66 convicted soldiers sue minister, prison boss for illegal detention

A total of 66 soldiers sentenced to death for mutiny by a General Court Martial in 2014, but subsequently given presidential amnesty, have urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to order their release from Lagos prisons.

The convicted soldiers, whose death penalty was commuted to 10 years’ imprisonment by the confirming authority, and the sentence further reduced via an amnesty granted by the President Muhammadu Buhari, are currently detained at Kirikiri Maximum and Ikoyi Maximum Correctional Centres.

The soldiers in groups of 35, 19, and 12, filed three separate suits at the Federal High Court in Lagos, on August 18, 2020.

They joined the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Comptroller, Nigeria Correctional Services, Lagos, as the 1st and 2nd defendants, respectively.

The plaintiffs, through their lawyer, Mrs Funmi Falana, contended in their fundamental rights enforcement suits that their continued detention “despite the amnesty granted them by President Muhammadu Buhari since April 9, 2020, is illegal and unconstitutional”.

They maintained that their continued detention violated their right to personal liberty guaranteed by Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (CAP A10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

The plaintiffs had been charged and tried before a General Court Martial for mutiny, criminal conspiracy to commit mutiny, attempted murder, disobedience to particular orders, insubordinate behaviour and false accusation contrary to and punishable under the Armed Force Act (Cap A20) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

At the end of the trial, they were convicted and sentenced to death in a judgment delivered sometime between August and September 2014.

Falana explained that upon a review of the case, the Confirming Authority upheld the conviction but commuted the death sentence to 10 years’ imprisonment.

She stated, “Since the convicted soldiers are entitled to remission of the 10-year jail term they are required to spend a total of 80 months in prison custody. From August 2014 to May 2020 the applicants have spent over 67 months in custody.

“Thus, the applicants have spent over 80 per cent of their prison term.

“In exercise of the powers of Prerogative of Mercy under Section 175 of the Constitution, President Muhammadu Buhari has granted amnesty to certain categories of convicted inmates including those who have spent 75 per cent of their sentence after remission as well as inmates who have less than three years term left to serve having served a substantial term of their service for offences that attract five years and above.

“Having been in custody for 67 months out of the prison term of 80 months, the Applicants have spent more than 75 per cent of their 10-year imprisonment.

“Alternatively, since the applicants are due to be released next year, they have less than three years to complete their 10-year term of imprisonment. They are therefore qualified for the presidential amnesty having served a substantial term of their sentence.

“The respondents ought to release the applicants from prison custody forthwith in accordance with the terms of the aforesaid presidential amnesty.”

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