Court of Appeal in Abuja yesterday stayed the execution of the death sentences passed on two of the twelve Nigerian soldiers court martial by the Army authorities last September. The soldiers were tried under the General Court Marshal which sat at the Army Headquarters Garrison, Mogadishu Cantonment in Abuja, on sundry allegations of offences ranging from attempts to commit offence, disobedience to particular order, insubordination, false accusation, criminal behaviour, conspiracy to commit mutiny and mutiny under the Armed Forces Act 2004.
All the twelve soldiers who stood trial before the General Court Marshal were convicted on 15th September 2014 variously sentenced to life imprisonment and death for the respective charges following the trial which commenced last July. Three of the convicted soldiers, CPL Stephen Clement, CPL Igomu Emmanuel and PTE Andrew Ngbede, however approached the appellate court through their lawyer, Chief Godwin Obla, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, to challenge the decision of the Court Marshal which convicted and sentenced them to life imprisonment and death.
The convicted soldiers raised eleven grounds of appeal each in their separate appeals challenging the very many fundamental irregularities and improprieties characterizing the entire trial at the General Court Marshal and asked the court to stay the execution of their sentences pending the hearing and determination of their appeals.
Upon the institution of the appeals by the convicted soldiers, an apparently incensed Nigerian military authority which had earlier acknowledged the receipt of the application by the convicted soldiers’ lawyer for the release of the record of proceedings at the court marshal, to enable him compile the record of appeal, blatantly ignored the application and vehemently refused to release the record of proceedings at the General Court Marshal, all in the bid to frustrate the appeals. In a desperate bid to save the lives of his clients, their lawyer, Chief Obla, last February initiated another correspondence with the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, seeking the commission’s intervention to prevail on the Army to release the record of proceedings to enable him prosecute the appeal of his clients.
The effort yielded no positive result as the Army still refused to release the document. However, while delivering its ruling on the application for stay of execution filed before it by CPL Igomu Emmanuel and PTE Andrew Ngbede, the Court of Appeal restrained the Nigerian Army or its agents from carrying out the execution of life imprisonment and sentence if death imposed by the General Court Marshal and ordered that the convicted soldiers be granted access to their lawyers.
The court presided by Justice Abubakar Jega Abdulkadir, also ordered the Nigerian Army to avail the convicted soldiers of the Record of Proceedings of the General Court Marshal which tried and convicted them to enable them compile records for their appeal. The application for stay of execution filed by the third convicted soldier, CPL Stephen Clement, is yet to be heard as it was not listed on the Court’s list on the day those of the other convicted soldiers were heard.