Thursday, May 21, 2015

579 Nigerian soldiers facing court martial

Nigeria's military said Wednesday that 579 officers and soldiers were facing two separate trials over indiscipline, after 66 troops were sentenced to death last year for mutiny.

"We have about 473 officers and soldiers being tried at the Army Headquarters Garrison and 106 in 81 Division," said army spokesman Sani Usman.

He did not specify the charges against those currently facing court martial but Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer working on the case, said some had been accused of mutiny.

Many Nigerian troops based in the northeast have defied orders to battle Boko Haram Islamists, citing a lack of adequate weapons and other essential equipment.

"The essence of all these trials is just to emphasise on discipline, professionalism and some other things," Usman told reporters in Abuja, without giving further details.

Falana, who defended the 54 soldiers sentenced to death last year and was familiar with the fresh cases, told AFP the charges included "cowardice, mutiny and disobedience to authorities".

The military and independent sources have said conditions for soldiers in the northeast have improved over the last six to eight months, with Nigeria securing additional weaponry needed to tackle the rebels.

Experts say the new hardware has helped troops liberate a series of Boko Haram strongholds in an operation launched in February with backing from neighbouring armies.

Despite the reported improvements, complaints of soldiers being underpaid or poorly equipped persist.

Last year, soldiers based in the northeastern city of Maiduguri set up a protest camp after being ordered to deploy to a remote part of the region to fight Boko Haram.

Wives of soldiers launched a separate protest outside a barracks, claiming their husbands were being used as cannon fodder and were being sent to battle insurgents who had vastly superior weapons.

A military court last December sentenced 54 soldiers to death for refusing to deploy and take on Boko Haram in the northeast.

Twelve received the same sentence in September last year for mutiny after shots were fired at their commanding officer.

Falana said the death sentences had not yet been approved by military top brass and there was still hope of a reprieve.


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