Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
Four officers and 16 soldiers were arraigned by the Nigerian Army yesterday before a court martial for various offences including murder and the sale of firearms in the ongoing war against the insurgency in the North-east.
Inaugurating the General Court Martial (GCM), with Brig. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi as its president in Maiduguri, the acting General Officer Commanding (GOC), 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, Brig. Gen. Victor Ezugwu, said it was established to try offences committed by personnel within Operation Lafiya Dole theatre of operations.
He said it is public knowledge that discipline is the bedrock of the military profession and “to have a disciplined body of officers and men, there must be justice because it is when there is justice that discipline can be achieved”.
He noted that justice implies that infractions of the law must be promptly reported, investigated and the accused persons prosecuted within a reasonable time through the laid down rules, regulations and procedures.
Ezugwu said the court martial was convened to try four officers and 16 other ranks of the Nigerian Army who had committed various offences within the Theatre of Operation Lafiya Dole, adding that the court martial will be expected to achieve timely and quick dispensation of justice within the framework provided in relevant statute books.
“Therefore, it is important that both the prosecution and the accused persons or their counsels are mindful of this fact and strive to shun all forms of antics such as request for frivolous adjournments which could lead to delays in the trial process.
“It is often said in the legal parlance that justice delayed is justice denied,” he observed.
He asked the president and members of the GCM to dispense the assignment in accordance with the extant laws and ensure that their opinions and decisions on all the cases brought before them are not in any way beclouded by bias, external pressure or by extraneous factors.
Ezugwu said the outcome of the court martial must be based on careful appreciation of the whole facts of each case and the evidence placed before them in the course of the trial of the accused persons.
He also asked them to ensure that the judgment passed on the accused persons stands the test of the appellate court, public opinion and above all, “that of the Almighty Creator”.
Speaking to journalists after the inauguration, Ezugwu disclosed that some of the accused were involved in criminal activities, which included murder, crimes against civilians, and illegal sales of firearms.
The GOC said over a hundred soldiers had been tried and punished at the brigade level for acts of indiscipline and unprofessionalism.
He disclosed that there were little or no issues pertaining to indiscipline in the theatre as 15,000 soldiers had been awarded medals of excellence for patriotism and gallantry.
Speaking during the inaugural sitting, the president of the court, Brig. Gen. Adeniyi said the accused had nothing to fear, as they would be given fair hearing.
He said: “I must assure all especially the accused that they have nothing to fear, we are going to be fair to all of them. We will be guided by the constitution and all other military laws. We would be fair and just. There are higher courts where the judgment here can be appealed. You have the right of legal representation.”
He however warned that the GMC would not tolerate any unnecessary delays.