A vocal human rights lawyer, Femi Falana on Wednesday called on the Presidential Investigative Panel to recommend a review of the Armed Forces Act, AFA, during the ruling on the application of Military Justice System in Nigeria.
The judicial panel was set up by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo while he was the Acting President, to review the compliance of the Nigerian armed forces with human rights obligations and rules of engagement, especially in local conflict and insurgency situations.
The seven-member commission headed by Biobele Georgewill began its public hearings on Monday at the Ceremonial Hall of the Federal Capital Territory Court, Abuja.
Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, maintained his position that the Armed Forces Act is not in line with the human rights act, and was enacted under a military dictatorship in 1993 under President Ibrahim Babangida military rule.
“The rules of procedures in military courts in Nigeria was borrowed from the United Kingdom in 1972. In my submission, those rules of procedures in the UK have been changed, have been modernised in line with the human right act of the United Kingdom in 1986.
“The Armed Forces Act does not reflect a democratic dispensation. To worsen the situation with respect to procedure section 2 of the Administration of Criminal Justice act 2015, section 2 sub section 2 has excluded the application of this law,” he said.”
“We are left with the procedure that has been abandoned in the United Kingdom,” he added.
The human rights lawyer had submitted a memorandum tagged ‘Military Justice Negates” to the judicial commission.
Army legal representative, Ogbeni Oyebanji, in his reaction said the army is not seeing the said petition as opposing rather they (army) are seeing it as a partnership on how to make the Nigerian Army much more efficient and better than it is.
The Army official admitted that the AFA as constituted needs to be reviewed to be in line to what is in practice globally.
“We concede to the submission made at page 1 of the memo that the principal objectives of the Armed Forces Act are to provide for maintenance of discipline among members of the Armed Forces and to provide for administrative matters. However, we wish to add that discipline is the strength of the Armed Forces and it is in recognition of this hallowed issue of discipline that the AFA was enacted,” he said.
Mr. Falana then informed the panel about ineffective trials before military courts stressing that one can hardly get justice because of the ”command influence in Nigeria military system.”
“What I mean is the Chief of Army Staff is the only commanding officer allowed by law to set up a panel, appoint the members of the court and when they finish, like the case of soldiers who were charged with mutiny. The army chief set up a panel, they tried them and the judgment of the report will be sent to the chief of army staff to consider to review the report in his own wisdom.
“What is done in England, apart from the trial over simple offences which can be handled by commanding officers, high court judges assisted by assessors who are military officers are invited to preside over military courts because the judge may lack military knowledge,” he said.
Mr. Falana also highlighted other rights the armed forces violated.
‘Undue interference in trials by members of the military court is one. Once you are charged before a military court, no bail is granted.”
He also talked about secret trial of military personnel.
“Trials are conducted in secret, that is not in line with section 364 of the Nigerian Constitution,” he said.
“If a soldier is asked to fight, to go and face Boko Haram terrorists who are armed, and he says please can I have weapons to do so? They will say go and manage sixty rounds of ammunition. Soldiers are not allowed to protest.”
The Air Force legal representative, Musa Sanda-jika also conceded to the two issues raised by the petitioner.
The Nigerian Navy failed to send a representative.