Abuja – Fifty-nine Nigerian soldiers appeared before a military tribunal on Wednesday charged with mutiny and conspiracy to commit mutiny over claims that they refused to fight Boko Haram militants.
The soldiers, all members of the 111th Special Forces Battalion, all pleaded not guilty at a general court martial sitting in the capital, Abuja.
Last month, 12 Nigerian soldiers were sentenced to death for mutiny after shots were fired at their commanding officer in the restive northeast city of Maiduguri earlier this year.
The 59 soldiers are charged with “conspiring to commit mutiny against the authorities of 7 Division, Nigerian Army,” which is in the front line of the counter-insurgency.
They are also accused of refusing to deploy in August to recapture the towns of Yelwa, Bellabulini and Dambo in Borno state from Boko Haram, according to the charge sheet.
A total of 97 soldiers appeared in court on 2 October on a range of charges related to the fight against Boko Haram, whose insurgency has claimed thousands of lives since 2009.
Prosecutor Joseph Nwosu told the court: “When the prosecution is through with its evidence against the accused soldiers, you will not be left with any doubt as to their guilt of the offences charged.”
But Femi Falana, defending, told the panel that there was “no atom of evidence to back up the charges”.
Largest mutiny trial
He added: “At the end of the day, we are going to show that what the accused persons were alleged upon has nothing to do with mutiny.
“This is the largest number of soldiers ever put on mutiny trial in Nigeria.
“So, this trial is going to be historic and we are going to convince your lordship that these soldiers should not have been brought here.”
Nigeria’s military has been under pressure to claw back territory seized by the militants in the northeast states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, which has led to fears of a loss of government control.
There have been reports that Nigerian soldiers have refused to deploy for operations and even fled before and during Boko Haram attacks.
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