Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka has described the demotion of Brigadier-General Eniitan Ransome-Kuti to the rank of Colonel by the Nigerian Army Council as unwarranted humiliation.
Soyinka spoke Sunday ?during a press conference titled ‘Justice At Bay: The Long, Twisted Road to Ese’, which he jointly hosted with Femi Falana, human rights lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
He stated that full justice ought to be done since the embattled senior officer has been acquitted on all the counts for which he was charged in the first place.
which quashed his early conviction by a Special Court Martial.
“I think full justice should be done. He (Ransome-Kuti) has been acquitted eventually on all the counts for which he was charged in the first place. So, why the stain at the end of supposed conveyance of justice? Why the stain of reduction in his rank and the humiliation?” Soyinka said.
According to the literary icon, “there is nothing worse for a serving soldier, than for him to be demoted. It amounts to an unwarranted humiliation. So we are appealing to the military command and to the president to restore this man to his rank.”
Ransome-Kuti, 52, was arrested in January 2015 and tried by a Special Court Martial over a three count charge of cowardly behaviour, failure to perform military duties, and miscellaneous offences relating to military property, while serving as Commander of a Joint Multinational Task Force in Baga, Borno State.
The first count of cowardly behaviour was later struck out by the military court, but Ransome-Kuti was found guilty of the other two counts: earning him a dismissal from the army and six months imprisonment.
Ransome-Kuti was charged alongside Colonel O.C Ajunwa, his chief of staff; Lieutenant-Colonel G.A Suru, Multi-National Joint Task Force Garrison Commander; Lieutenant-Colonel Haruna, Commanding Officer of 134 Battalion; and Major Aliyu, Commanding Officer of 174 Battalion.
But Ransome-Kuti was the only one convicted. This prompted his lawyer, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, to write the Defence Minister.
In his letter he described Ransome-Kuti’s conviction and sentence as “fundamentally wrong, unjust, and illogical”.
According to Falana, who was also at the Sunday’s media briefing, he noted that while his client was convicted, his co-defendants who were Commanding Officers were discharged and acquitted.
He then requested for a dispassionate review of the case and urged the minister to set aside the finding and sentence of the military court against Ransome-Kuti in the interest of justice.
“This is most desirable because the prosecution did not prove that it was the responsibility of our client to personally coordinate troops and assets of HQ MNJTF to repel the Boko Haram insurgents attack on HQ MNJTF in view of the fact that the troops and assets were under the command of their respective commanding officers,” he stated.
He added “Of interest is the fact that our client who had no direct control of the troops and assets was found guilty while his subordinate officers such as the Commanding Officer 134 Battalion, Commanding Officer 174 Battalion, and Garrison Commander MNJTF Garrison who had direct control of the troops and assets were freed.”
But before Falana’s letter could be attended to, the officer had served his six-month jail term.
But for some reasons best known to the army alone, he was not released from their custody.
This forced Falana to threaten a legal action in another letter to the Chief of Army Staff dated 26 February, if his client was not immediately released.
Few days later, the COAS directed that Ransome-Kuti be immediately released from custody.
“This is about the saying that half a loaf is better than none. What the Nigerian Army has done here was the offer half a loaf to the demand of justice,” Soyinka said.
The foremost playwright, who described the whole episode as “a very painful one”, praised Falana for his doggedness over the matter. He said he has been very restrained from commenting on the trial given that Ransome-Kuti is a member of his family.
“I want to thank Femi (Falana) for his doggedness over this matter. I have been reticent to some extent, but active not in public, because General Eniitan Ransome Kuti is my family. It’s been quite a very painful episode. If you recalled that in my last publication ‘The Republic of Liars’, I mentioned that a certain member of my family, in fact not only been in the army but were actually at the forefront confronting Boko Haram. He was the one I was referring to. I must thank Femi for a very lucid articulation of the circumstances of that event that led to his arrest which many people do not know,” he stressed.
Soyinka then appealed to the military high command and to President Muhammadu Buhari to employ the moral courage to do what is right absolutely from start to finish without reducing that mandate of justice.
“Let justice be done to this man, Enitan Ransome-Kuti by restoring the man to his original rank, and also extend justice to other serving military officers who have been at the forefront of our security. We should also remember that this fight against Boko Haram is not for military alone. We better support the military both materially and morally. Let them know and understand that we know the sacrifices they are making for us. So, I repeat we should do justice, a thorough justice,” he said.
The nobel laureate continued, “If we must absolutely jail anyone as a result of this (insurgency) episode, let those thieving Generals take on the sentences of all the innocent officers, in addition to their own. Those who deprived soldiers of the weaponry they needed to execute their humanitarian duties, we should add those sentences to that of the thieving Generals. Let us give this soldiers leniency and absolutely clean their records which must not be besmirched. That’s the essence of justice.”