Femi Falana has been critical of the courts martial, which were held behind closed doors. PHOTO: REUTERS

Boko Haram crisis: ‘Buhari hope’ for Nigerian death-row soldiers


Nigeria’s incoming president may review the death sentences of 66 soldiers convicted for refusing to fight Boko Haram, a lawyer has said.

Femi Falana told the BBC that Muhammadu Buhari had promised to review all operations against the militants.

He said that he was now confident the soldiers, who said they lacked weapons to take on the Islamist insurgents, would not be executed and face justice.

This week it was revealed another 579 soldiers face trial over indiscipline.

Army spokesman Sani Usman said the courts martial, currently taking place in the capital, Abuja, were to ensure professionalism in the army.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said that the Boko Haram insurgency, which began in 2009, had caused “one of the most serious humanitarian crises in Africa”.

‘State negligence’

Mr Falana, who is a prominent human rights lawyer and represented some of the 66 sentenced to death for conspiracy, cowardice and mutiny last year, said the Nigerian government had failed to adequately equip the units fighting the insurgency in the north-east.

“They [the soldiers] did not sign to commit suicide but to fight for their fatherland and since the government did not make weapons available, they were unable to fight,” he told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

“The sentences are awaiting confirmation but we are taking steps to ensure that no soldier, no officer in Nigeria is executed on account of the negligence of the Nigerian state in motivating the soldiers to fight and equipping them.”

He said that outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan “had refused to assist to the request of the convicted soldiers to review their matter”.

“So happily the incoming government of Gen Muhammadu Buhari has promised to review the entire operations in the north-east region and we are confident that the cases of the officers and the soldiers will be reviewed so that justice will be done to them.”

Earlier, he told the Associated Press news agency the courts martial were a “travesty” as they were held in secret and evidence supplied by some of the accused indicated corrupt officers often diverted money meant for salaries and arms.

Despite a state of emergency in three north-eastern state, Boko Haram managed to take over many towns and villages last year.

It was only from the end of January, with military backing from Chad, Cameroon and Niger, that the army began to recapture territory.

However, sporadic attacks and violence have continued.

“Whole communities have fled their villages and endured unimaginable suffering… even if the fighting stopped tomorrow, it will take years of investment and painstaking work to rebuild livelihoods and services,” ICRC president Peter Maurer said after a trip to the north-east.

Help was also needed for the victims of sexual violence, amid widespread evidence the militants raped some of the kidnapped women and girls, he said.

The group is still holding many women, girls and children captives including 219 schools girls it kidnapped from a school in Chibok in April last year.


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