Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights in Nigeria
Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights in Nigeria
27 Soldiers Condemned to Life Imprisonment for Protesting Injustice and Stealing of UN Peace keeping Allowance
CDWR calls for Solidarity for the Persecuted Soldiers
When 850 soldiers were rounding off their participation at the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Liberia, none could have had the premonition that some of them were on the transit to life imprisonment. The soldiers, drawn from different military formations across Nigeria, participated in the 15th Nigeria battalion (NIBATT 15) of the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission to Liberia (UNMIL) between September 2007 and April 2008. After the successful completion of the service, their allowances made available by the UN were not only delayed but also the soldiers were brazenly short-changed when they were eventually paid. Each soldier was supposed to be paid $7368 for the 6-month period but was given $3000 for the whole period, hereby denying them $4368.
The soldiers embarked on peaceful demonstration on July 4, 2008 to protest this brazen theft and injustice. But the military authorities considered this legitimate and constitutional action of these cheated Nigerians as a mutiny. Hence, 27 of them were arrested, charged accordingly and sentenced to life imprisonment. Ironically, the senior officers who stole the soldiers’ allowances were only given a mere slap in the wrist with one rank demotion after being convicted for the offence.
The Campaign for Democratic and Workers Rights (CDWR) condemns this injustice and calls for the immediate and unconditional release and re-absorption of these victimised soldiers without loss of pays. We also call for full payment of allowances owed them and adequate compensation for the injustice and agony, they and their family members have been brutally subjected to for almost a year. We call on individuals and organisations, locally and internationally to join and support the campaign to free these cheated and persecuted soldiers and redress the injustice they have suffered.
RISK INVOLVED IN PEACEKEEPING
The Nigerian government has never officially released the number of soldiers killed in the peace keeping operations that the country has participated in. But from the newspaper reports at least 15 Nigeria soldiers have died since 2004 while several others have sustained grave bodily injuries. They are sometimes attacked by the warring factions. It is obviously a high risk and sacrifice to go on peace keeping operatrions in other countries given the danger involved, yet their entitlements are stolen by the officers who often do not leave the comfort of their offices. It has even been alleged that the families of most of the dead soldiers have not been paid their entitlements.
These are some of the attacks:
In September 2007, 7 Nigerian soldiers were killed in an attack while on a peacekeeping mission in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region. The September 29 attack was the worst single incident involving AU peacekeepers in Dafur since they were deployed in 2004.
We also recall the case of the soldiers who returned from Dafur in 2008, and instead of being airlifted to Maiduguri, were driven by road and killed in an auto crash on the way to Maiduguri.
3 Nigerian soldiers were killed in an ambush near Kourabashi on October 8, 2005.
1 Nigerian soldier was killed when his patrol was attacked on the road between the AU camp and the town of Misteria on May 29, 2006.
2 Nigerian soldiers were abducted in El Fasher on December 10, 2006, one was later released but the other was not and is presumed dead.
2 Nigerian soldiers were killed in an ambush in Graida on March 6, 2007.
7 Nigerian soldiers, among those of other countries, were killed when their base was overrun by 1,000 rebels in Haskanita on September 30, 2007.
SOLDIERS PROTEST STEALING OF THEIR FUNDS
The soldiers, most of whom joined the military during the present civilian dispensation and were emboldened by the much celebrated commitment of government to justice and rule of law, embarked on a peaceful protest outside the Owena barracks, Akure Ondo State on July 4 2008. The soldiers had converged for their allowances after several postponement and hopes were high this time around that their money would be paid to them but were again disappointed. The soldiers were paid $3,000 instead of $7,368 made available by the UN without any reasonable explanation and were forced to protest the cut in the allowances. The Army High Command led by Major-General Bello Dambazau clamped down on 150 of the soldiers for participating in the protest and it was later reduced to 28 after money had allegedly exchanged hands.
TRIED FOR MUTINY
In April twenty eight (28) soldiers were arraigned before the Brigadier-General Ishaya Bauka led nine-man Court Martial and charged for mutiny under section 52 (2) of the Armed Forces Act (capA20) Law of the Federation of Nigeria. The soldiers, through their lawyers, had earlier approached Akure High Court and got an order stopping the trial of the soldiers by the military tribunal and granting them leave to exercise their human rights as guaranteed by Sections 38, 39 and 40 of the constitution of the Nigeria. The implication of the Akure High Court order was for the military tribunal to cease trial and for the case to be heard by the civil court (High Court in Akure). Section 38 of Nigerian Constitution gives all Nigerians the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. By virtue of section 39, Nigerians are entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions while section 40 guarantees the freedom to assemble and associate with other persons. Rather than comply with the High Court injunction, the court martial went ahead with the trial and convicted 27 soldiers for mutiny and condemned them to life imprisonment while the 28th soldier, Private Bala Aliu, was discharged and acquitted for want of evidence.
PRE-DETERMINED TRIAL AND THE CONTRADICTION
The President of the Court Martial at the beginning of the trial had publicly boasted while addressing soldiers in Sokoto that he will make a scapegoat out of the protesters.
Given the wide spread condemnation against the stealing of the soldiers allowances, the court martial was forced to arraign 4 senior military officers on charges of stealing, cheating and negligence of duty. These 4 senior officers are Colonel A. Awotoye, who was the commander of the 72 Battalion Makurdi Benue State, Major C.A. Njoku, Major Abubakar Shonwa, the Deputy Director of Finance and Lt. Col. P.A Bala. In delivering the judgement on the 4 senior officers the court martial held: “the prosecution was able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you collected the allowance that you are not entitled to, pocketed it and walked away, thereby depriving the owners of the allowances. That is fraud and you are hereby found guilty of stealing and demoted by a rank.” By virtue of the conviction of the 4 thieving senior officers, expectations were high that the 27 soldiers would be freed. That was not the case as the court martial went on to convict the soldiers of mutiny stating that the most grievous offense any soldier could commit in the army is disobedience. These 4 senior officers have since returned to their duty posts.
The Army High Command has come out to defend the judgement as a necessity to maintain discipline. In reality, the top brass of Nigerian military are among the most undisciplined in the country. In Nigeria’s 49-year life span since independence in 1960, the military have brazenly and forcefully ruled Nigerian for 30 years, leaving the economy dislocated with mass scale looting by top military officers and tens of people assassinated. Indeed, a system where the seniors steal the emoluments of their subordinates with almost impunity cannot boast of maintaining discipline.
From all ramifications, the military high command wants to discourage independent opinion amongst the rank and file officers and restrict them to zombie lifestyle even in the face of injustice and repression. It is also clear that the 27 soldiers are being persecuted for daring to expose the entrenched corruption in the military high command. It has become commonplace in the military for the junior officer that go on mission abroad to be grossly underpaid while the senior officers share the balance.
Presently, the judgement is awaiting the nod or disapproval of the Military High Command before the next action will be determined. Should they confirm the tribunal judgement, definitely the case would proceed to the Court of Appeal.
Several organisations including the CDWR, ERC, DSM, CLEEN Foundation, NOPRON etc., have questioned the rationale for sentencing the 27 soldiers to life imprisonment for demanding their rights while the 4 senior officers who stole their money were only demoted by a rank. It is obvious that the senior officers would be promoted back to their rank in no distant time.
THE 27 SOLDIERS CONDENMED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT:
Pte. Yetunde Olanihun (Female)
Sgt. Oliver Akwara
Pte. Mary Idoko (Female)
Cpl. Princewill Onwunari
Pte. Esther Nkawor (Female)
Cpl. Abass Salisu
Cpl. Paul Maikudi
Lcpl. Umar Abdukadir
Lcpl. Musa Salisu
Lcpl. Pascal Steven
Lcpl. Ibrahim Yusuf
Lcpl. Loveday Nnadi
Lcpl. Yomi Ibukun
Lcpl. Bello Zaharadeen
Lcpl. Okani Pope
Lcpl. Wanogho Shadrack
Lcpl. Lawal Abubakar
Lcpl. Innocent Egbuna
Lcpl. John Felix
Lcpl. Kabiru Mohammed
Pte. Chukwudi Onwukanjo
Pte. Samuel Ogbe
Pte. Jonathan Komo
Pte. Adaraloye Olalekan
Pte. Salisu Ibrahim
Pte Anthogah Jonathan
Pte. Kelechi Anukam
THE SOLDIERS ARE KEPT IN DEPLORABLE CONDITION
The 27 soldiers, 3 of whom are women, have been in detention for close to a year and presently being detained at the Odogbo military barracks Ojoo in Oyo state, south-west Nigeria. Presently, the soldiers are made to sleep on bare floors; 5 soldiers are forced to occupy a small narrow room with no ventilation; other basic needs and facilities such as water, foods, medication, etc are not provided for them. Some of the little foods they get are provided for by the family members on visit as the Military High Command has abandoned them. The Military High Command has equally denied the lawyers the opportunity to see the soldiers as they prepare to appeal the judgment to the Court of Appeal.
CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS CAMPAIGNING FOR THEIR RELEASE
The Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) organised a press conference on Wednesday May 20 2009. The conference had in attendance several family members of the victimised soldiers and other organisations such as Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR), Education Rights Campaign (ERC), CLEEN Foundation. The press conference made some demands that include:
Immediate freedom for the 27 soldiers
- Reinstating the soldiers without loss of pay
- Unreserved apology for the soldiers and their families etc.
The CDWR, addition to the above demands, calls for the rank and file military personnel and police officers to be allowed to unionize in order to defend their interests. We have argued in public statements that Section 40 of Nigerian Constitution allows soldiers and police men and women to form and belong to a union. We have cited examples of countries like South Africa, Belgium, Bulgaria, etc where there are police unions, and in Belgium a military union. Indeed, there was a mass protest by Bulgarian police on March 15 to demand higher pays and better working conditions. In Chicago, in the United States, the city hall was picketed on March 27 by the Police Union over pay and working conditions.
After the press conference, the above named organisations and family members met and resolved to embark on a series of campaigns which include protest march to National Assembly, local and international campaigns for solidarity, visits to the United Nations office locally and internationally. A body known as Families for Freedom for 27 (FFF27) was formed as a coalition of the campaigning organisations (CLEEN Foundation, NOPRIN, CDWR, ERC, etc) and family members. The coalition addressed a press conference on Wednesday June 3, 2009 and reiterated some of the earlier demands including for the soldiers to be allowed to unionize. The press conference, with activists and family members carrying placards with slogans, was widely reported by both electronic and print media.
APPEAL FOR LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY AND SUPPORT
CDWR is hereby appealing for solidarity support from individuals and organisations both locally and internationally. Solidarity could come in form of sending protest letters, ringing authorities in Nigeria, picketing of Nigerian embassies and donating to the campaigns. CDWR will also mobilise along other willing organisations its members to make appearance either as picketers or protesters at the premises of the court while the appeal hearing resumes.
CDWR LINED-UP PROGRAMS
While remaining active in the coalition, the CDWR wishes to maintain some independent activities.
- Media campaigns across the country
- Picketing of the National Assembly in Abuja
- Visits of the soldiers at the Odogbo military barracks
- International Campaigns
- Call on labour and pro-masses organisations to support the campaigns
- Court appearances and protest at court premises
- Production of leaflets and posters to prosecute the campaign
- Send protest letters to the Ministry of Defence:
Call the Ministry of Defence: 234-9-2340534, +2349-2348975, +234-9-2348970
Fax the Ministry: +234+9-2340714, +234-9-23430371
Send e-mail the Nigerian Senate: [email protected]
Postal Address of the Nigerian National Assembly Complex: P.M.B 141, Abuja, Nigeria
Please copy the protest letters to [email protected]