Ninety-seven soldiers including four Lieutenant Colonels, a Major and four captains were on Thursday charged with offences ranging from mutiny, conduct prejudicial to good order, assault and Absence Without Leave, AWOL, to house breaking, contrary to service regulations.
The accused persons will however, be formally arraigned before the General Court Martial, GCM, convened on behalf of the Army authorities by the Commander, Army Headquarters Garrison, B.T Ndiomu, a Brigadier General, on October 15.
The GCM has Brigadier General Musa Sani Yusuf as president with Colonels Umar Mohammed, Rabe Abubakar, Mohammed Lawan Ibrahim, Muktar Mohammed Bunza, Jonathan Gontor, K.N Garba, Godwin Anayo Ugwueze and B.R Abimiku as members.
According to the military, the prosecuting officers include Captains J.A. Orumor, R.S. Agwai, J.E. Nwosu, W.F. David, P.N. Nwachi, and V.L. Williams; also Lieutenant A.M. Sani, Lieutenant N. Okorie and Lance Corporal Chukwu Prince-Augustine.
For the defence, prominent lawyer, Femi Falana, is leading others including Major Oyebanji, Shuaibu Isa, J.O.K. Irikefe, Paul Ocheme, Mike Ebogu and Colonel Godwin Anyalemechi.
Speaking shortly after inaugurating the GCM, the Army assured the accused soldiers, their counsel and the nation that the court will be guided throughout the trial by the principles of fair hearing and justice.
“You shall be given the facilities and conditions necessary for the proper defence of your cases. In line with the provisions of section 35 (5) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), every one of you shall be presumed innocent by the court until it is proved otherwise,” the GCM President said.
He further assured that the GCM will base its decisions and findings only on the facts presented before it, stressing that the court will not give room for or be influenced by any extraneous matter which is not presented before this court.
“We intend to patiently and painstakingly listen to all evidence that will be brought before this court to ensure that no innocent person is convicted as it is better for nine guilty persons to go free than for one innocent person to suffer,” he added.
Yusuf also noted that the salaries of the accused officers have not been stopped and that they have been allowed access to their families, and lawyers.
A breakdown shows that four Lieutenant Colonels, one Major, four Captains, five Lieutenants, one Second Lieutenant, one Warrant Officer and 81 soldiers would be tried.
In his response the lead defence counsel, Falana, said he has no reason to doubt the integrity of the members of the court.
“I have taken part in a number of courts of this nature and even where we lost, we had gone on appeal and we succeeded. So there is no cause for alarm. I think the President of the court has assured the accused persons that justice will be done,” the layer said.