Wadume: Court martial lacks power to try soldiers – Falana tells Malami

Human rights lawyers, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has faulted the claim by the Attorney General of Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) that until the soldiers who allegedly freed suspected kidnap kingpin, Bala Hamisu, better known as Wadume were court-martialled in line with the rules of the military, they could not appear in court.

Falana said a general court-martial did not have the competence to try the soldiers.

Last August, some soldiers attached to the 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Takum, Taraba State, had attacked policemen who had come from Abuja to arrest Wadume.

Three policemen and two civilians were killed in the process as Wadume was set free.

The soldiers were led by Captain Tijjani Balarabe.

But Malami whose office took over the case said the soldiers had not been taken to a civil court because they were still being court-martialled in line with the rules of the military.

A court-martial is a military court where members of the armed forces are tried using military laws.

Reacting to Malami’s claim yesterday, Falana said the soldiers were charged with terrorism and only the Federal High Court is empowered by the law to handle such matter.

“With respect, the offence of terrorism allegedly committed by the indicted soldiers is not provided for in the Armed Forces Act. To that extent, a general court-martial or special court-martial lacks the jurisdictional competence to try the offence of terrorism committed against police personnel and other members of the public by soldiers who are subject to service law,” he said.

“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.’

“Hence, the indicted soldiers were properly charged with terrorism along with other suspects in the only competent court in the land. However, since the military authorities did not release the suspects to the police for the purpose of arraigning them in court the learned trial judge, the Honourable Justice Binta Nyako rightly ordered the Chief of Army Staff to produce them to answer to the heinous charge of terrorism and allied offences. 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.”

He added that the AGF 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.

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