Eminent Nigerian lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana on Sunday stood his ground that the 10 years’ jail term imposed on the 66 soldiers earlier sentenced to death by firing squad should be quashed completely.
Falana, who coincidentally was counsel to 58 of the condemned soldiers at the military court martial noted that rather than reduce the conviction and death sentence passed on the soldiers, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai should effect their outright release.
It would be recalled that the army had in a statement on Saturday revealed that it had reverted the death sentence to jail terms after a review of their cases.
The statement signed by army spokesperson, Sani Usman had stated that, “It was on the basis of the review and recommendations that the Chief of Army Staff commuted the death sentences of the 66 soldiers to 10-year jail term. The sentences are to run concurrently.”
However, the SAN insisted that 70 soldiers, and not 66 as posited by the army, were convicted last year. According to the radical lawyer, “12 soldiers were convicted in September 2014 and sentenced to death by a court martial for demanding for weapons when the General Officer Commanding the 7th Division of the Nigerian Army visited a military camp in the war zone.
“58 others were convicted and sentenced to death in December by another court martial for demanding for weapons to fight the insurgents.
“Therefore, the number of soldiers who were sentenced to death by the two courts-martial is 70 and not 66. Although the soldiers were charged with mutiny, the only allegation proved against them at the courts-martial was that they protested the refusal of the military authorities to provide weapons to fight insurgency.
“Unlike many soldiers who deserted the army, the convicts were ready to defend the territorial integrity of the country. They only made a legitimate demand for equipment to fight the insurgents who were better equipped and motivated.
“The second batch of convicts actually fought and defeated the Boko Haram troops at Delwa in Borno State when weapons were eventually made available to them.
“But for having the temerity to demand for weapons they were convicted and sentenced to death.”
The SAN further noted that the convicted soldiers’ request for weapons remains their right under Section 179 of the Armed Forces Act, which provides that a soldier can make a complaint to his commanding officer without any fear of punishment.