The 10 years jail term prescribed for 66 soldiers who were initially sentenced to death by firing squad should be outrightly quashed, Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer has said.
Mr. Falana, who represented 58 of the convicted soldiers during the military court martial, said Sunday that instead of reducing the “unjust convictions and death sentences” passed on the soldiers, the Chief of Army Staff should just release them.
The army in a statement Saturday said it had commuted the death sentence passed on the soldiers to jail terms after a review of their cases.
“It was on the basis of the review and recommendations that the Chief of Army Staff commuted the death sentences of the 66 soldiers to 10 year jail term,” Sani Usman, army spokesperson said.
“The sentences are to run concurrently.”
But Mr. Falana noted that 70 soldiers, not 66 as stated by the army, were convicted last year.
“12 soldiers were convicted in September 2014 and sentenced to death by a court martial for demanding for weapons when the General Officer Commanding the 7th Division of the Nigerian Army visited a military camp in the war zone,” said Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“58 others were convicted and sentenced to death in December by another court martial for demanding for weapons to fight the insurgents.
“Therefore, the number ofsoldiers who were sentenced to deathby the two courts-martial is 70 and not 66.”
Mr. Falana named the remaining four soldiers left out in the commutal of the death sentence to 10 years imprisonment as LCP Bankole Taiwo, LCP Ayodele Olawale, LCP Isiah Osofu, and Adebayo Gbenga.
“Although the soldiers were charged with mutiny, the only allegation proved against them at the courts-martial was that they protested the refusal of the military authorities to provide weapons to fight insurgency,” Mr. Falana said.
“Unlike many soldiers who deserted the army, the convicts were ready to defend the territorial integrity of the country. They only made a legitimate demand for equipment to fight the insurgents who were better equipped and motivated.
“The second batch of convicts actually fought and defeated the Boko Haram troops at Delwa in Borno State when weapons were eventually made available to them.
“But for having the temerity to demand for weapons they were convicted and sentenced to death.”
Mr. Falana argued that the soldiers’ demand for weapons was their right under Section 179 of the Armed Forces Act which provides that a soldier can make a complaint to his commanding officer without any fear of punishment.
The lawyer further cited the case of Corporal Segun Oladele and 22 others against the Nigerian Army (in 2003) where the soldiers were injured in the ECOMOG operations in Liberia.
“The respondent flew them to a Cairo hospital for medical treatment,” said Mr. Falana.
“On the day they were billed to return to Nigeria, they protested violently at the Cairo airport over the non payment of their estacode. They were brought home and charged with mutiny before a court-martial which convicted and sentenced them to life imprisonment.”
Mr. Falana said the soldiers sought redress at the Court of Appeal where their conviction was set aside.