if troops had not withdrawn from Baga, no service properties would have been abandoned and the allegation of failure to perform military duty by failing to coordinate troops and assets of HQ MNJTF to repel the Boko Haram terrorists attack on HQ MNJTF would not have arisen.”
After his initial arraignment before an eight-member General Court Martial (GCM) on May 4, Mr. Ransome-Kuti and other officers were tried by a Special Court Martial (SCM).
The members of the Special Court Martial, led by Major General O.E Ekanem, included Major General E.O Nze, Major General L.C Ilo, and Major General E.C.N Obi.
Mr. Falana said he had requested that members of the court disqualify themselves from hearing the case due to likelihood of bias, and that a new court comprising of officers from the Nigerian Air Force and Nigerian Navy be appointed.
“Our request was refused as the GCM members refused to disqualify themselves,” Mr. Falana said.
“As if that was not enough, the conversion of the GCM to Special Court Martial was carried out without any legal basis.”
Mr. Ransome-Kuti was charged alongside Colonel O.C Ajunwa, his chief of staff; Lieutenant-Colonel G.A Suru, MNJTF Garrison Commander; Lieutenant-Colonel Haruna, Commanding Officer of 134 Battalion; and Major Aliyu, Commanding Officer of 174 Battalion.
Mr. Ransome-Kuti was the only one convicted.
Mr. Falana accused the administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan of deliberately failing to provide the Nigerian troops with adequate and commensurate weapons to fight the insurgents.
He also noted that while his client was convicted, his co-defendants who were Commanding Officers were discharged and acquitted.
“Consequently, we respectfully request for a dispassionate review of this case and urge you to set aside the finding and sentence of the SCM against Brig Gen EA Ransome-Kuti aside in the interest of justice,” said Mr. Falana.
“This is most desirable because the prosecution did not prove that it was the responsibility of our client to personally coordinate troops and assets of HQ MNJTF to repel the Boko Haram insurgents attack on HQ MNJTF in view of the fact that the troops and assets were under the command of their respective commanding officers.
“Of interest is the fact that our client who had no direct control of the troops and assets was found guilty while his subordinate officers such as the Commanding Officer 134 Battalion, Commanding Officer 174 Battalion, and Garrison Commander MNJTF Garrison who had direct control of the troops and assets were freed.”