President Muhammadu Buhari has granted state pardon to Enitan Ransome-Kuti, the former military Commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force, who was convicted by a Special Court Martial in January 2015.
Mr Ransome-Kuti is a son of the late human rights activist, Beko Ransome-Kuti, and a nephew of the late Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
The former military commander was among the 162 prisoners pardoned by the National Council of State at a meeting presided over by the Nigerian leader on Thursday.
Mr Ransome-Kuti was arrested in early 2015 and tried by the special court martial for cowardice, while serving as Commander of a Joint Multinational Task Force in Baga.
The former officer was later punished for his “failure to perform military duties” and sentenced to six months imprisonment and reduction in rank from Brigadier-General to Colonel.
It was gathered that Mr Ransome-Kuti, who was sacked from the army after his conviction in 2015, was pardoned on compassionate grounds.
Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was his lawyer and over 60 soldiers at the Special Court Martial, wrote letters to have their punishments set aside.
The Army Council would later quash the six months’ imprisonment passed on Mr Ransome Kuti and commute the death penalty imposed on the other 60 soldiers to 10 years jail term based on Mr Falana’s letters.
Mr Falana also wrote to other relevant authorities including the presidential committee on prerogative of mercy to seek their pardon.
The senior lawyer argued that his clients’ conviction by the court martial was baseless in the face of evidence that they were deprived of arms to fight at the peak of the Boko Haram war.
The full list of those pardoned is not immediately available, but sources confirmed that the soldiers convicted of mutiny constituted a bulk of them.
Sources also said among beneficiaries are a former army lieutenant colonel, Oluwole Akinyole, who was granted posthumous pardon and a former military general and minister under the Sani Abacha regime, Tajudeen Olanrewaju.
Speaking on Saturday, Mr Falana said the implication of the pardon is that Mr Ransome-Kuti, 57, can return to service and regain his brigadier-general rank.
“With this pardon, the record of conviction of the other soldiers has been obliterated and can go back to service if they wish to,” Mr Falana added.
The Nigerian military charged Mr Ransome-Kuti, and four other senior officers to a special court, blaming them for the loss of Baga in Borno State, to Boko Haram insurgents in January 2015.
The Army said the officers failed to repel a Boko Haram attack on the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in Baga.
Mr Ransome-Kuti was the commander of the multinational force during the attack.
During his trial, the officer denied all the charges, with his lawyer arguing that the Nigerian Army failed in its duties to provide the necessary equipment in the war against insurgency.
On October 15, 2015, a military court-martial sitting in Abuja, convicted Mr Ransome Kuti, of alleged offences during the war against Boko Haram – a sentence that earned him a six month prison term.
After his conviction and imprisonment, his lawyer, Mr Falana, requested Mr Ransome-Kuti’s release pending the determination of his appeal, a request that was turned down by the military authorities.
Subsequently, Mr Falana, petitioned the Army authorities demanding his freedom, saying his client was still held in prison custody despite completing his jail term.
Mr Falana said the army’s refusal to release his client, who had completed the 6-month prison term on February 15, 2016, was a violation of Section 160 of the Armed Forces Act (Cap A20) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
Unsuccessful appeal to Presidential Investigation Panel
By 2017, Mr Ransome-Kuti and other military officers convicted and sentenced to various categories of punishment by various courts martial appealed to the Presidential Investigation Panel to Review Compliance of the Armed Forces with Human RightsnObligations and Rules of Engagement to hear their complaints against the Nigerian Army.
The soldiers claimed to have been illegally tried and convicted by the court martial for demanding weapons for counter-insurgency operations in the North-East region.
In a petition on behalf of his clients, Mr Falana urged the panel to recommend to President Muhammadu Buhari to grant them pardon.
He said his clients were not requesting the panel to sit as an appeal court on the decision of the courts martial but was only seeking to explore the platform provided by the panel to secure presidential pardon.
Mr Falana said his argument was in accordance with section 198 of the Armed Forces as well as section 175 of the Constitution which empowered the President to grant pardon to any convicted person in Nigeria without condition and regardless of whether or not the convicts had pending appeals.
According to him, his clients’ complaints bordered on violation of their rights by the military.
The seven-man panel, however, refused to hear Mr Falana clients’ petitions. They expressed doubt as to whether they had jurisdiction to entertain the complaints of the soldiers bordering on the decisions of a military tribunal with pending appeals against the said decisions at the Court of Appeal.
Mr Falana insisted that the panel had jurisdiction to hear the complaints while the Nigerian Army’s lawyer argued to the contrary.
The panel, on September 12 2017, rejected the petitions of the soldiers on the grounds that their matters were pending appeals before the Court of Appeal. The panel added that such a petition was outside its terms of reference.
It noted that the issue of request for pardon sought by the soldiers was already put before President Buhari and was already being attended to by the Presidency.
It held that the President should be allowed to deal with the issue to a logical conclusion without any interference from the panel.
Presidential Pardon granted
Five years after the presidential pardon was tabled before President Buhari, the council of state on Thursday, recommended presidential pardon for 26 inmates and 85 surviving ex-convicts, PREMIUM TIMES gathered.
At least 27 inmates and one deceased ex-convict were recommended for presidential clemency.
Other beneficiaries are 13 inmates recommended for reduced sentences and 10 inmates recommended for reduced sentences from death row to life imprisonment.
The Nigerian Council of State is an organ of the Nigerian Government as stipulated by Third Schedule Part 1B of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The membership of the Council includes the President, who is Chairman; the Vice-President, who is Deputy Chairman; all former Presidents of the Federation and all former Heads of the Government of the Federation; all former Chief Justices of Nigeria; the President of the Senate; the Speaker of the House of Representatives; all the Governors of the states of the Federation; and the Attorney-General of the Federation.