Source: This Day
In a solemn trial that began Wednesday, 59 soldiers of the Nigerian Army face the possibility of bagging death sentences following charges of mutiny and refusal to fight Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State levelled against them.
The soldiers are part of the 97 military personnel, including 15 officers who would be facing trial for various offences.
The General Court Martial (GCM) presided over by Brig-Gen Musa Yusuf at the Army Headquarters, Abuja, slamm Corporal Andrew Ogwulekwu and 58 others with two count charges comprising: (1) Criminal conspiracy to commit mutiny, and (2) Refusal to carry out an order to face Boko Haram insurgents.
According to the charge sheet, the soldiers on trial disobeyed the orders of their commanding officer to advance on an operation to recapture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State from Boko Haram terrorists.
The most probable penalties for the charges are death sentence and life imprisonment.
However, there was an amendment before the commencement of the trial of the accused soldiers, when the prosecution counsel led by Capt. Joseph Emeka Nwosu prayed the court to make an amendment to drop the charges against Lance Corporal Anthony Simeon who was medically unfit to face trial, thereby reducing the number of the accused soldiers on trial to 59.
The prosecution counsel argued that in a criminal case, the accused must be physically present in his trial, which unfortunately was not so as the accused soldier was indisposed and could not even stand on his feet, making the prosecution team to explore rule 82 to remove his name.
Nevertheless, the defence team led by Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) argued that the trial was a joint one which, according to him, made it impossible to withdraw the charges against one of the accused soldiers, saying: “Why can’t we stand down the whole trial because one person is sick and when he gets well, we will bring everybody back?
“If it is because Lance Corporal Simeon is sick and wants to drop the charges against him, we are ready to wait till he gets well.”
The GCM intervened by pointing out that there would be no benefit for the accused soldiers if Simeon is in coma for nine months, asking: “Would the 59 others remain in custody for nine months too.”
This prompted the defence counsel to pray the court to grant them a one-hour stand out, as the number of the accused soldiers served before was 59 instead of the 60, which was granted by the court.
After more than two hours of recess, the GCM reconvened and the two-count charge was read to the accused soldiers who pleaded not guilty.
When the trial commenced, the prosecution called the commanding officer, 111 Battalion, Lt-Col Timothy Opurum, as its first witness.
In his testimony, Opurum told the court that he had four officers and 98 soldiers who were fit under his command on August 4, 2014, having received orders to advance on Delwa and hold the location as part of an operation to capture the other towns.
He stated that the advance was important to clear the enemy along the route for the forward passage of troops from the 251 and 252 Battalions to proceed to capture Bulabulin.
He recounted that “on August 3, 2014, my battalion was tasked to advance to Delwa, clear the enemy along the route and capture Delwa to enable 251 and 252 Battalions to take over Bulabuli and Dabwa.
“The operation was to start at 0500 hours and if my battalion failed, the operation would fail. Six Hilux vehicles, one APC were available for the operation.
“The drivers refused to drive because they disembarked, but later advanced with four officers and 29 men with me making 30 of us, and Delwa was captured without any casualty”.
He further revealed that the General Officer Commanding (GOC) on hearing what happened, ordered the arrest of the soldiers who refused to join the operation.
He added that on August 18, his location was attacked by the insurgents who overpowered his men due to their numerical advantage and superior fire power.
In that attack, he said they lost three vehicles, one GMPG and four AK47 rifles to the insurgents but there was no casualty on the part of his soldiers.
Opurum said initially of the 98 men in the camp, 55 were originally at large, 47 soldiers that previously refused, joined the reinforcement, while eight were still on the desertion list.
The court martial later accepted the statement written by the commanding officer after the arrest of the 13 soldiers who were part of those that refused the order as evidence and marked it Exhibit P1.
After the initial hearing, the defence counsel expressed satisfaction with the court martial proceedings, with the GCM adjourning hearing to 9 am today.
Meanwhile, before the trial of the 59 soldiers began, another amendment No 2 to the convening order for a general court martial was read to the court.
The amendment read: “Convening authority signed on October 13, 2014 by Brig-Gen BT Ndiomu, Commandant Army Headquarters (AHQ), Garrison under Section 131(2) of the Armed Forces Act CAP
A 20 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: Odu Michael, Ugwu Kingsely are to be included as accused persons.”