•Face court martial
From Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
The atmosphere at the 7 Division Garrison Headquarters of the Nigerian Army, Maiduguri, Borno State, yesterday was gloomy as four officers and 16 soldiers of the Nigerian Army were arraigned before a General Court Martial (GCM). Their offences ranged from alleged selling of arms to members of the dreaded Boko Haram, who they were deployed to fight in the North East, murder and rights violation. If convicted, they risk long jail terms or even death.
General Officer Commanding (GOC), 7 Division, Brig. Gen Victor Ezugwu while inaugurating the eight-member General Court Martial said the constitution of the court was in line with the directive of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) that all weighty cases of violations of constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and extant laws of the Nigerian military be tried in special military courts.
“In the course of our counter-insurgency operation, some of our officers and soldiers were engaged in arms selling, murder, violations of the rights of the people. These cases which are weighty in nature are brought before the GCM. Other cases including indiscipline have been treated in accordance with the military procedures,” Ezugwu explained.
He said discipline was the bedrock of the military profession. He said there must be justice to have a body of disciplined officers and men. “Justice implies that infractions of the law must be promptly reported, investigated and accused persons prosecuted within reasonable time though laid down rules, regulations and procedures, “he said.
He said the army would not shield any of its personnel who breached the nation’s law from prosecution. He, however, urged the court to dispense the trial in accordance with appropriate extant laws and ensure its judgments were not influenced by biases, external forces or “extraneous factors.”
President of the court, Brig. Gen Olusegun Gabriel Adeniyi told the accused not to fear anything, insisting they are innocent before the court until they are proved otherwise by the prosecutors.
“We will be guarded by the constitution and the military rules. We will be just, fair and reasonable,” he added. He said the accused have the right and opportunity to appeal the decisions of the court at higher courts even as he appealed to counsel not to delay the trials with frivolous adjournment.
He promised that the trials will be open throughout, but urged those present to conduct themselves well. He said the accused persons were not expected to personally defend themselves but to engage private counsels. He, however, said the army would provide military counsel to any of the accused persons who is unable to secure the service of a lawyer.
After swearing in other members of the court, he reeled out the procedures of the trials, charges and legal provisions establishing the court and its operations. The accused did not also object to the composition of the court and any of its members.
It is on record that the present Army Chief, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, had upon assumption of office embarked on the reversal of sentences handed down to several officers and soldiers during the reign of his predecessor, Lt-Gen. Kenneth Minimah.
Under Buratai, however, the only known court martial that sat and took decision was the one that tried Brig-Gen. Enitan Ransom-Kuti, who was sentenced to six months imprisonment and dismissal from service.
But unlike the on-going trial of the two Major-generals, whose offence are yet to be ascertained, Ransom-Kuti’s trial started before the Buratai era.
General Minimah had in response to the escalation of Boko Haram crisis in the North east and the reports that soldiers were running away from battle field, established several GCMs that tried and convicted over 5, 000 officers and soldiers.
The former COAS had in the wake of several reversals and loss of territories promised to set up more GCM to try erring soldiers and check indiscipline among troops engaged in the counter-terrorism operations against the Boko Haram terrorists.
The former COAS lamented that some soldiers had joined the Army to own property, while others joined for employment.
“I must set up court martial and if you are in my place and you did nothing, you are not worth being a Chief of Army Staff. I did that I have no regret.
“I am setting up more courts martial to try people who ran, showed cowardice, abandoned troops and equipment and ran away. Why are you in the Army? Is that Army? That is not the Army,” Minimah was quoted as saying.