ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — A human rights lawyer says 54 soldiers have been sentenced to death because they embarrassed Nigeria's military by demanding weapons to fight Islamic extremists, and says they were justified in not going on what would have been a suicidal mission.
Defense attorney Femi Falana said Thursday he will take all legal measures to prevent authorities from carrying out a "genocidal verdict" of death by firing squad delivered Wednesday night by a court-martial.
A statement from Falana describes evidence given during the court-martial that is an indictment of Nigeria's military establishment and, the lawyer said, the reason journalists were barred from the trial.
All the soldiers convicted are aged between 21 and 25 and most joined the army around 2012, he said.
With little or no training, they were deployed against Nigeria's home-grown Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram. The lawyer charged that money for salaries and to purchase arms is often diverted by corrupt officers.
"Instead of bringing such unpatriotic officers to book, the military authorities have engaged in the diversionary tactics of wasting the lives of innocent soldiers by sentencing them to death without any legal justification," Falana charged.
He said Boko Haram on July 9 attacked the soldiers when the battalion of 750 troops was down to just 174. The extremists killed 26 soldiers including three officers and seriously injured 82. The soldiers demanded to be properly armed and were assured this would happen, he said.
Instead, the battalion was ordered Aug. 4 to recapture three towns controlled by Boko Haram. The few soldiers who deployed were ambushed and kidnapped. When some weapons were made available Aug. 8, another group of soldiers recaptured the towns and liberated their colleagues, Falana said.
"They were commended for their bravery and sacrifice. But for some inexplicable reasons, the army authorities ordered that the soldiers be charged with mutiny for allegedly exposing the armed forces to embarrassment by asking for weapons!" his statement said.
Falana told The Associated Press another 43 soldiers including a few officers remain on trial for mutiny and cowardice for refusing to fight the extremists.