Oluwafemi Olayinka, Abuja
Journalists were on Thursday barred from attending the continuation of the trial of 59 soldiers accused of mutiny and other acts of misdemeanor, at the general military court martial holding at the Mogadishu cantonment, Abuja.
Pressmen were initially granted access to the court room on Thursday, just as they were the previous day when the proceedings commenced, but while the second witness, Capt. Isah Sali of the 111 Special Forces battalion, Maiduguri, who was called into the box by the prosecuting team headed by Capt. Joseph Nwosu, was giving his testimony, the Public Relations Officer of the Garrison, Col. A.A Yusuf, called out all the journalists and told them they would not be allowed to cover the proceedings anymore.
Yusuf said the journalists were being stopped from covering the proceedings because of the sensitive nature of the trial, adding that they would be invited when the judgment and sentencing will be pronounced.
He, however, said a statement will be issued to that effect which will be sent to all journalists, but as at the time of filling the report, the statement was yet to be received.
Before journalists were called out of the court room by the PRO, the second witness had identified the soldiers on trial as those who disobeyed the order of the commanding officer of the 111 Special Forces battalion, Lt Col. Timothy Opurum, to advance against boko haram terrorists on August 4, 2014.
Sali said on August 3, the commanding officer was called by the division to brief him about an impending operation to recapture Delwa, and he was told to get the medically fit soldiers prepared for the task.
The witness said when Opurum came back from the division, he ordered the soldiers to fall in line but they refused.
The medically fit soldiers of the battalion, according to his testimony, were 4 officers and 98 men, and that only four officers and 29 men obeyed the order to fall in for the operation.
He said the few soldiers proceeded on the operation and eventually recaptured Delwa.
Earlier, on Wednesday, Lt Col Opurum gave his testimony as the first witness.
The Commanding Officer told the court that he had four officers and 98 soldiers who were fit in his battalion on August 4, 2014, after he got orders to advance on Delwa and hold the location as part of an operation to recapture the other towns from the Boko Haram insurgents.
He stated that the advance was significant to clear the enemies along the route for the smooth passage of troops from the 251 and 254 Battalions to proceed to capture Bulabulin and Dabwa.
“The drivers refused to drive because they disembarked, but later advanced with four officers and 29 men with me making 35 of us and Delwa was recaptured without anyone suffering any form of casualty”. Opurum said.
He further said that when the General Officer Commanding, GOC, 7 Division, Maiduguri, heard about the refusal of soldiers to advance, he ordered their arrest.
Opurum added that on August 18, his location was attacked by the insurgents who had a more superior fire power due to their numerical advantage.
He said, in the attack, they lost three vehicles, one GMPG and four AK47 rifles to the terrorists but there was no human casualty on his battalion.
Opurum said out of the 98 men in the camp, 55 were initially at large, while 47 soldiers, who earlier refused, later joined the reinforcement, adding that eight were still on the desertion list.
The court martial later accepted the statement written by the commanding officer after the arrest of some of the soldiers as evidence and marked it Exhibit P1.
During cross examination, the defense counsel, Femi Falana, asked Opurum if the soldiers gave any reasons why they would not go to battle and he said no.
Falana also asked Opurum if all the operations he had gone for in the past were like the war against the insurgents, he said no.
The defense counsel asked the witness if the soldiers were given adequate weapons to fight the terrorists, he said yes after pulsing a little to carefully give answers to the question.
Falana further asked the witness if he kept the record of the arms and ammunition issued to the soldiers, Opurum said in war situations records of weapons cannot be kept. The defense counsel, however, countered this claim, saying that armourer would always have a record of the weapons he issues out to soldiers, either in war situations or peace.
The defense counsel demanded the release of the records in order to make a strong case for the accused soldiers, but the prosecuting counsel, Capt. Joseph Nwosu objected to the request of the defense counsel, saying that the record is a sensitive material and can not be divulged in any circumstance.
The judge advocate, Lt. Col Ukpe Ukpe, however, said it will be released to the defense counsel in due time to enable him make his case.
This is the second batch of soldiers that would be tried for mutiny. Twelve soldiers were in September sentenced to death by firing squad for similar offenses by a military court martial.
The fight against insurgency in the North east in recent times have suffered set back due to the low morale of soldiers who have often complained about inadequate arms and ammunitions compare to fire power they confront.