Ninety-seven soldiers including four Lieutenant Colonels, a Major and four captains were charged with many offences ranging from mutiny, conduct prejudicial to good orders, assault and Absence Without Leave, AWOL, to house breaking, contrary to service discipline.
The accused persons will however, be formally arraigned before the General Court Martial, GCM, convened on behalf of the Army authorities by the Commander, Army Headquarters Garrison, Brigadier General B.T Ndiomu on October 15.
The GCM has Brigadier General Musa Sani Yusuf as president with Col. Umar Mohammed, Col. Rabe Abubakar, Col. Mohammed Lawan Ibrahim, Col. Muktar Mohammed Bunza, Col. Jonathan Gontor, Col. KN Garba, Col. Godwin Anayo Ugwueze, Col. BR Abimiku as members.
According to the military, the Prosecuting Officers include, Capt. J.A. Orumor, Capt. R.S. Agwai, Capt. J.E. Nwosu, Capt. W.F. David, Capt. P.N. Nwachi, Capt. V.L. Williams, Lieutenant A.M. Sani, Lieutenant N. Okorie and Lance Corporal Chukwu Prince-Augustine.
For the Defence, prominent Lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, is leading others among who are
Major Oyebanji (rtd), Mr. Shuaibu Isa, Mr. J.O.K. Irikefe, Mr. Paul Ocheme, Mr. Mike Ebogu and Colonel Godwin Anyalemechi.
Speaking shortly after inaugurating the GCM, the Army assured the accused soldiers, their counsel and the nation that the court will be guided throughout the trial by the principles of fair hearing and justice.
“You shall be given the facilities and conditions necessary for the proper defence of your cases. In line with the provisions of section 35 (5) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), every one of you shall be presumed innocent by the court until it is proved otherwise.
“Let me further assure you that the GCM will base its decisions and findings only on the facts presented before it. In other words, this court will not give room for or be influenced by any extraneous matter which is not presented before this court.
“We intend to patiently and painstakingly listen to all evidence that will be brought before this court to ensure that no innocent person is convicted as it is better for nine guilty persons to go free than for one innocent person to suffer,” the GCM President added.
Furthermore, Yusuf said: “We will do our best to make sure that justice is done; justice to the accused persons, and justice to the state. The Nigerian Army is for justice and we are therefore, going to make sure that this is applied to everybody.
“Nobody has stopped the salary of any of the accused officers and soldiers; they have access to their families, and lawyers. To the best of my knowledge, none of them has been denied access to anything and we promise their lawyers that if at all there is any document that has not been released to facilitate their defence; we will release them as and when necessary."
On issues raised against the Judge Advocate, JA, Brig-Gen. Yusuf said: “There is no contention concerning the role of the JA. Like the Prosecuting Counsel said, the case is normally investigated by the Nigerian Army Corps of Military Police and they have very competent lawyers.
"After investigation, the one that will be charged, they normally frame the charges.
“So the JA is never part of the investigation or framing of the charges against the accused persons. The JA is a personnel of the Army Headquarters Garrison; remember these accused officers and soldiers allegedly committed the offences outside AHQ Garrison.
"The offences were allegedly committed in various locations, which means that they were investigated in those locations and as at the time they committed those offences the Judge Advocate was never the Commanding Officer of any of those accused persons.
“To the best of our ability, we have advised both counsel; prosecution and defence to as much as possible not to prolong our stay on this matter. We don’t want an unnecessary adjournments; that is why we advise them to as much as possible, finish this case on time.
There was heated argument shortly after the inauguration, however, as defence Counsel of the 97 accused soldiers questioned the rationale by the JA, Lt Col. Ukpe Ukpe to be at the GCM when he issued the legal advice for the officers and soldiers to be prosecuted.
Meanwhile, a breakdown of the figure showed that four Lt Colonels, one Major, four Captains, five Lieutenants, one Second Lieutenant and one Warrant Officer and 81 soldiers would be tried.