“This is the ‘crime’ committed by the 54 soldiers. They blew the whistle on the famous $2.1 billion which was meant for arms but which politicians shared among themselves.”
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has petitioned the National Assembly over the unjust imprisonment of 54 soldiers who were sentenced to death for requesting more arms from their commander to combat the heavily armed Boko Haram insurgents in 2014, the death sentence was, however, “commuted to ten years imprisonment each by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Major General Tukur Yusuf Buratai in December 2015.”
The petition which was sent to the two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives, was disclosed in a press release made available to the Herald by the director of MURIC, Professor Ishaq Akintola on the 27th of February, 2020.
According to MURIC, the 54 soldiers blew the whistle on the misappropriation of the $2.1 billion funds meant for arms by politicians who diverted the funds and shared the money amongst themselves.
The petition reads in part:
“The 54 soldiers on whose behalf we have written this petition are presently serving a ten-year jail term. They had fought shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues against Boko Haram fighters who were armed to the teeth. They had earlier advanced with their battalion on 9th July, 2014 under Lt. Col K. C. Uwa to recapture Damboa but they were ambushed and they lost 23 men and four officers due to inadequate equipment. Without fresh arms and without a single armoured tank, they were again asked to advance on Damboa, Deluwa and Bullabilin.
“They, therefore, requested for more equipment from their commander, Lt. Col. Oporum. It was not a mutiny. It was a mere request. But instead of giving them more arms before facing a better-equipped enemy, they were rounded up. They were first sentenced to death on 17th December 2014 although this was commuted to ten years imprisonment each by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Major General Tukur Yusuf Buratai in December 2015.
“This is the ‘crime’ committed by the 54 soldiers. They blew the whistle on the famous $2.1 billion which was meant for arms but which politicians shared among themselves. They are whistleblowers and this government is a government of change. The present administration called for whistleblowers and there have been responses. It has led to the recovery of billions of stolen money and some whistleblowers have already been compensated. What is the difference between the 54 soldiers and other whistleblowers? They have been in jail since. But is that where they should be?
“MURIC is concerned because Islam frowns on injustice. The religion of those soldiers does not matter to us. They are fellow Nigerians who fought to keep Boko Haram away from the rest of us. Keeping those 54 soldiers in jail is tantamount to gross travesty of justice. We began the struggle to free the 54 soldiers in December 2015 with press statements on the subject matter. This is the thirteenth press statement we have issued on the subject matter to date and they can all be verified.
“8th December 2015 ‘Free Soldiers Charged For Refusing to Fight Insurgents Without Adequate Weapons’. 21st December 2015 ‘Wanted: Presidential Pardon For 54 Convicted Soldiers’. 5th January 2016, ‘66 Convicted Soldiers: MURIC Launches Online Petition For Presidential Pardon’. 5th June 2016 ‘Buhari Should Pardon the 54 Soldiers This Month Of Mercy’. 12th December 2016 ‘Set Innocent Captives Free’. 9th March 2017 ‘MURIC Calls For Presidential Pardon For 54 Soldiers’. 23rd June 2017 ‘Set the 54 Soldiers Free’ (used as a rider). 30th November 2017 ‘Buhari Should Pardon the 54 Soldiers’. 14th June 2018 ‘Id al-Fitr Message: Set the 54 Soldiers Free’. 30th August 2018 ‘Prerogative Committee: MURIC Calls for Pardon For 54 Soldiers’. 13th May 2019 ‘54 Soldiers: Show them Mercy This Ramadan’. 26th December 2019 ‘Dasuki, Sowore Were Christmas Gifts, Give Us 54 Soldiers For the New Year’ and finally, today’s statement under the caption ‘MURIC Petitions NASS Seeking Freedom For 54 Soldiers’.
“Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the House, you must not allow this injustice to stand. These 54 soldiers fought for their country but they discovered that Boko Haram was gaining the upper hand due to the fact that the terrorists had better weapons. They knew that the government had released money for the purchase of arms but Nigerian soldiers continued to use archaic weapons at the war front. They knew that Boko Haram might overwhelm the whole North East if nothing was done. They therefore raised the alarm. They are now languishing in jail with the terribly inhuman condition for which Nigerian corrective centres are notorious. Our lawmakers cannot afford to ignore them.
Like Portia in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (Act IV, Scene I), we approach our Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the House crying “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath; it is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes…”
“The ongoing armsgate trials have revealed that Nigerian soldiers were actually deprived of arms at the time while the politicians diverted money meant for the procurement of arms to electioneering campaigns. This may have informed the decision of the COAS to commute the death sentence of the 54 soldiers to ten years imprisonment.
“The COAS has shown mercy to some extent. The rest is in the hands of our lawmakers. To set them free or not to set them free? That is the question. It hurts severely to be made to suffer for so long for exposing large scale corruption in the army. We remind respected members of the NASS that it was this case which actually revealed the massive graft involving arms fund meant for soldiers fighting Boko Haram. It is therefore paradoxical that the 54 soldiers who blew the whistle on armsgate are undergoing punishment for exposing corruption in the army.
Equally ironical is the fact that the 54 soldiers who acted as whistle-blowers in the arms fund case are rotting in jail at a time the Federal Government promised reward for whistle-blowers in corruption cases. It is a sad twist of fate and it may serve as a source of deterrent for prospective whistle-blowers if their case is not urgently revisited.
“We believe that setting them free will reinforce the patriotic zeal in hundreds of soldiers who are currently fighting insurgents in the North Eastern part of the country. These 54 soldiers are from different religious and ethnic backgrounds brought together by fate and a burning passion to free their country from the claws of terrorists. Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members of the Green Chamber, we rest our case”.