Abuja — Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Malam Abubakar Malami, yesterday denied allegations that he was shielding 10 soldiers accused of murder along with the kidnap kingpin, Hamisu Bala, also known as Wadume, from prosecution.
According to him, he was only waiting for the completion of the military's in-house disciplinary process on the accused soldiers in accordance with constitutional stipulations before their trials could begin.
Malami who had been accused of shielding the soldiers from prosecution by his perceived refusal to charge them to court along with Wadume who is currently being tried over multiple cases of kidnapping and murder, said the office of the AGF had a responsibility to ensure that the judicial process is not abused.
He explained that the constitution accords certain exclusive rights to the military and hence, members of the armed forces could not be charged to court the way civilians are charged, but in accordance with stipulations relating to their trial.
The AGF further explained that such rights accorded the military by the constitution show that members of the armed forces could only be tried in two ways, which he enumerated as court martial or a deliberate decision by the military to hand them over to civil authorities for trial in conventional courts.
Malami who said until such is done, the trials of the soldiers could not commence, further explained that members of the armed forces that are liable for trial cannot be held in conventional custodies for a longer period of time. He insisted that the delay in the commencement of the trial of the accused soldiers is to pave the way for completion of the military's in-house process that will later herald their trials.
He said: "Now, coming to the issue of the soldiers, it is important for you to note that within the context of the Nigerian law, there are certain provisions that are exclusive to the military within the context of law on court martial and then the internal discipline associated with the military.
"The soldiers can now be charged before court martial and then for the military to release their personnel for prosecution, ordinarily there are in-house processes and procedures that are to be consummated. So, those that are handy for the purpose of prosecution cannot be held in custody for unduly longer period of time on that account or the absence of the military.
"So, that is how the idea of severing the charge to allow those that are handy to stand their trial arose. That does not mean that by any means, that the military are shielded and cannot be prosecuted. But if they have to be prosecuted, they have to be prosecuted within the context of the law.
"What is the law here? They are military personnel. First, they are to go through the in-house processes. There are two options - either to charge them before the court martial which is a special court established by law for the trial of soldiers or in the alternative for the military after consummation of the in-house processes should consider handing them over for trial.
"So, what has happened is perhaps a delay for a limited time to allow the processes recognised and realised by law to be consummated as it relates to the prosecution by the military as recognised by law and not in any way intended to accord them protection in order to prevent them from being presented before the court. I hope that is clear."
He added: "On Wadume's case, I will like you to note for the record that it's the office of the attorney-general of the federation that is constitutionally established to consider an interest of justice, public interest and ensure the absence of abuse in the judicial process.
Wadume is facing a 16-count charge bordering on terrorism, murder, kidnapping and gun-running along with Captain Tijjani Balarabe and 18 others.
Those accused along with Wadume are: Staff Sgt. David Isaiah; Sgt. Ibrahim Mohammed; Corporal Bartholomew Obanye; Private Mohammed Nura; Lance Corporal Okorozie Gideon; Corporal Markus Michael; L/Corporal Nvenaweimoeimi Akpagra; Staff Sgt. Abdullahi Adamu; Private Ebele Emmanuel; ASP Aondona Iorbee and Inspector Aliyu Dadje and Auwalu Bala, aka Omo Razor.