The 54 soldiers sentenced to death by firing squad have petitioned the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt Gen. Kenneth Tobia Minimah, over the conduct of the General Court Martial (GCM) their trial alleging that the Nigerian Army gave them weapons that were inferior to the superior fire power of the Boko Haram insurgents. The soldiers were sentenced to death on December 19 2004 by the GCM in Abuja.
Lawyers to the soldiers, Mr Femi Falana SAN and Major Femi Oyebanji, in their petitioned titled “Petition against the findings and death sentence passed on 54 soldiers by the GCM” urged the COAS to review the judgement and sentence because the GCM proceedings was geared towards convicting them at all cost. The soldiers are Pte Oton Asuabiat, Pte Nwachukwu Udo, Pte Ibrahim Saliu, Pte Abafe Sylvester, Pte Eze Isaac, Pte Abubakar Mohammed, Pte Samuel Machael, Pte Ishaya Musa, Pte Etim Peter, Pte Hermas Okpe, Pte Ahunanya Temple, Pte Ilesanmi S., Pte Solomon Ishaku, Pte Nasiru Zubairu, Pte Audu Daniel, Pte Muhammed Abubakar, Pte Anas Awalu, Pte Babangida Jamilu, Pte Hashiu Ibrahim, Pte Mohammed Suleiman, and Pte Shehu Sa’adu.
Others are Cpl Andrew Ogolekwu,, Cpl Saturday Ife, LCpl Henry Shaibu, LCpl James Maifada, LCpl Ndubisi Sabestine, LCpl Dauda Dalhatu, LCpl Kasega Aoso, LCpl Nwonu Friday, LCpl Joshua Frida, LCpl Anthony Simeon, Pte Olayode oluwasegun, Pte Tijjani Jimoh, Pte Kabiru Abubakar, Pte Mamuda Sywasan, Pte James Emmanuel, Pte Mukaila Musa, Pte Magaji Ahmadu, Pte Amao Bukola, Pte Wuyep John, Pte Oti Kelvin, Pte Ameh Mathew, Pte Olaitan Joseph, and Pte Kulukulu Endurance.
The list also includes Pte Usman Isaac, Pte Ocheje Williams, Pte Adila Dangana, Pte Sunday Godwin, Pte Datti Hassan, Pte Abubakar Garba, Pte Joseph Dauda, Pte Chiemela Azubuike, Pte Abubakar Mohammed, Pte Anagu Mark, and Pte Danbaba Francis.
They all faced a two count charge of criminal conspiracy to comit mutiny against the authority 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, and mutiny contrary to the provisions of Section 114 of the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 LFN 2004 and punishable under Section 97(1) of the Penal Code Cap P89 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
The lawyers claimed that they all their objections to the participation of the Judge Advocate in the GCM were out rightly ignored. “At the commencement of the trial, the defence vehemently objected to the participation of the Judge Advocate in the General Court-Martial (GCM). Our objection was based on the fact that as the Assistant Director of Legal Service in the Army Headquarters Garrison, he is the legal adviser to the Commander, Army Headquarters Garrison who convened this GCM. His schedule of work includes reviewing of all cases in the Army Headquarters Garrison and advising the Commander on how to dispose of the cases;
It was our contention that having participated in the investigation and inquiry into the subject matter or review of this case, he ought not to act as the Judge Advocate in this GCM in line with Section 134 (2) of the Armed Forces Act. Although the GCM overruled our objection, the Judge Advocate misled the President and members of the GCM who are not lawyers but saddled with the responsibility to try the offence of mutiny which attracts the death penalty”. Each of the accused soldiers pleaded not guilty to the count charges.
The prosecution opened its case by calling Lt Col. T. Opurum, the Commanding Officer, 111 Special Forces Battalion. The C.O stated that he was appointed the Commanding Officer of the 111 Special Forces Battalion on July 10 2014. He averred that he took over only 4 x 10 soldiers because the unit was ambushed July 9, 2014, on their way to recapture Bulabulin from Boko Haram terrorists and that a total of 3 officers and 23 soldiers were killed in that attack while about 82 others had various degrees of injuries. Hence most soldiers had deserted the unit and that he made spirited efforts to persuade the soldiers to return.
Col Opurum further told the GCM that on August 4, 2014, he ordered the accused persons and other soldiers to advance and capture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa. He told the court that 8 soldiers deserted the army while the 59 accused persons were part of the soldiers who refused to participate in the operation. He claimed that he had 6 Hilux Vehicles and an Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) for the operation.
On August 18, 2014, his location in Delwa was attacked by the insurgents and he called for reinforcement due to the superior firepower of the terrorists. He said that 47 out of the 59 soldiers standing trial came for reinforcement and extricated him and others from the terrorists in Delwa. The soldiers were thereafter “rejab”. The remaining 13 soldiers couldn’t participate in the reinforcement because they had been arrested and detained in Maiduguri. During cross examination, he admitted that the strength of a Battalion in the Nigerian Army is about 750-800 personnel whereas he had just 174 soldiers. He further said unlike the standard procedure in the Nigerian Army whereby a Commanding Officer is expected as a mandatory requirement to conduct a reconnaissance before committing his men into an operation, he relied on Headquarters 7 Division to give him information!
When asked if the soldiers asked him for weapons on August 4, 2014, the CO replied that all units in the North East had asked for equipment to confront the insurgents.
The evidence of CO was confirmed by his 2ic, Capt I Saleh who as second prosecution witness stated that the insurgents usually attacked “in multitudes” and that on August 18, 2014, he had to withdraw his troops from attacking the BH terrorists as they were greater in number and more armed than his men. He conceded that the accused soldiers were “rejab” by the unit, and 47 of them joined up and participated in the operation from August 18-19, 2014.
The third prosecution witness, Cpl Okoro was one of those who investigated the case. In his own testimony, he admitted that there was no medical facility in the location and soldiers would need a vehicle to get to the nearest medical facility. He claimed that all the accused soldiers were issued with AK 47 rifles with at least 60 rounds of ammo. This could not be verified because the armourer who came to the court informed the court that the soldiers didn’t collect their AK 47 from the same unit. He said his investigation revealed that the unit was issued with two (2) Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and had adequate support weapons. This however negated the evidence of the Commanding Officer who is in charge of the unit and his second in command that only one APC was issued.
The Defence called 11 out of the 59 accused soldiers as witnesses. Majority of the soldiers joined the Army in 2012. One of the witnesses (DW 11) said that the Boko Haram insurgents were armed with weapons like Anti Aircrafts, APCs, BMGs, RPGs and AK47s. He also said that they lay landmines for Nigerian soldiers. He stated that the Boko Haram surprise attack on the unit on 9 July 2014 was due to lack of support weapons of the Unit. He admitted that he was trained in Pakistan but the weapons that they trained with such as MP5, pistol and SMGs are not what they are using in North East.
The other defence witnesses confirmed the casualties suffered from the Boko Haram troops on July 9, 2014 and that sequel to the tragic development, the CO promised that adequate weapons would be provided for any other operation as the terrorists “have superior fire power.” He was quoted as saying, “I, Lt-Col Opurum will not carry out troops to go and kill them”. However, without the provision of the said adequate equipment, the soldiers were ordered on August 4, 2014 to advance to capture Delwa, Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State.
In order to discharge their constitutional duty of defending the nation, the soldiers demanded for adequate equipment in the circumstance. They admitted that they refused to advance on August 4, due to lack of adequate weapons but that they went for the reinforcement on August 18 to extricate their Commanding Officer and other soldiers trapped in Delwa because they were given adequate weapons to fight. They claimed that they went back to Delwa on August 19 to dislodge the insurgents from Delwa with the weapons issued to them. They were commended for the success of the operation by the authorities of 7 Division Headquarters.