A military court in Nigeria has sentenced 54 soldiers to death after they were found guilty of mutiny.
The soldiers were convicted Wednesday in Abuja on a two-count charge of criminal conspiracy to commit mutiny. Represented by Femi Falana (SAN), the brunt of the defense's case argued that the soldiers were not guilty of mutiny as accused.
"My Lords, contrary to the general belief in military circles, protest by soldiers does not constitute mutiny," Falana argued in his defense, obtained by SaharaReporters. Imploring the court to uphold precedent as established in the case Cpl Segun Oladele & 22 Ors. v Nigerian Army supra, Falana said "Can we safely conclude that the prosecution has proved all the ingredients in this charge of mutiny against the accused soldiers?"
"The answer is in the negative," he said.
"In the instant case, the Prosecution did not prove that the order given to carry out a military act followed the standard or proper procedure of giving such an order; that the accused soldiers deliberately and by collusion disobeyed the order; that the disobedience and the acts strike at the foundation of discipline in the Army; that the accused persons used violence or threat of violence; and that the acts of the convicts 'were deliberately designed to put the Nigerian Army in imminent danger'."
Despite a thorough 48-page defense, the 54 soldiers were sentenced to death today.
Four other soldiers were acquitted.
The convicted soldiers, mostly officers involved in the fight against the Boko Haram terrorists in Northeast Nigeria, are to die on stakes, by firing squad.
The soldiers, attached to the 7 Division, Nigerian Army in Maiduguri include two Corporals, Cpl, nine Lance Corporals, LCpl and 49 Private soldiers.
The charge sheet said the soldiers conspired to commit mutiny against the authorities of the 7 Division on August 4, at the Mulai Primary School camp, opposite AIT Maiduguri, Borno State.
The soldiers are the second batch of Nigerian soldiers condemned to death by Nigerian Military courts for mutiny.
The trial of the soldiers began on October 15 on allegations they disobeyed orders to join operations against the extremist group, Boko Haram.
All the accused soldiers pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The prosecutor, J.E. Nwosu, an army Captain, alleged that the accused soldiers had on August 4, in Maiduguri, refused to join the 111 Special Forces Battalion troops, commanded by Timothy Opurum, a Lieutenant Colonel for an operation.
Mr. Nwosu said the operation was meant to recapture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State from the Boko Haram terrorists.
According to him, the offence is punishable under Section 52(1) (a) of the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The prosecution called the commander of the 111 Special Forces, Lt.-Col. Opurum, as one of the witnesses.
The statement of the commander was admitted by the court and marked Exhibit P1.
Mr. Opurum, in his testimony in October, said the Special Forces were tasked with advancing to recapture Delwa to clear the way for other battalions to pass through to recapture Babulin and Damboa from the insurgents.
He said he took off for the operation with only four officers and 29 soldiers as “tasked” after majority of the 174 soldiers in the unit refused to join the operation.
The witness said after he took charge of the Special Forces, he addressed and assured them that they could achieve the task given to them.
He, however, said the soldiers were “hesitant to partake in the operation” in spite of the assurances.
Under cross examination by Femi Falana, who represented the accused soldiers, Mr. Opurum said 47 of the soldiers who initially refused, later re-joined the forces for another operation.
Mr. Opurum said the 47 soldiers joined, after he called for reinforcement, as they came under attack from terrorists, who out-numbered them and had superior weapons.
Asked if the soldiers refused to fight or refused to join the operation because of lack of superior weapons, he said all units in the North-East had requested for weapons.
On the disciplinary measure taken against the 47 soldiers, who initially refused, he said the process for that was to begin when they were court-martialled.
Mr. Falana in an oral application asked to the court for the record of weapons recovered from the 47 soldiers, when they initially refused to join the operations.
The President of the Court, Brig.-Gen. Mohammed Yusuf, said the application had been noted "for action."
The General Court Martial was inaugurated on October 2 to try 97 soldiers, including 15 senior officers for mutiny.