SENIOR Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Femi Falana has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to pardon 70 soldiers convicted by the military for demanding arms to fight Boko Haram terrorists.
He made the appeal in a letter addressed to the president on August 25th.
The human rights lawyer explained that in prosecuting the war on terror, the Federal Government deployed thousands of ill-equipped and ill-motivated armed forces to the North-East region to fight the well-armed insurgents from 2013-2014.
He said the soldiers’ only crime was that they legitimately demanded weapons from the then military authorities, who arrested and ordered that they be court-marshalled for mutiny.
“We defended 58 soldiers while the remaining 12 were defended by other colleagues before the Courts-Martial which sat in Abuja. At the end of the trials in August and December 2014, the Courts-Martial jailed some of the soldiers and sentenced 70 others to death for mutiny,” he said.
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.
He argued the law permitted a soldier or any member of the armed forces to make a complaint to his commanding officer and that he should not be penalised for making a complaint as far as it did not contravene any provisions of the Act.
He also said the courts-martial’s decision of convicting and sentencing the soldiers was against judicial precedent.
He also 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, which quashed the sentence of life imprisonment imposed on the appellants for protesting against the injustice meted out to them by the military authorities.
In urging the president to pardon the soldiers, 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.
Falana noted that the Arms Procurement Panel instituted by Buhari had confirmed that the sum of $2.1 billion and N643 billion set aside for the purchase of equipment for the counter-insurgency operations was diverted by some military officers and their civilian accomplices.
The military authorities had arrested the soldiers in 2014 for mutiny.
They were sentenced to life imprisonment, but their jail sentence was commuted to 10 years under the current administration.