Law News
Why Buhari pardoned convicted soldiers – Falana

In your opinion, what led to the review of the case of the soldiers who were dismissed for refusing to fight the insurgents?

Frankly speaking, the soldiers did not refuse to fight but demanded for the vital equipment to fight the well-armed insurgents. Having defended a majority of the officers and soldiers who were charged with mutiny, we drew attention to the gross injustice which characterised the trials. We also pointed out that 70 soldiers who were convicted for mutiny by two courts martial last year were not guilty of the offence.

And the authorities were convinced?

Yes. Convinced that the findings of the courts martial might be set aside, the military authorities refused to confirm them and they denied the convicted soldiers the opportunity to challenge their conviction and death sentence in the Court of Appeal. Embarrassed by the expose, the then military authorities decided not to put more soldiers on trial for mutiny.

That was what led to their mass dismissal?

Yes, they resorted to mass dismissal of the troops. At the end of the day, over 3,000 soldiers were flushed out of the army for rejecting the illegal directive to commit suicide. As the dismissal of the soldiers could not be justified in the circumstance, we approached the National Industrial Court for redress. We also made a representation to President Buhari on behalf of the victimised soldiers.

On what basis was the appeal?

In particular, we urged the Federal Government to consider the security implications of saturating the unemployment market with over 3, 000 young people who had been trained in handling weapons. Our representation coincided with the belated revelation of the immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Barde to the effect that the armed forces led by him lacked the equipment to fight the insurgents. At that juncture, the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, decided to set up a panel to review the cases of the convicted, detained and dismissed officers and soldiers.

What is the position with pardoned soldiers now?

In actuality, there are three groups of victimised soldiers. We have those who were put on trial and convicted for mutiny and allied offences. There are those who are currently on trial in Lagos and Abuja. They include two Generals. The third group consists of the dismissed soldiers. So far, the military authorities have only reviewed the cases of the dismissed soldiers. In other words, the convicted soldiers and those who are on trial have not been pardoned.

How was the review of the cases of the dismissed soldiers carried out?

The panel set up by the Chief of Army Staff listened to all the victims and recommended that 3,002 dismissed officers and soldiers be recalled and reinstated. The Chief of Army Staff accepted the recommendation and decided to implement the recommendation. Upon their reinstatement, the dismissed officers and soldiers were rehabilitated and posted to the 7th division in Maiduguri. I am eternally indebted to the Federal Government and the military authorities for ensuring that justice was done at long last. The soldiers have been fully integrated into the army. However, having been pardoned the reinstated, the soldiers are pleading with the authorities to pay them their outstanding salaries.

Will the reinstatement of the dismissed soldiers not encourage indiscipline in the armed forces?

The act of recalling soldiers who were unjustly and illegally dismissed cannot encourage indiscipline in the armed forces. As a matter of fact, it has boosted the morale of the troops. By the way, section 179 of the Armed Forces Act imposes a duty on commanding officers to attend to the complaints of soldiers under their supervision. In the instant case, the troops wanted to know why were not provided with weapons since the Federal Government had earmarked huge funds to prosecute the war on terror. Instead of attending to the legitimate complaint, the authorities decided to try them for mutiny. I believe that all professional organisations should maintain discipline based on the rule of law. I have repeatedly pleaded with the military authorities to ensure that the Armed Forces Act is amended to comply with the fundamental rights provisions of the country’s constitution. This is the third time that we are dealing with the cases of mutiny allegedly committed by a large set of soldiers. The Court of Appeal ordered the reinstatement of 22 soldiers who were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for protesting over the non-payment of their medical allowances. The protest took place in Egypt. In the second case, a number of soldiers staged a street protest in Akure over the diversion of their operational allowances. A court martial convicted the 27 soldiers who were charged with mutiny and sentenced them to life imprisonment. We made a representation to the Army Council which pardoned them on solid legal grounds. This time around, we have asked the military authorities to set aside the conviction and death sentence imposed on the 70 soldiers for various reasons. If the findings of the courts martial are confirmed, I am convinced that the Court of Appeal will set them aside. But from all indications, we are not likely to get to that level as the Chief of Army staff has promised to revisit the plight of the other soldiers.

Are you sure the 70 soldiers sentenced to death will be pardoned?

Since the dismissed 3,002 soldiers who have just been reinstated were alleged to have committed mutiny as well, it is tantamount to discrimination not to pardon the 70 soldiers who have been sentenced to death. The same goes for the officers who are still on trial in Lagos and Abuja. They too are charged with offences arising from their roles in the prosecution of the war on terror. The military authorities ought to apply pardon to all the victimised officers and soldiers.

Were the convicted and dismissed soldiers actually asked to fight the insurgents without enough arms and ammunition?

At the trials of the soldiers, who were convicted and sentenced to death, the prosecution tried to prove that the authorities provided adequate equipment. But Air Marshall Barde has said that the armed forces under his leadership had no weapons to fight. The statement has been corroborated by the immediate past National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), who said that the equipment paid for by the Goodluck Jonathan administration would soon arrive the country. These revelations have confirmed the allegation of the convicted soldiers that they were asked to fight the terrorist without adequate weapons.

Was there any lesson learnt by the government and the army authorities in all these?

The lessons are many. In the first place, the Federal Government must equip and train members of the armed forces to defend the territorial integrity of the nation. Secondly, the root cause of insurgency has to be addressed. This in effect means that the state has to tackle the crises of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and corruption in a vigorous and sustained manner. Thirdly, the military authorities should always address the complaints of the members of the armed forces and respect their fundamental rights as citizens.

All those who have lost their lives in the war and terror should be posthumously honoured while those who are engaged in the operations should be motivated and equipped to fight the insurgents. Another lesson from the whole episode is that the Armed Forces Act enacted under military rule ought to be amended in line with the provisions of the constitution. Unless such amendment is urgently carried out, the appellate courts will continue to set aside the majority of the verdicts of courts martial which cannot be justified in law.

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