For selling arms and ammunition meant for the fight against the Boko Haram insurgent and belonging to the Nigerian Army four officers and 16 soldiers of the force are to face military justice.
The officers and soldiers were alleged to been involved in the murder, sales of arms and ammunition in the threatre of war and violation of human rights of civilians.
General Officer Commanding (GOC), 7 Division, Brig. Gen Victor Ezugwu while inaugurating the 8 members- General Court Martial yesterday at the division’s Garrison Headquarters in Maiduguri said the constitution of the court was in line with the directive of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) that all weighty cases of violations of constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria and extant laws of the Nigerian military be tried in special military courts.
“In the course of our counter-insurgency operation, some of our officers and soldiers were engaged in arms selling, murder, violations of the rights of the people. These cases which are weighty in nature are brought before the GCM. Other cases including indiscipline have been treated in accordance with the military procedures,” Ezugwu explained.
He said discipline was the bedrock of the military profession. He said there must be justice to have a body of disciplined officers and men. “Justice implies that infractions of the law must be promptly reported, investigated and accused persons prosecuted within reasonable time though laid down rules, regulations and procedures, “he said.
He said the army would not shield any of its personnel who breached the nation’s law from prosecution. He however urged the court to dispense the trial in accordance with appropriate extant laws and ensure its judgments are not influenced by biases, external forces or “extraneous factors.”
President of the court, Brig. Gen Olusegun Gabriel Adeniyi told the accused not to fear anything, insisting they are innocent before the court until they are proved otherwise by the prosecutors.
“We will be guarded by the constitution and the military rules. We will be just, fair and reasonable,” he added. He said the accused have the right and opportunity to appeal the decisions of the court at higher courts even as he appealed to counsel not to delay the trials with frivolous adjournment.
He promised that the trials will be open throughout but urged those present to conduct themselves well. He said the accused persons were not expected to personally defend themselves but to engage private counsels. He however said the army would provide military counsel to any of the accused persons who is unable to secure the service of a lawyer.
After swearing in other members of the court, he reeled out the procedures of the trials, charges and legal provisions establishing the court and its operations. The accused did not also object to the composition of the court and any of its members.
General Ezugwu while convening the Court-Martial urged the President and Members of the court, to dispense this all important assignment in accordance with the appropriate extant laws “and ensure that your opinions and decision on all the cases brought before you is not in any way beclouded with bias, external pressure or by extraneous factors. The outcome of this GCM must therefore be based on careful appreciation of the whole facts of each case and evidence placed before you in the course of trial of these accused persons.”
He said that judgment that the court would pass on the accused person must stand the test of appellate court, public opinion and above all, that of the Almighty Creator, noting that, “for the accused, be assured that you are all presumed innocent until this honourable court finds otherwise. I want to further sate that your rights to fair hearing and other fundamental human rights would be adhered to throughout this trial.
The Nigerian Army through this action want to assure the nation and international community that we shall not condone cases of violation of laws of armed conflict in the discharge of our constitutional responsibilities.
As I formally inaugurate this GCM, I wish the President, members of the GCM, the Prosecution, the accused persons and their counsels all the best throughout the sitting.
It is on record that the present Army Chief, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, had upon assumption of office embarked on the reversal of the sentences handed down to several officers and soldiers during the reign of his predecessor, Lt-Gen. Kenneth Minimah.
Under Buratai however, the only known court martial that sat and took decision was the one that tried Brig-Gen. Enitan Ransom-Kuti, who was sentenced to six months imprisonment and dismissal from service. But unlike the on-going trial of the two Major-generals, whose offence are yet to be ascertained, Ransom-Kuti’s trial started before the Buratai era.
General Minimah had in response to the escalation of Boko Haram crisis in the north east and the reports that soldiers were running away from battle field, established several General Courts Martial that tried and convicted over 5, 000 officers and soldiers. The former COAS had in the wake of several reversals and loss of territories promised to set up more GCM to try erring soldiers and check indiscipline among troops engaged in the counter-terrorism operations against the Boko Haram terrorists.
Minimah was quoted as saying, “The Army is taking all proactive measures to restore sanity and battle confidence to troops,” adding that soldiers and officers who run away during the operations will be court-martialled. He frowned on acts of sabotage and cowardice among troops. The former COAS lamented that some soldiers had joined the Army to own property, while others joined for employment.
“I must set up court martial and if you are in my place and you did nothing you are not worth being a Chief of Army Staff. I did that I have no regret.
“I am setting up more courts martial to try people who ran, showed cowardice, abandoned troops and equipment and ran away. Why are you in the Army? Is that Army? That is not the Army.”