CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF COURT MARTIAL CASES AT APPELLATE COURTS IN NIGERIA 1990- 2014

CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF COURT MARTIAL CASES AT APPELLATE COURTS IN NIGERIA 1990- 2014

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ABSTRACT

Court martial is a major aspect of administration of military justice. In Nigeria, courts martial set up by the Army, Navy and Air Force have had numerous problems in the last 24 years leading to upturning of majority of the judgments by appellate courts. Judgments of about 70 percent of court martial cases that were appealed against in Nigeria between 1990 and 2014 were upturned by appellate courts. This work discovered that the major reasons that made appellate courts to upturn the judgments were on grounds of lack of jurisdiction, non-observance of the principles of fair hearing and lack of diligent prosecution among others. The Nigerian Armed Forces have lost several officers and soldiers to dismissals from courts martial of which their dismissals and sentence of imprisonment were upturned many years after, when it was difficult to get them back to service. This equally led to wastage of several man-hours prosecuting such cases at high expense. These were equally accompanied by harsh comments from justices of appellate courts which in some instances ridiculed the military justice system in Nigeria. The research is therefore aimed at proving that between 1990 and 2014, most of the court martial judgments were upturned on appeal based on lack of jurisdiction, non observance of the principles of fair hearing and lack of diligent prosecution. The major objective is to ensure that courts martial follow the prescribed procedures during trials. The research found out that one of the major reasons that makes court martial presidents and members conduct the procedures of the court in ways contrary to what it should be is command influence. Command influence is the negative influence of some convening authorities which makes the members to do his bidding at the courts martial. As a way out of the problem, the research recommended the insulation of courts martial from command influence and ensuring that those whose avoidable actions caused the upturning of court martial judgments on appeal get to feel the consequence of their actions. The principal ways of insulating courts martial from command influence as identified by the research include the Nigerian Armed Forces keying into the housing scheme of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria to get a personal house for every officer at the rank of Major. The officers are to bear the cost of the houses but to pay gradually from commission. In this way, officers will have a house to retire to, early in their career, thereby reducing the retirement phobia that facilitates command influence. The work equally recommended a situation where court martial members do not get evaluation reports from convening officers of courts martial where they are members. In the final analysis, the researcher believes that if these measures are adopted, the upturning of judgments of courts martial by appellate courts in Nigeria will be reduced to the barest minimum.


CHAPTER ONE

1.1       BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY

The Armed Forces of Nigeria like those of other countries of the world are created to

defend the country from external aggression and maintain her territorial integrity. They are also

created to secure her borders from violation on land, sea or air and to suppress insurrection and

act in aid of civil authorities.1 These functions form part of vital interests that are linked with the

survival of the country. During wars and internal insurrections as currently experienced in North

Eastern part of Nigeria, several members of the Armed Forces pay the supreme prize for the

nation to survive. It is for this reason that a special way of ensuring that discipline and justice are

maintained in the Armed Forces was crafted.

It is in line with the dangers associated with being a soldier and the need to ensure both

discipline and justice in the Armed Forces that court martial was established. A court martial is a

special court meant for only persons who are subject to military law, ie members of the Armed

Forces and civilians working with military unit on active service.2 The early concept of courts

martial was that of a court of discipline rather than a court of justice. The quality of decisions

that were handed down in those days was draconian in nature and without regard for justice.3

The importance of ensuring quick dispensation of justice to the members of the Armed Forces

may have informed the provision in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN)

1999, barring the Attorney General of the Federation4 and of the States5 respectively from

instituting and undertaking criminal proceedings in courts martial.

1Section 217 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.

2 Section 272 Armed Forces Act CAP A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

3Chiefe, T.E.C. (2008), Military Law in Nigeria Under Democratic Rule. DiametricsNig Ltd, Lagos. p 97. 4Section 174 (1) (a) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.

5Section 211 (1) (a) CFRN 1999.


The interpretation of quick dispensation of justice in courts martial has however made

many commanders who convene courts martial to look more on discipline than on justice which

is the main essence of any court of law, courts martial inclusive. A court martial has the status of

a High Court in Nigeria as appeals over decisions of courts martial lie to the Court of Appeal

with the leave of the Court of Appeal.6 It is only in a case where a court martial awarded a death

sentence that the leave of the Court of Appeal is not required.7 Out of about 40 studied cases that

have left courts martial to appellate courts in Nigeria, about 70 percent of them have been

upturned.8 This situation may have justified the negative name and impression many people have

about courts martial. For instance, Chiefe while citing Bishop Jnr in describing a court martial

said that:

A court martial is a kangaroo proceeding in which a wretched conscript is dragged before the panel of sadistic matinets, convicted on the basis of perjured evidence and his own confession which has been extracted by torture and sentenced to fifty or si


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