Nigerian military authorities have decided to reduce the death sentences handed down on court-martialed soldiers earlier in 2015.
In separate rulings in January and March, 2015, military tribunals had sentenced 66 soldiers to death by firing squad for offences that included criminal conspiracy, conspiracy to commit mutiny, mutiny, attempt to commit murder, disobedience to orders, insubordinate behavior and false accusation. Separate court martial tribunals had imposed the death sentences in a trial that involved 71 soldiers as defendants.
In a statement released today by Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman, the acting director of public relations for the Nigerian Army, the military revealed that the capital punishments had been reduced to 10 years imprisonment for each convicted soldier.
However, a prominent Nigerian civil rights attorney, Femi Falana, has weighed in on the action of the Nigerian military authorities, arguing that the reduction of the convicted soldiers’ sentences was not enough. Mr. Falana, who represented some of the soldiers at their trials, insisted that the military ought to free the soldiers considering that the Nigerian government has apprehended and is currently prosecuting public officials accused of corrupt diversion of funds meant to purchase arms to enable the military to launch a fight against the Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram. He said the factors that led soldiers to engage in acts of mutiny had to do with the refusal or failure of their commanders to provide them with weapons and other equipment to fight. He added that such delinquency on the part of senior military officers as well as political figures in Abuja led to the unwarranted death of Nigerian soldiers at the hands of Boko Haram militants. According to him, the failure to provide weaponry to the soldiers amounted to tying soldiers’ hands behind their backs and then sending them out to engage a well-armed and merciless enemy.
The 71 soldiers had been tried on numerous charges, and the majority of them were convicted on some of the charges, which included mutiny. Out of the total number of accused soldiers, 66 were sentenced to death, while five were discharged and acquitted. One soldier was sentenced to 28 days of imprisonment with hard labor.
Colonel Usman revealed that the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, ordered a legal review of the cases following a series of petitions by or on behalf of the convicted soldiers. “The directive was carried out to examine the merit of each case. 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 years jail term. The sentences are to run concurrently,” said the military spokesman in his official statement.
He added that the cases of some other convicted soldiers were still being reviewed, adding that the decisions on them would be made public once the appropriate reviews were completed.