From Isa Abdulsalami, Jos

It’s contradictory, says defence

FORMER Commander of the 33 Artillery Brigade in Bauchi, Brig.-Gen. Muraina Raji, who was standing trial before a Special Court Martial at the 3 Armoured Division, Jos for his alleged role in the escape of two high profile Boko Haram suspects, has been discharged and acquitted of all the three charges levelled against him.ihejirika

But he was convicted on “special findings” by the court and sentenced to a three-month loss of seniority in his present rank of Brigadier-General subject to approval by appropriate military authorities. Explaining what the court meant by “special findings,” the President of the court said the accused failed to show interest in the detainees who were regarded as being of high profile.

The defence team led by Mr. Femi Falana has, however, flayed Raji’s conviction, describing it as contradictory.

Raji was charged with:

• neglect of his military duties punishable under section 62(b) of Armed Forces Act (AFA) CAP A20 Law of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 in that he, at Shadawanka Barracks between January 17 and February 18, failed to provide guard/standing orders for soldiers detailed on duty at Wetland Detention facility;

• negligent performance of military duties in that at Shadawanka Barracks he failed to adequately assign responsibilities to officers under him to guarantee the safety of high profile detainees at the detention facility; and

• neglect to perform military duties for failing to provide feeding for the two guards performing 24 hours’ duty at Wetland Detention Facility, causing one of them to go in search of food before the detainees escaped.

Delivering his judgment on Friday night, President of the Court-Marital, Maj.-Gen. John Samuel Zaruwa, said the panel had found out that Raji had served the country for over 33 years meritoriously and had grown through the career and behaved well above an average officer, adding that he had also participated in various operational missions both locally and outside the country excellently. He said the court also acknowledged the various reports, commendation and awards Raji had earned during the period of his service.

Zaruwa continued: “It is your willingness to cooperate with other security agencies to accept suspects for safe-keeping with good intentions which had led to this unfortunate incident of escape which led to this trial. The court found out that in your career, you have never had any case of indiscipline, misdemeanour or misconduct. In view of all these good deeds, the court has decided to award you three months loss of seniority in your present rank of Brigadier General. This award is subject to confirmation by appropriate superior authorities. You may now take your leave.”

The judgment started at exactly 8:20 p.m. at the Officers’ Mess of the 3 Armoured Division, venue of the trial. Reviewing the submissions of the two parties, the prosecution and the defence, the President of the court explained that the prosecution called eight witnesses to prove the guilt of the accused while the defence called only two witnesses with all the parties backing their arguments with documents, which were screened and admitted in evidence.

Zaruwa stated that in the effort to arrive at a just decision, the court visited the “locus in quo,” the crime scene in Shadawanka Barracks in Bauchi. The court visited the Wetland Detention Facility (WDF), armoury, Mobile Police Duty Room and Project 404.

Reacting to the judgment, the lead defence counsel, Falana, described it as contradictory. He said it is a legal anathema for a court to slam a sentence on an accused when the same court has discharged and acquitted him of all the counts.

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