Our lives inside prison – Convicted soldiers

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Some soldiers currently serving various jail terms for refusing to fight Boko Haram in the North-East, yesterday described as pathetic, the condition in which they are being held in Ikoyi Prison, Lagos.
The soldiers are among the 54 Nigerian Army personnel sentenced to death by a military court-martial in 2014 after they were convicted of mutiny charges by disobeying orders to join the fight against Boko Haram.
The soldiers, who were from 111 Special Forces Battalion, had pleaded not guilty to the charges.  
After their conviction, they were transferred to Lagos, pending the confirmation of the judgement by the Army Council. 
But a partial reprieve came their way when, in 2015, the Nigerian Army commuted the death sentence to 10 years imprisonment.
Announcing the decision, the spokesperson of the Nigerian Army, Sani Usman, said, “The sentences are to run concurrently.”


While in Lagos, the convicts were divided into three groups and detained in the Kirikiri Maximum Prison and Ikoyi Prison, respectively.
Speaking to our correspondent at the Ikoyi Prison on Saturday, some of the soldiers called on President Muhammadu Buhari to grant them presidential pardon to end their long incarceration which began in 2014.
They said their plea to th e president was hinged on the shocking discoveries made by the panel set up to probe the procurement of arms and ammunition for the war against Boko Haram. They said the revelations that billions of naira meant for the purchase of arms was embezzled by senior military officers and their civilian collaborators had cleared them of the allegation of refusing to fight, and showed that the required equipment were not made available to them.


The soldiers said their families had been made to undergo hardship as a result of their prolonged incarceration.
“The girl I was planning to marry has abandoned me and married someone else. The wives of five of my fellow inmates have since returned to their families, practically ending their marriages. Some of us have lost their parents and siblings because of our imprisonment,” one of them said.
According to them, they had been told that President Buhari was going to grant them amnesty on May 29 when he was expected to name the people that had returned stolen money to the government.
The soldiers said they had been trying to cope with life in their new environment, adding that the condition was very difficult. 
“We are being detained in cells that have not less 180 inmates, among them armed robbers, drug addicts and other hardened criminals. Also, rashes, lice and bedbugs have infested our bodies,” another soldier said.


Recalling how their predicament started, one of the soldiers, who told Daily Trust on Sunday that they had been trained in Pakistan and Yugoslavia to qualify as members of a special force, said: “We were sent to Maiduguri in 2013 at the height of the Boko Haram crisis. We were among the soldiers who fought and recovered some territories which had fallen to the terrorists.
“We were lucky to have escaped an ambush set by the insurgents in 2014. During the ambush, some of our colleges died in a shootout. 
“Our offence simply is that we demanded that we be properly equipped so that we could confront the terrorists headlong. We personally made the request to our unit commander during one of our interactions. The following day, about 2am, we were woken up by the authorities. We later discovered that the simple request we made to the authorities was later interpreted to mean mutiny. All efforts made at trying to put things in the proper perspectives fell on deft ears.


“The leadership of the Nigerian Army then ordered that we be court-martialled. However, recent investigations into the procurement of arms by the authorities have shown that, contrary to the claims that we refused to be deployed, and that we abandoned the fight against Boko Haram, it is now an open secret that our demand to be equipped was not out of place.
“It is also in the public domain how money meant for the purchase of arms was criminally diverted and shared by some very few persons. 
“It is in this light that we are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to grant us pardon and direct that we go back to our duty posts as we are very willing to continue to serve the nation.” 


On Thursday, the federal government announced that President Buhari had accepted the recommendation of the committee investigating the defence equipment procurement from 2007 to 2015 to further investigate two former chiefs of army staff, retired Lt.-Generals O.A. Ihejirika and K.T.J. Minimah, as well as a former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs II, Dr Nurudeen Mohammed, in connection with the multi-billion naira defence contract scandal.
Others to be so investigated are three former permanent secretaries, Ministry of Defence, namely, Mr. Bukar Goni Aji, Mr. Haruna Sanusi and Me. E. O, Oyemomi.
The recommendation was part of the third interim report of the Committee on the Audit of Defence Equipment.      
 Meanwhile, a human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, has called for the immediate release of the soldiers.
According to him, this has become necessary as a result of the earth-shaking revelations from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), that few individuals cornered and shared the huge fund earmarked for the procurement of military hardware to prosecute the war on terror.
He said that all the convicted military officers should be released immediately. 
“As I have repeatedly maintained, the soldiers were committed and sentenced to death for asking for weapons to fight the terrorists. They were ordered to fight with unserviceable equipment on the ground that there was no money to purchase new weapons. 
“In the process, the well-equipped insurgents routed and massacred thousands of the country’s ill-equipped soldiers due to the diversion of the fund set aside to purchase equipment,” Falana said.
Case Timeline:
•    Alleged offence committed on August 4, 2014.
•    Trial began on October 15, 2014. 
•    The Court martial death sentence handed on December 17, 2014.

Charges

•    That they conspired to commit mutiny against the authorities of the 7 Division on August 4, at the Mulai Primary School camp, opposite AIT Maiduguri, Borno State.
•    That they disobeyed orders to join operations against Boko Haram.
•    All the accused soldiers pleaded not guilty to the charges.
•    The offence is punishable under Section 52(1) (a) of the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
•    The soldiers are of the 111 Special Forces Battalion.
•    The soldiers were convicted in Abuja and sentenced to die by firing squad. Four were acquitted.

Death sentence reviewed  
•    The Army on Sunday August 2, 2015 announced the review of death sentence.

Sentence commuted to 10 years imprisonment 
•    On December 19, 2015, the army commuted the death sentence to 10 years imprisonment
•    On December 20, 2015, Falana demanded the 10-year’s jail term be quashed.
Source: Daily Trust

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