Mutiny: 50 Lawyers to Defend Convicted Soldiers on Appeal
Twelve Nigerian soldiers who were last Tuesday sentenced to death for mutiny after they allegedly fired shots at their commanding officer in the restive northeast city of Maiduguri, Borno State capital, earlier this year are set to appeal their sentences.
This is even as some 50 Nigerian legal practitioners said they are ready to offer their services free of charge in defence of the death sentence handed down to the soldiers.
A competent source with the household of one of the affected soldiers told our Correspondent in Lagos on Wednesday that arrangement has been completed for the appeal to be filed in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) against the death sentence.
She added that the appeal would be filed by two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), “ and 48 other lawyers would join them to defend our husbands. They did not commit any offense. If they are sentencing them to death and only dismissing the author of the whole problem (the General Officer Commanding), is that justice?”
Our Correspondent also spoke with the Defense Headquarters spokesperson, Major General Chris Olukolade, who said the affected soldiers have the right to appeal their sentence. “Their sentence was appealable. They have every right to appeal. It is their constitutional right, so the Military has no problem with that.”
Nigeria Military headquarters had sentenced 12 soldiers to death for mutiny.
A nine-member military tribunal, sitting in Abuja, convicted the soldiers following the incident on May 14 when shots were fired at the commanding officer of the Nigerian Army’s 7th Division, which is tasked with fighting Boko Haram insurgents.
Court president Brigadier General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo said the sentences were subject to confirmation by Nigeria’s military authorities but added there was no doubt about the gravity of the offence.
The panel considered, “its likely effect on the counter-insurgency operations in the northeast as well as its implications on national security”, he told the court.
Nigeria’s army has been under pressure to end the bloody five-year insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives, made tens of thousands of others homeless and seen the militants make territorial gains in the northeast in recent weeks.
Front-line troops have frequently complained of a lack of adequate weapons and equipment to fight the rebels.
Residents in towns raided by the Islamists have said the insurgents are often armed with rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft weapons mounted on trucks and, in some cases, armoured personnel carriers.
Soldiers by contrast have at times reportedly lacked ammunition and been sent out to the bush to fight without basic communication equipment.
Nigerian soldiers patrol in the north of Borno State close to a Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Last month, dozens of Nigerian soldiers refused to deploy for an offensive to try to retake the captured Borno town of Gwoza, which the Islamists claimed as part of an Islamic caliphate.
One of the protesting soldiers, who set up camp on the outskirts of Maiduguri, said at the time: “We are being killed like chickens by Boko Haram because we are not given the required weapons to fight. We say enough is enough.”
The country’s military spokesman Chris Olukolade denied the troops had mutinied and told our Correspondent that Nigerian soldiers were “too disciplined and patriotic to indulge in this dangerous offence”.
The military has also rejected claims that hundreds of troops shouldered arms and fled their posts in border towns overrun by Boko Haram.
President Goodluck Jonathan has asked lawmakers to approve a $1 billion (750 million euros) foreign loan to upgrade the capacity of the military, which was seen as a tacit acknowledgement that troops were being out-matched.
The court martial heard that on the day in question, the soldiers from 101 Battalion opened fire at a convoy containing the 7th Division commander General Amadu Mohammed at an army medical centre in Maiduguri.