A major, two captains (officers) and eleven men of the 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, are facing court-martial for kidnapping, murder, attempted murder, desertion and other offences, and they are to have maximum punishment upon conviction.
Family members of the accused soldiers and lawyers were allowed yesterday morning at the Python Officers’ Mess of 6 Division to witness the inauguration of the seven-man panel, headed by Brig.-Gen. Bassey Etuk, and the brief inaugural sitting, before the sitting was adjourned till June 24 this year.
The court martial is the second of its kind in the history of 6 division, while the accused, besides the major and two captains, also had eleven men, made up of two staff sergeants, one sergeant and others.
The General Officer Commanding (GOC) 6 Division, Maj.-Gen. Jamil Sarham, who is also the Land Component Commander of Operation Delta Safe, while inaugurating the General Court Martial (GCM), upon getting to the mess at 10:09 a.m., declared that the Nigerian army would not condone indiscipline.
Maj.-Gen. Sarham said: “The Nigerian Army is a creation of the Nigerian Constitution to carry out specific tasks to support the government’s efforts in providing security for the Nigerian nation. To achieve this, a disciplined and professional Armed Force is imperative and this in line with the vision of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, which is to have a professionally-responsive Nigerian Army in the discharge of its constitutional roles. There is no gainsaying that unless such a body of professionals is disciplined, achieving victory in battle and other specified assignments would not be easy.
“Section 131 of the Armed Forces Act confers on me the power to convene this General Court Martial and by so doing to try the accused persons, who have allegedly violated some codes guiding our professional conduct. The offences for which the accused persons are being tried range from murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, desertion, offences in relation to public and services property, disobedience to standing orders and conducts to the prejudice to service discipline, all punishable under the Armed Forces Act CAP A20 Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
“The Court Martial in only one of the apparatus put in place by the Armed Forces of Nigeria to discipline its errant personnel. The establishment of Court Martial is predicated on the fact that the Armed Forces of Nigeria holds its personnel in high esteem. Hence, its resolve to ensure that a thorough investigation must be conducted before any suspect can be put on trial, as it is in the instant case.”
The GOC also assured that justice would not only be done on the entire trial, but be seen to have been done, while disclosing that the case against each of the accused persons was thoroughly investigated to ensure that an innocent person was not wrongly tried and punished.
He said: “The headquarters, 6 Division, has painstakingly selected credible officers as members of the Court Martial to ensure fair hearing and justice. In addition to that, due regard was accorded to these officers, having in-depth knowledge of military law and outstanding experience of military duties. I urge the members (of the panel) to be just and fair in the conduct of the trial, to ensure that each accused person is given a fair trial.
“Trial is not only aimed at seeing that offenders are punished, but to serve as a deterrent to others, so as to prevent future occurrence. In this light, justice therefore, is 3-way traffic: justice for the accused, justice for the victim and justice for the state. I must state clearly that the accused persons are presumed innocent of the offences charged against them, until proven guilty by this court.”
Maj.-Gen. Sarham also urged the seven-member panel to live up to expectations, in order to sanitise the Nigerian army, particularly 6 division.
President of the general court martial, Brig.-Gen. Bassey Etuk, in his remarks, assured that he and six other members of the panel would do justice and they would not betray the confidence reposed in them.