Nigeria: Rioting soldiers get life, corrupt officers go free?

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27 former Nigerian United Nations Peacekeepers soldiers who sought compensation for the delay in the payment of their benefits have been convicted of mutiny offenses and sentenced to life imprisonment.

“The officers did not follow due process to seek redress for the delay in the payment of their entitlements. Their approach was an affront to the army authorities,” said Brig. Gen. Ishaya Bauka, who led the Court Martial at the 323 Artillery Regiment in Akure, Nigeria. “The court could not give a lesser punishment, a mandatory life imprisonment is the price to be paid for mutiny,” added the Brigadier general.

In February 2009, the same court martial handed soft judgment to four senior officers who were found guilty of pilfering the allowances made available for UN peacekeepers — It was the embezzlement of the allowances that triggered the protests of the now convicted soldiers.

Barrister Femi Falana, who led counsel to the 27 accused soldiers, had hoped that the court would dismiss the charge against the soldiers. He argued that although the ex-peacekeepers protested the illegal diversion of their allowances, they by no means engaged in an act competent of putting Nigerian Army in imminent danger.

According to the barrister, as long as the soldiers did not conspire with foreign forces to destabilize Nigeria’s sovereignty they could therefore not be accused of mutiny. However, Brig. Gen. Ishaya Bauka begged to disagree. “The 27 officers have to follow the due process in fighting for their rights rather than protesting on the streets of Akure”

The Nigerian soldiers and former UN peacekeepers were charged for refusing to obey lawful orders of the commanding officer, were arrested and put in detention following a public protest in Akure on July 4, 2008 over non-payment of their peacekeeping entitlements.

Despite their conviction in the court martial, Barrister Falana said the court’s judgment was null and void since a court has urged the Court Martial to stop it proceedings. He said the case of the convicted soldiers would be presented to higher authorities for review.

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