military law made simple
By Yinka Olatunbosun
Perhaps, one of the areas of legal practice that falls outside the spotlight of academic research until recently is found in the criminal justice administration and trial procedure in the Nigeria Armed Forces. One factor responsible for this is that over the years, court martial trials had been marked with seeming fear and trepidation which may have been connected with the prolonged military rule in Nigeria. Democracy has, however, changed the attitude and litigations in the area have become more frequent. Another factor is that court martial proceedings are often restricted from the public and journalists are often barred from reporting from the court. The martial court has thus earned a mystified position in history with the imaginary “Military Zone-Keep Off” signpost.
Still, legal practitioners have had to grapple with the dearth of legal text materials on court martial and summary trial proceedings in the Nigerian Armed Forces. The author thus wrote this book to fill the void created in the learning and practice of military law by providing in-depth information on a wide range of issues. Having been called to bar in 2002, Omachi was posted to 1 Division Headquarters Legal Service Department, Kaduna during his National Youth Service programme. This was where he first ventured into court martial proceedings at a general court martial convened by the General Officer Commanding 1 Division , Nigerian Army and since then had participated in several court martial proceedings.
Omachi taps from the landmark decisions from judgments delivered at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court on decisions made from court martial. Split into 17 chapters, the 581-page book offers a comprehensive overview of Armed Forces Act which repealed other laws before it namely, Nigeria Army Act, Navy Act and Airforce Act. The Armed Forces Act which makes provisions on the general administrative and command structure of the Armed Forces also prescribes punishment for service related offences. In addition, the book showed how the law distinguishes between offences which may be tried summarily or by court martial upon the election of the person to be tried.
Owing to its simple use of language, the book is expected to be a scholastic handbook for teachers and students of military law especially in widening the knowledge of criminal justice administration in the Nigerian Armed Forces. The book is essentially divided into two main parts. Part 1 covers the first 14 chapters while part two the last three chapters. The first chapter offers simple definitions of key concepts and the nature of court martial. Chapter Two highlights and discusses all the rules that guide the drafting of charges, its amendment and other matters involved in the preliminaries to the convening of a court martial. The other chapters discuss the jurisdiction of courts martial, procedure after remanding a charge for trial court martial, assembling of court martial, arrangement and plea and more.
Part Two treats issues such as arrest and confinement, summary trial proceedings as well as petition against summary conviction and sentence. 118 decided cases were used as references by the author whilst the full text of the Rules of Procedure (Army) and the Armed Forces Act were published in the book which can enable the reader to make a comparative analysis of the new position of the law in the military law practice.
In the foreword, a seasoned legal practitioner Biola Oyebanji made remarks on the relevance of the book in legal education.
“This book has brought close to its reader recent development in court martial proceedings and afforded an opportunity to the generality of the citizenry, officers and the rank and file of the Armed Forces and related paramilitary organisations to have a sound grasp of court martial proceedings.
“The author has painstakingly and meticulously too engaged himself in studious researches that dovetailed into expansive expositions of the way and manner good and substantially flawless trial proceedings in court martial should be conducted.
“The author with enormous comparative understanding was bold to criticise where appropriate the inadequacies of the provisions of the Rules of Procedure of Court Martial.
“The writer has combined the fertile astuteness of a legal practitioner with the admirable candour of in-depth knowledge of an academia. This book is written with a display of considerable experience which has distinguished it in origin and perspective when compared with other military law books. The book was written in deep exposition of contemplative issues which may arise during, before and after trials.
Understanding the language of court martial has been made lucid through the author’s simplified style of delivery. Needless to say, the book’s index makes for easy referencing.