Nigerian Army reverses death sentence on 66 soldiers, now to serve jail terms

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Buratai decorated soldiers

The 66 soldiers who were condemned to death by military courts for mutiny and trying to kill their commanding officer in the war on Boko Haram, will no longer face the firing squad.

Instead, they will serve a term of 10 year imprisonment each after the military authorities reviewed their cases and granted them a reprieve.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt- Gen. Tukur Buratai, made the decision after ordering a legal review of the secret court-martial held last year under his predecessor, Army spokesman, Colonel Sani Usman, announced yesterday.

The men were convicted in January and March 2015 by separate general court martial.

Seventy-one soldiers were originally arraigned by the army last year for criminal conspiracy, conspiracy to commit mutiny, mutiny, attempt to commit an offence (murder), disobedience to particular orders, insubordinate behaviour and false accusation, among others.

They were tried, discharged on some charges but found guilty and convicted on other charges, which included mutiny.

Of the 71, 66 were found guilty on some of the charges and sentenced to death, while five were discharged and acquitted and one was given 28-day imprisonment with hard labour.

The mutiny was sparked by the death in a Boko Haram ambush of dozens of fellow soldiers when they were ordered against their will to drive down a dangerous road at night.

Hundreds of Nigerian soldiers have deserted, complaining that they are not properly equipped to fight Boko Haram.

The Associated Press said several soldiers told its correspondents that they were sent into battle with just 30 bullets each and no food rations.

The military is also reviewing the cases of other soldiers accused of desertion and other charges, including 579 put on secret trial in May, Usman said.

He explained that the review was necessitated by a series of petitions to the Chief of Army Staff who then ordered a legal review of the cases.

“The directive was carried out to examine the merit of each case,” the Army spokesperson said .

“It was on the basis of the review and recommendations that the Chief of Army Staff commuted the death sentences of the 66 soldiers to 10-year jail term.”

He did not say if the reviews include Brig. Gen. Enitan Ransome Kuti, son of the late human rights activist, Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, who was dismissed from the army in October and sentenced to six months’ jail for losing a major battle in which Boko Haram killed hundreds of civilians.

The reprieve comes as a former presidential adviser is on trial for allegedly embezzling $2.1 billion meant to buy weapons to fight Boko Haram.

President Muhammadu Buhari fired all the military chiefs after he won March elections. Goodluck Jonathan lost the vote in part because of his government’s failure to curb Boko Haram’s six-year-old Islamic uprising, that has killed about 20,000 people, and to rescue more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls.

Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of people and driven 2.3 million from their homes.