Lagos - A leading Nigerian human rights group is asking U.N. rapporteurs to help try to stop the mass executions of soldiers sentenced to death by firing squad for refusing to fight Islamic militants.
Fifty-four troops received death sentences last week, 12 were condemned in September and 45 more soldiers, including a few officers, await their fate in ongoing courts-martial.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project said Wednesday the courts-martial held in secret were "a mockery of justice" and ignored issues raised by the condemned men that "suggest lack of transparency, accountability and general deficiencies" in the handling of the security budget and arms purchases.
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Project director Adetokunbo Mumuni said they have appealed for an intervention from five special U.N. rapporteurs who deal with arbitrary executions, cruel punishment, promotion of truth and justice and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
"It is not right or fair to try everyone in mass proceedings, and that such an unfair trial should send someone to the gallows," Mumuni said in a statement. He said the mass death sentences breach the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which limit the circumstances in which a state can impose the death penalty.
Defense attorney Femi Falana has charged the group of 54 was convicted because they embarrassed Nigeria's military by demanding weapons to fight extremists. He also said the soldiers were justified in not going on what he said would have been a suicidal mission.
Nigerian soldiers have complained to The Associated Press that the country's home-grown Boko Haram insurgents are better equipped than they, that officers steal some of their salaries, and that some soldiers are colluding with the extremists.
This week the former chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Onyeabor Azubuike Ihejirika, filed a lawsuit against Australian hostage negotiator, Stephen Davis for naming him among alleged sponsors of Boko Haram. Ihejirika is demanding 100 billion naira (about $555 million) in aggravated damages. Davis could not immediately be reached for comment.