By Kingsley Omonobi
For the 66 soldiers sentenced to death for mutiny and other offences in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East, the good news is that they will no longer face the firing squad.
The Army authorities announced, yesterday, that their death sentences had been commuted to terms of 10 years imprisonment.
“The death sentences by firing squad, passed on 66 soldiers in January and March, 2015, by separate General Court Martials (GCMs), have been commuted to 10 years imprisonment each”, the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Colonel Usman Sani, said yesterday.
After the sentencing of 12 soldiers to death for shooting at a vehicle conveying the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maiduguri, Borno State, Major-General Ahmed Mohammed, the Army authorities, on October 2, 2014, at the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) Garrison, inaugurated another nine-man GCM to try about 100 soldiers.
The soldiers were charged with offences ranging from mutiny to assault, misconduct and tampering with military property.
Of the lot, 77 were accused of committing mutiny, punishable by death.
The charge said the soldiers attached to the 7 Division, conspired to commit mutiny, saying they refused to join 111 Special Forces Battalion, led by Colonel E.A. Aladeniyi, to the Maimalari Barracks for an operation (against Boko Haram fighters).
The mutinous soldiers had blamed the GOC and other officers for the death of four of their colleagues allegedly ambushed while on a special operation against Boko Haram in Kalabalge LGA, near Chibok, Borno State; where over 200 school girls were abducted by terrorists in April, last year.
One of the CGMs was headed by Brigadier General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo.
The Army spokesperson, Sani, in a statement announcing the reversal of the death sentences handed to the 66 soldiers, yesterday, to 10 years imprisonment, said: “It will be recalled that 71 soldiers were arraigned on several charges in joint trials. The soldiers were arraigned on several count charges that included Criminal Conspiracy, Conspiracy to commit mutiny and Mutiny.
“Others were Attempt to Commit an Offence (Murder), Disobedience to Particular Orders, Insubordinate Behaviour and False Accusation, amongst others.
“They (soldiers) were tried, discharged on some charges but found guilty and convicted on other charges which included mutiny.
“Out of the number, 66 were found guilty on some of the charges and sentenced to death, while 5 were discharged and acquitted and one was given 28 days Imprisonment with Hard Labour (IHL).
“However, following series of petitions, the Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai, ordered a legal review of the cases. The directive was carried out to examine the merit of each case.
“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 years jail terms. The sentences are to run concurrently.
“The cases of other soldiers are being reviewed and will be made public once the appropriate reviews are completed.”
The reprieve for the convicted soldiers, yesterday, elicited jubilation from their families.
Family members of some of the convicts, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on phone, were full of praises for the Army authorities and the Chief of the Army Staff (CoAS), but would have preferred that their kinsmen were outrightly pardoned and possibly reabsorbed into the military.