World Bulletin/News Desk
The Nigerian government risks legal action if it fails to explain how a $1-billion loan – obtained in 2014 to purchase military hardware – was spent.
"I sent a letter to Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to demand details of how the $1-billion loan was spent," prominent lawyer Femi Falana told The Anadolu Agency in an interview.
"I am representing many of the soldiers who have been sentenced to death because they complained about the lack of weapons," he said.
On Dec. 17, a Nigerian court-martial sentenced 52 soldiers to death after they were found guilty of attempted mutiny – an offence that carries the death penalty.
The prosecutor said the convicts had committed the offence on Aug. 4 in Maiduguri, provincial capital of Nigeria's northeastern Borno State, after refusing orders to recapture towns taken by Boko Haram militants.
The soldiers insist they were convicted unjustly.
Last July, President Goodluck Jonathan asked parliament to approve a $1-billion loan to buy arms with which to fight the insurgency in the country's northeast.
Parliament, despite having questioned previous security allocations, approved the request in October.
"Despite the huge loan, all we still hear about is the lack of weapons," Falana said, referring to a growing perception that poorly armed soldiers are usually bested by better equipped Boko Haram insurgents.
"All you hear about is them [the government] buying ammunition from South Africa for $15 million," he said.
"Isn't it funny for our government to load money into a private jet belonging to a pastor to procure arms on the black market?" Falana asked.
Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the influential Christian Association of Nigeria, found himself at the eye of the storm last September after his private jet was used to ferry $15 million to South Africa for purchasing arms.
The Nigerian government later claimed ownership of the money, but many observers say it was a botched attempt to stockpile arms ahead of the upcoming election.
Lawyer Falana said he had sent a letter to the government on Jan. 9 requesting details on how the loan money had been spent.
"They have seven days to respond," he said. "I will go to court if they refuse to avail me of the information requested."
Falana's request was made under Nigeria's Freedom of Information Act, which allows citizens to request information about the running of the government – provided such information does not infringe on "national security."
The law allows the individual making the request to go to court and attempt to compel the government to release the requested documents.
For the last five years, Nigeria has battled a fierce Boko Haram insurgency that has ravaged the country's volatile northeast and claimed thousands of lives.
The year 2014 proved to be the insurgency's bloodiest year yet, with increasingly frequent attacks, higher death tolls and a deluge of displaced persons.
Nigeria's emergency body, the National Emergency Management Agency, said Tuesday that 981,416 persons had been displaced by the crisis, while as many as nine million had been affected "directly or indirectly."
Falana suggested that the loan may have been taken to fund the ruling party's election campaign.
"Let me tell you why I wrote that letter," Falana told AA. "Because that [loan] money is for the election."
Nigeria is set for a landmark election on Feb. 14 in which President Jonathan will take on opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler.
On the same day, voters will also elect members of parliament.
Falana, for his part, dismissed his clients' mutiny trial as "not being a trial."
"The court-martial was a kangaroo show," he told AA. "It wasn't a trial."
Neither the defense spokesman nor the government has responded to Falana's assertions.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, a Nigerian NGO, has sought UN intervention to halt the execution of the convicted soldiers.
"It is not right or fair to try everyone in mass proceedings; such an unfair trial should not send someone to the gallows," the NGO asserted.
In a letter to Christof Heyns, the UN's special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the NGO added: "The imposition of mass death sentences is in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nigeria is a party."
Last Mod: 15 Ocak 2015, 14:14