The Nigerian Army yesterday took a landmark decision to pardon the 27 soldiers attached to the 323 Artillery regiment, Owena Barracks, Akure, Ondo State, who were sentenced to life imprisonment last year and later had the sentences commuted to seven years jail terms.
The soldiers had been imprisoned in April last year following a court martial that found them guilty of mutiny after they had protested the non-payment of their allowances upon completion of their United Nations Peace Keeping assignment in Liberia in 2008.
In a statement signed by the Director Information of the Army public Relations unit Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, the army stated that their prison sentences had been commuted to discharge from the military service.
The army added that the decision to release the soldiers was taken during a meeting of the Army Council, which sat in Abuja yesterday.
Reacting to their pardon, counsel to the soldiers Mr. Femi Falana expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the council’s deliberation, adding, “I rejoice with the Akure 27 and congratulate the military authorities for revisiting the case.”
He stated that their imprisonment was clearly a case of gross injustice that needed to be revisited. “I am happy it was revisited,” he said.
Olukolade further confirmed that the Army Council approved that the soldiers be paid all their entitlements while those entitled to pension among them will also receive their dues accordingly.
The affected soldiers include Sergeant Akwara Oliver, Corporals Princewell Onwunare, Paul Maikudi and Abass Salisu, Lance Corporals Okani Pope, Lawal Abubakar, Pascal Stephen, John Felix, Yomi Ibukun, Loveday Mmapie, Umar Abdulkadir, Musa Salisu and Innocent Egbuna, Lance Corporals Wanogho Shedrack and Bello Zaharaeed,
Others are Privates Chukwudi Onwukanjo, Jonathan Komo, Samuel Ogbe, Esther Nkawor, Mary Idoko, Olanihun Yetunde, Anthogan Jonathan, Salisu Ibrahim, Aderaloye Olal-ekan, Kabiru Mohammed and Anukan Kelechi.
Investigations showed that the decision to pardon the soldiers was in response to predominant feeling in the army that the issue of the soldiers referred to as the ‘Akure 27’ be revisited.
Their case was also helped by the unwavering determination of their counsel to secure their unconditional release.Falana had on October 7, 2010 written a petition to the Army Council appealing for a review of their case.
A copy of the petition made available to THISDAY last night, showed that Falana had advised his clients (the 27 soldiers) to withdraw their case from the Court of Appeal, because he was confident that the new leadership of the Nigerian Army will do justice to their case.
The 27 soldiers had served in the 15th battalion of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, and had demonstrated openly in the streets of Akure over the non-payment of their allowances after concluding their operations in Liberia.
The soldiers were said to have been owed about six months’ salary arrears worth about $1,228 a month. However, their action backfired as their protest was considered a willful violation of military rules, and were consequently arrested and charged before a military court led by Brigadier General Ishaya Bauka.
The court found them guilty of mutiny in violation of Section 52(2) of the Armed Forces Act and sentenced them to life imprisonment in July 2010.
But their sentences attracted public condemnation and was later reviewed and commuted to seven years by the Army High Command this year because of the plea by the embattled soldiers for mercy.
In another development, the Army Council also approved the promotion of senior officers in the cadre of generals. The officers are expected to be decorated with their new ranks shortly as this marks the end of Nigerian Army promotion exercise for the year.
Those promoted include two General Officers Commanding (GOCs), Brigadier General M.D Abubakar of 2 Division and Brigadier General K.T.J Minimah of 81 Division.
Others are Commander Corps of Signals, Brigadier General O.A.C Ariahu, Commander, Nigerian Army Armoured Corps, Brigadier General A.B Marwa, Dire-ctor, Military Intell-igence, Brigadier General S.Y Audu, as well as Commander, 23 Brigade, Brigadier General J.O Nwaogbo.
The Deputy Comman-dant, National Defence College, Brigadier General O.S Adeosun, Director, Army Finance and Acc-ounts, Brigadier General A.I Muraina and chairman Military Pensions Board, Brigadier General B.T Kwaji were also elevated to the rank of major generals. The Commander, Guards Brigade, Colonel E.J Atewe was promoted brigadier general.
Similarly, the Nigeria Air Force promoted 11 Air Commodores to the rank of Air Vice Marshals, 36 Group Captains to Air Commodores, and other 29 to group Captains.Among those promoted air vice-marshals are Christian Chukwu, while a one-time Nigerian Air Force spokesman, Emeke Ozoemena, was among the 36 senior officers promoted to the air commodore cadre.