Military authorities yesterday in Abuja arraigned 59 soldiers, who are taking part in the ongoing war to flush out Boko Haram terrorists in the Northeast, on a two-count charge of criminal conspiracy to commit mutiny and mutiny.
The 59 soldiers, who are part of 97 officers and soldiers brought from the 7 division of the Nigeria army Maiduguri Borno State, all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Both charges are punishable under section 52 (1) A of the armed forces act Cap A2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and if they are found guilty, they will be killed by firing squad.
The soldiers from the 111 Special Forces battalion, who were camped in Mulai Primary School, Opposite AIT in Maiduguri are alleged to have refused on August 4th 2014 to join troops commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Opurum for an advance operation to recapture Delwa from the terrorists.
According to the charge sheet, the soldiers were alleged to have refused the orders of their Commanding Officer to advance on an operation to recapture Delwa and prepare the way for other battalions to proceed to recapture Bulabulin and Damboa in Borno State from Boko Haram terrorists.
At the commencement of the trial, the prosecution counsel, Captain Joseph Nwosu, applied for an amendment of the initial charge, which had 60 names of the accused, telling the court that Lance Corporal Anthony Simeon was critically ill and could not be arraigned on health grounds.
Consequently, there was a 2-hour adjournment to have the amended charge sheet corrected and served on the accused persons.
On resumption of trial, the prosecution called the commanding officer of the 111 battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Opurum as its first witness.
Lt. Col Opurum told the court that he had four officers and 98 fit soldiers under his command as at August 4th 2014, when he received orders to advance on Delwa and hold the location as part of the operation to capture the other towns.
He stated that the advance was important to clear the enemy along the route to ensure clear passage of troops from the 251 battalion and 254, whose task was to capture Bulabulin.
Opurum said at the 5 am appointed time for the advance, some of the troops refused to go on the mission, despite having made them understand that their task was lighter than that of the others.
He testified that when some soldiers refused to advance, he went ahead with the plan with only four officers and 29 soldiers and captured Delwa.
Opurum stated that on the 18th, Delwa was attacked by Boko Haram and the Nigeria troops had to withdraw because they were outnumbered, however while pulling out of Delwa, they called for reinforcement and 47 soldiers from the 111 battalion, who initially refused orders to advance joined the reinforcement to retake Delwa from the terrorists.
He said these 47 soldiers were disciplined and rejoined their colleagues in the battalion; however he identified them as part of those to face court martial.
Defence counsel Mr Femi Falana, in his cross examination, asked the witness if the troops had earlier complained about lack of adequate equipment, to which Colonel Opurum answered that all the troops in Borno had complained of not having enough equipment, but stated that the soldiers were given enough equipment and support for that particular task.
At the trial of the soldiers yesterday at the Mogadishu Cantonment Abuja, the President of the General Military Court Martial, Brigadier-General Musa Yusuf restated the commitment of the Nigerian Army to fair hearing, justice and fairness in the trial of the 59 soldiers accused of breaching the law.