Eighteen soldiers, including a lieutenant, on Monday appeared before a General Court Martial in Jos, Plateau State for aiding members of the fundamentalist Islamic sect, Boko Haram, and other insurgent groups in their activities.
The soldiers are members of the Joint Task Force code named Operation Restore Orderin Borno State and the Special Task Force also called Operation Safe Heaven in Plateau State. The JTF and STF were deployed in both states following a menace of insurgent groups in the country. Whilst the JTF is also battling with Boko Haram members in Adamawa, and Yobe states, the STF has been grasping with Fulani herdsmen who, previously 10 years had taken Plateau State by the jugular. The soldiers are increasingly being tried under charges termed, “communication with the enemies, cowardly behaviour, murder and manslaughter.”
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The General Officer Commanding the 3 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maj.-Gen. Ebisowei Awala, said before the inauguration of the five-member panel that the soldiers were duly investigated by the military police.
Awala described the court martial as one of the instruments conferred on him by the Armed Forces Act chapter A 20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria to handle problems in the army.
He explained that any officer who wanted to achieve the military must be disciplined and loyal, adding that we were holding two “essential requirements” an officer shouldn't lack.
The GOC said, “Discipline is the inspiration on that your military career rests; as a matter of fact, discipline and loyalty are two essential requirements no officer or soldier, who would like to achieve professional soldiering, are able to afford to lack.
“It is the work of superiors to observe, correct and instantly deal with negligence or any misconduct on the part of subordinates.
“If you have any breach, it is expected that appropriate disciplinary measures must be used by commanders to forestall future occurrences.
“In this way, the Nigerian Army can continue to play its constitutional role and sustain its accolade whilst the pride of the Nigerian nation.”
Awala said that the court martial was necessary so as to ensure the high level of professionalism needed to confront the lingering security challenges in the country, especially in the North-East was sustained. He enjoined the parties in the court martial to discharge their duties expeditiously and with a high level of commitment, allow the accused persons to get justice.
According to him, justice is a three-way traffic that involves the accused, the army and the state; hence the necessity for fairness and equity.
“I want to implore this general court martial to ensure no effort is spared to make this happen three-way traffic of the justice system; in this case, of the accused, the Nigerian Army and the state.
“Where a person is convicted of an offence, sentence ought to be passed. Such sentences must certanly be humanely meted out.
“Punishment is one of the means designed for the maintenance of discipline in the Nigerian Army; as a result the type and level of punishment must be adequate enough to attain its purpose and serve as a deterrent to others.''
He stressed that the GCM was convened to sustain a high level of professionalism needed to confront the mounting security challenges in the Division's section of responsibility.
Judge Advocate, Col. Dorothy Wilson-Ekwo, told newsmen after the convening of the GCM that the suspects would be given a reasonable hearing.
When the charges were read to the soldiers, they pleaded not guilty. No lawyer appeared for them. Thereafter the court rose without announcing any adjourning date. However one of the lawyers present, Mr. A. B. James, told journalists that he was just there as an observer. Another court martial is also trying 14 officers and men beneath the 3 Armoured Division for various acts of misdemeanour.
A former Commander of the 33 Artillery Brigade in Bauchi, Brig.-Gen. Muraina Raji, was tried by way of a Special Court Martial at the 3 Armoured Division, Jos for his alleged role in the escape of two high-profile Boko Haram suspects.
Though he was discharged and acquitted of all the three charges, he was convicted on “special findings” by the court and sentenced to a three-month loss in seniority in his rank.