- The Nigerian martial court has sentenced 27 soldiers who had served as UN peacekeepers in Liberia to life imprisonment for mutiny, their lawyer has said. The convicted who include three women were accused of taking part in a public demonstration over their pay in July 2008.
The defense counsel, Mr Femi Falana said the ruling was outrageous and also accused the president of the court for being bias during the trial, saying he would appeal the harsh sentence given to the soldiers.
Mr Falana, while praying for freedom for the soldiers, told the court that the prosecution failed woefully to prove the offence of mutiny against the accused persons.
He said that although the ex-peacekeepers protested the illegal diversion of their allowances, none of them engaged in violence or any act capable of putting the Nigerian Army in imminent danger. He also said that the accused persons did not conspire with foreign forces to subvert the sovereignty of Nigeria.
In a judgment that was read for more than five hours, the president of the court martial said that the prosecution team, led by Lt-Col Sampson Nurseman, proved beyond reasonable doubt that the 27 soldiers were guilty of a one count charge of mutiny leveled against them.
The protest which took place in the Owena Barracks of the 323 Artillery Brigade led to a closure of business activities around the Ondo Road, Akure location of the army formation as hundreds of soldiers blocked the highway and set up bonfires and singing war songs condemning their superiors, according to local media.
He added that the panel had also considered the fact that the army had spent millions of Naira in the training of the soldiers and that the fact that they were all first offenders with no history of insubordination was also taken into consideration.
He said since they were still in the Nigerian Army, no matter their grievances, they were still subject to service law and should therefore be law abiding, adding that they were given an order by their superior, which they failed to carry out.
The other 23 soldiers were tried for the same protest, convicted and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, including life imprisonment, but the Court of Appeal set aside their conviction and the sentences passed on them according to local reports.
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