Lagos lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to pardon 70 soldiers found guilty of mutiny by various military court martial since 2014.
He made the request in a letter to the President on December 19, 2016, pursuant to Section 175 of the 1999 Constitution.
The 70 soldiers, whose death sentence was commutted to 10 years imprisonment, are in custody at the Ikoyi and Kirikiri Prisons in Lagos State.
Falana argued that since the demand of the convicted soldiers and others for weapons found justification in the criminal diversion of the fund provided for the purchase of arms and armament to fight terrorists, there was no legal and moral justification for the conviction and sentences imposed on them by the courts-martial.
“In Your Excellency’s interview aired by BBC Hausa Service on December 28, 2015, you observed that “the government at that time sent soldiers to the battlefield without arms and ammunition to prosecute the war. That was what led some of them to mutiny. They were arrested and detained because of this.”
“In the light of the foregoing, Your Excellency will agree with us that since the armed forces were not equipped to defend the territorial integrity of the nation the convicts did not commit mutiny or any other offence whatsoever in demanding for weapons to fight well armed insurgents. But assuming without conceding that our clients committed any offence they have suffered enough, having spent over three years in dehumanising prison conditions.
“However, since the demand for weapons to carry out counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast zone was legitimately made by our clients under the Armed Forces Act, we urge Your Excellency to grant them pardon pursuant to Section 175 of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 as amended”, he pleaded.
Falana listed grounds upon which he based his appeal.
He said: “The courts-martial, which tried our clients, deliberately failed to take cognisance of Section 179 of the Armed Forces Act, which permits “a soldier, rating or aircraftman to make a complaint to his commanding office and that he shall not be penalised for having made a complaint.
“The Arms Procurement Panel set up by Your Excellency has confirmed that the fund earmarked for the purchase of arms and ammunition was criminally diverted by former service chiefs and other senior military officers.
“The indicted military officers are being prosecuted by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for unlawful enrichment and criminal diversion of public funds.
He argued that members of the armed forces are not excluded from the application of fundamental rights, right to life, right to personal liberty, right to fair hearing, and right to freedom from discrimination.”
“In light of the foregoing, Your Excellency will agree with us that since the armed forces were not equipped to defend the territorial integrity of the nation the convicts did not commit mutiny or any other offence whatsoever in demanding for weapons to fight well armed insurgents. But assuming without conceding that our clients committed any offence they have suffered enough having spent over three years in dehumanising prison conditions”, he added.