Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has written to President Muhammadu Buhari urging him to pardon 70 convicted Nigerian soldiers.
Mr Falana, who defended 58 of the 70 soldiers, said their dismissal from the army was ill-advised by the military authorities.
The dismissed military personnel were tried by General Courts Martial and convicted of mutiny between 2013 and 2014.
“In prosecuting the war on terror, the Federal Government deployed thousands of ill-equipped and ill-motivated members of the armed forces to the North-east region to fight the well armed insurgents from 2013-2014,” Mr Falana said.
He noted that a large number of soldiers who survived the insurgents’ onslaught deserted the military.
Mr Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), explained in his letter dated August 25 to Mr Buhari that the convicted “troops demanded arms and armament from the military authorities”.
“Instead of attending to such legitimate demand, the military authorities accused scores of the soldiers of sabotaging the counter insurgency operations of the Federal Government and proceeded to set up courts-martial to try them for mutiny.”
Soldiers demands for weapons legitimate
Mr Falana faulted the courts martial for refusing to appreciate that the demand for weapons by the soldiers was justified under section 179 of the Armed Forces Act, (Cap A20) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
According to him, the law permits a soldier, rating or aircraftman, to make a complaint to his commanding officer, and that he shall not be penalised for having made a complaint so far as the complaint does not contravene any provisions of the Act.
The lawyer also said the courts martial’s decisions convicting and sentencing the soldiers were against judicial precedent.
He said the decisions failed to respect the Court of Appeal’s 2003 judgement in the case of Segun Oladele, a corporal, and 22 others versus the Nigerian Army quashing the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on the appellants for protesting against the injustice meted out to them by the military authorities.
Why convicted soldiers deserve pardon
The human rights lawyer reminded Mr Buhari of the pardon being granted repentant terrorists by the government, arguing that “the soldiers who were convicted of mutiny for demanding for weapons to fight such terrorist deserve to be granted pardon.”
In urging the President to pardon the soldiers, Mr Falana pointed out that a presidential panel to probe arms procurement for the military had established instances of diversion of public funds against top military officers.
In the letter, Mr Falana referenced the Arms Procurement Panel instituted by Mr Buhari, which confirmed that the sums of $2.1 billion and N643 billion set aside for the purchase of equipment for the counter-insurgency operations were diverted by some military officers.
“The coterie of military officers who cornered the fund deliberately sabotaged the counter insurgency operations of the government of Nigeria,” the letter read in part.
He, therefore, said the demand of the soldiers for weapons to fight the insurgents was in order.
“Since the highly placed criminal elements who sabotaged the war on terror and exposed our country to eternal shame and ridicule have been identified and made to refund their loot, the convicted soldiers ought to have been released from prison custody.
“But the convicts were made to spend the 10-year prison term. Notwithstanding the completion of their prison term the convicted soldiers ought to be granted pardon by Your Excellency,” he said.