The Nigerian Army has described as false, a report that it secretly tried and executed six soldiers in Abuja who were of the South-East extraction and found to have committed an infraction.
The Director, Army Public Relations, Brig Gen Sagir Musa, in his characteristic manner, labelled the media reports on the incident as “fake news and mischievous publication” but failed to give details of the whereabouts of the soldiers and what truly transpired.
A coalition of human rights activists from South-East had alleged in a press statement on Tuesday that the six soldiers were denied legal representation, before their execution, after a hasty secret trial.
The soldiers were said to have been attached to the Armoury Department of the Mogadishu Cantonment, Asokoro, otherwise known as Abacha Barracks, Abuja.
The activists gave the names of those allegedly executed as Prince Ukwuoma, son of a traditional ruler; Ebube Isaiah, Amos Azubuike, Ekene Ebere, Moses Anyim and Godwin Uchendu.
The coalition in a report by one E. R. Okoroafor and signed by Emeka Umeagbalasi, the Board Chair, International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law and Prof Anthony Ejiofor-Chairman of the World Igbo Congress in the United States, among others, said the soldiers were not given fair hearing.
“Sometime in September 2020, an allegation of missing weapons was made at Abacha Barracks and it was immediately traced to a senior Colonel of northern origin and instead of the then Chief of the Army Staff to issue a query and sanction the Colonel, he exonerated him on the grounds of his tribe and religion.
“The COAS turned around and ordered for the arrest of 12 soldiers guarding the armory, comprising six Igbo soldiers, three Yoruba soldiers and three Fulani-Hausa Muslim soldiers. In the end, the latter soldiers were shielded and exonerated under questionable circumstances and the six Igbo soldiers made to face secret court-martial during which they were blocked and prevented from having access to their families and defence lawyers of their choice.
“Barr E.R. Okoroafor also told the Coalition that his attempts to stand in for the Igbo soldiers were stiffly opposed and he was flimsily told by the Army’s Legal Department that ‘civilian lawyers are not allowed to defend the accused soldiers except military lawyers’. Their trial was totally shrouded in secrecy and never disclosed to the public through Army statements till date; likewise their constitutional right of appeal to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court which was also totally denied. The persecuted and executed soldiers protested their innocence to the point of tendering their resignation in protest; all to no avail,” the coalition had alleged.
In its reaction, the army tagged the news report as fake news and mischievous publication, although Nigerians are asking the army authorities to come out clean on the names of the soldiers and the incident in contention.