The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to grant presidential pardon to the 54 soldiers who are currently serving a 10-year jail term.
The Islamic human rights organization made the appeal in a press statement issued on Monday, 13th May, 2019. The statement was signed by MURIC’s Founder and Director, Professor Ishaq Akintola.
According to MURIC, the 54 soldiers were rounded up in 2014 when they complained to their commander that their weapons were too poor to confront better equipped Boko Haram fighters. They had earlier lost 23 men and four officers due to poor equipment when they advanced on Damboa on 9thJuly, 2014. This made them to demand better supplies when they were ordered to return to the battle front again without improved weaponry. They were consequently tried and sentenced to death but this was later commuted to ten years imprisonment. They are still in jail as we speak.
According to MURIC, “The Muslim Rights Concern is deeply concerned about the plight of these heroes of Nigeria who have been wrongly treated. Yes, we strongly believe that they have been wrongly treated. They had defended Nigeria on several fronts before the incident. Their comrades fell on the battle field in their presence.
“While other soldiers knew that money meant for weapons were being syphoned into private pockets of top officers but chose to remain quiet, the gallantry and patriotism in the 54 soldiers motivated them to speak up and demand better weapons. Their demand actually exposed the rot in the top military hierarchy regarding the high level corruption involving the diversion of funds meant for weapons.
“It was the eye-opener that led to the popular case of $2.1 billion weapons fund diverted to the 2015 electioneering campaign by the then ruling party. It is therefore paradoxical that the 54 soldiers who exposed corruption in the military are now rotting in jail.
“We in MURIC have been calling for their release since 2015. We have issued several statements on the matter but to no avail. What kind of people are we in this country? How can we leave our heroes to rot in jail? How can we allow the defenders of our territorial integrity to suffer years of alienation and deprivation?”
The organization revealed that it had met the Nigerian Vice President on the matter and also sent a petition to his office at Aso Rock.
Akintola said, “The leadership of MURIC went beyond issuing press statements on this matter. We met Vice President Yemi Osinbajo during his visit to Lagos around November 2018 and tabled the case of the 54 soldiers before him. The Vice President showed understanding and requested that we should send a petition to his office. We did that within one week and his office responded. We were hopeful. That was about six months ago. Justice delayed is justice denied.
“But today our hope is diminishing. It is melting away like ice cream in the hot sun. These innocent soldiers have already spent five years in custody. The Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and Decongestion (PCPRD) which was inaugurated on Tuesday 28th August, 2018 has freed about 5,000 prisoners but not a single one of them is among the 54 soldiers. The PCPRD, headed by Justice Ishaq Bello, has reportedly visited 15 states. We are not certain that the committee has seen the 54 soldiers.
“There is no better time for President Muhammadu Buhari to invoke the prerogative of mercy on the 54 soldiers than now. The month of Ramadan is the month of mercy. It is the month of giving and sharing. The Prophet of Mercy, Muhammad the Son of Abdullahi said, ‘Show mercy to those on earth so that those in heaven will show mercy unto you’. He also said, ‘The beginning of Ramadan is blessing and mercy, its middle is forgiveness while its end brings freedom’.
“MURIC calls on ‘Sai Baba’ as his numerous fans call him not only to manifest mercy towards the 54 soldiers this Ramadan but to actually actualise it. Mr. President, Sir, show mercy to the 54 soldiers this 2019 Ramadan. It will also be a good initiative if President Buhari makes presidential pardon an annual Ramadan policy when large numbers of prisoners are set free.
“We also recommend this for all Muslim governors at state level. Other future Muslim presidents should also take the cue. Christian presidents and Christian governors should set large numbers of prisoners free during the lent and Christmas seasons. This will help to decongest our notorious prisons. But the significance of this gesture is to give hope to the hopeless, relief to the aggrieved and to show kindness to humanity. It gives a human face to governance.
“To conclude this advocacy, we call on President Muhammadu Buhari to invoke his prerogative of mercy to set the 54 soldiers free during this Ramadan. We renew our appeal to the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, to step up the petition on his table. We appeal to the chairman and the distinguished members of the Justice Bello reform committee to give the 54 soldiers a hearing. They have suffered more than enough.
“This is about the good name of Nigeria. It is about the essence of patriotism. It is about our values and norms as a people. Nigerians must be able to beat their chests and say, ‘Yes, our country rewards patriots.’ Not the other way round. Never again shall we compel young Nigerians to leave our shores in desperation. Never again shall we castigate excellence while we reward mediocrity, indolence and corruption. Never again shall we take actions capable of killing the gallantry in our soldiers. Never again…”
*Photo: President Buhari