Human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), on Sunday, faulted the claim that soldiers, who allegedly killed three policemen to free a kidnap kingpin in Taraba State last year, must first be tried at military court before they could be prosecuted in the civil courts.
Falana, in a statement, said contrary to the claim by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), the General Court Martial lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case of terrorism, which the 10 soldiers were accused of committing against the slain policemen.
He added that by virtue of Section 287(3) of the Nigerian Constitution, Malami was duty-bound to enforce the “valid and subsisting order” issued by the Federal High Court in Abuja on March 16, 2020 compelling the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, to produce the 10 indicted soldiers for trial.
Malami has been fiercely criticised for sparing the 10 soldiers led by Captain Tijjani Balarabe indicted for killing the policemen, who were conveying the kidnap suspect, Bala Hamisu, alias Wadume, from Ibi, Taraba State, to Abuja on August 6, 2019.
The Inspector-General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, had in February charged Wadume and others, including the 10 soldiers, with various offences, including terrorism, kidnap, gun running.
But the AGF removed the names of the soldiers as defendants within days of taking over the case from the police in June.
However Malami, on July 1, told State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, that there was no plan to shield the soldiers from prosecution.
Malami said the soldiers “are to go through the in-house processes” by either facing “the court martial, which is a special court established by law” or “in the alternative for the military after consummation of the in-house processes, should consider handing them over for trial.”
Reacting to the AGF’s claim, Falana said “The offence of terrorism allegedly committed by the indicted soldiers is not provided for in the Armed Forces Act.”
He added, “For the avoidance of doubt, Section 32 of the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 as amended by the Terrorism Prevention Amendment Act 2013 provides that ‘The Federal High Court located in any part of Nigeria, regardless of the location where the offence is committed, shall have jurisdiction to (a) try offences under this Act or any other related enactment; (b) hear and determine proceedings arising under this Act’.”
Falana maintained that the indicted soldiers were properly charged with terrorism along with other suspects at the Federal High Court, “the only competent court in the land.”
He stated, “Even though the Attorney-General withdrew the charges against the indicted soldiers, the order that they be produced in court for arraignment has not been vacated or quashed either by the trial court or the Court of Appeal.
“Therefore, the Attorney-General is duty-bound to ensure full and unconditional compliance with the valid and subsisting order of the Federal High Court in accordance with Section 287 (3) of the Constitution.”
Falana had earlier issued Malami a seven-day ultimatum for the arrest and prosecution of the soldiers.
The ultimatum contained in a June 15, 2020 letter addressed to Malami had lapsed on June 22.
Falana told our correspondent on Sunday that the papers he was trying to assemble were ready for him to institute a suit to compel Malami to produce the soldiers and others regarding the violation of one of the slain policemen’s right to life.