Some prominent Nigerians, on Tuesday, warned President Goodluck Jonathan to tread with caution on the death sentence passed on 12 Nigerian soldiers for mutiny by the military tribunal, headed by Brigadier-General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo.
According to them, the warning became necessary because of the far-reaching implications of the judgment, which the Trade Union congress (TUC), on its own, rejected.
Legal practitioners, as well as other stakeholders in the country, in their separate reactions, noted that notwithstanding the extant laws that guided the trial and conviction of the soldiers, the president needed divine guidance and wisdom to handle the matter.
The soldiers from 101 Battalion, who were arraigned before a Court Martial, had, on May 14, allegedly opened fire on a convoy conveying the 7 Division Commander, General Amadu Mohammed, at an army medical centre in Maiduguri.
In handing down the judgment, Brigadier-General Okonkwo said, “the soldiers succeeded in shooting at his staff car, thereby causing bullet impressions at the right rear door where the GOC sat.”
While acknowledging the procedures followed by the tribunal, those who reacted warned Jonathan against taking any haste decision on the judgment, which, they said, is still subject to confirmation by top military hierarchy.
In a reaction, President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Augustine Alegeh, on Tuesday, appealed to the Federal Government to intervene.
Alegeh, who stated this in Abuja, while inaugurating the NBA Committee on Constitutional Reforms of the association, said “military laws are recognised in our constitution, and those who have been sentenced to death have the right to appeal the judgment.
“However, we are losing so many of our soldiers to violent activities of insurgents. So, why do we want to kill them? The country should consider these soldiers and rescind the capital punishment.”
Former chairman of NBA, Ikeja branch, Monday Ubani, also appealed to the president to use the power conferred on him as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to stop the execution of the soldiers.
Ubani, who admitted that mutiny is a criminal offence in the military, however, said the convicted soldiers had a right to appeal the decision at a higher court.
He also appealed to the military authorities to temper justice with mercy and consider the circumstances that led the soldiers into shooting at their GOC.
“We must take into cognisance, the circumstances in which they have to fire at their boss. They have been denied enough equipment while there. Most of them have been sent to that warfront without a proper welfare,” Ubani said.
Meanwhile, the TUC, on Tuesday, condemned the death sentence passed by the martial court on the 12 protesting soldiers.
In a statement issued and signed by its president, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama, the union said “it lauds the effort of the military to retain the discipline that it is noted for, as exemplified in a military court that sat in Abuja on Monday, September 15. The court reportedly found 13 out of the 18 soldiers standing trial for mutiny and other offences guilty.
“We also appreciate the court’s judgment because, apart from bringing to the fore the constitutional role and code of conduct of our military, it will further check the excesses of some security operatives who betray their oath of allegiance to the country through sabotage.
“While we applaud these laudable effort, we would also want to remind the Federal Government and the military leadership that inasmuch as the congress will not encourage revolt or disobedience to military authorities, we will also not fail to reject and condemn the death sentence passed by the court martial on 12 soldiers.
“We wonder why and how such a protest against sabotage could suddenly be termed criminal conspiracy, mutiny, attempt to commit murder (shooting of the vehicle of the GOC); insubordination to a particular order and false accusation by the president of the Court Martial, Maj. Gen. C.C. Okonkwo.
“To us, the issues are clearly more and the congress makes bold to say that the approach adopted on the issue that is already at the public domain is very incorrect. We reiterate that we abhor the temperamental response of the tried soldiers to the needless loss of lives of their colleagues due to needless orders from above, and do urge the military to put its house in order and fish out all the Boko Haram apologists within its ranks.”
The union added that “the death sentence is not only a special gift to the Boko haram terriorist, but the surest means of demobilising the rank and file of the Nigerian soldiers.
“Our position is that the Federal Government and the military leadership should look into the grievances of soldiers, especially now. We say no to death sentence, because we cannot afford to lose more soldiers.”