Supreme Court Acquits Army Sergeant From Death Sentence 


The Supreme Court of Nigeria on Friday, June 28, 2024, discharged and acquitted a military personnel, Sergeant Akawu Bala from death a sentence imposed on him by the General Court Martial of the Nigerian Army.

The five member panel of Justices of the Supreme Court led by Justice Ogunwumiju invoked section 193 of the Nigerian Armed Forces Act 2014 and set Sergeant Bala free and held that the ordinary meaning of section 193 of the Armed Forces Act 2014 is that the accused person can no longer stand another trial.

Other members of the Supreme Court panel included; Justices Uwani Musa Abba Aji, Chidiebere Nwaoma Uwa, Stephen Jonah Ada and Abubakar Sadiq Umar.

The Apex Court equally rejected the arguments of the Counsel to the Nigerian Army and ordered the immediate release of Sergeant Bala who had spent 12 years in Kaduna prison awaiting the confirmation of his death.

Respite came the way of Sergeant Bala following the delivering of the judgment in an appeal he lodged at the Supreme Court on March 16, 2017 which a five-member panel of Justices of the apex Court unanimously discharged him from the death penalty.

Sergeant Bala was accused and sentenced by the Nigerian Army for shooting one Isa Mohammed with an AK47 gun on December 9, 2012 when he was attached to African Petroleum Station at Sabon Tasha, Kaduna.

Isa Mohammed was believed to have died on December 10, 2012 at Saint Gerald’s Catholic Hospital in Kaduna.

As a result of the incident, Sergeant Bala was put on trial on murder charge punishable under section 106 of the Armed Forces Act 2014 before the General Court Martial on two-count charge.

The General Court Martial found Bala guilty of murder and accordingly sentenced him to death by hanging.

But, on February 17, 2017, Bala’s appeal against the death penalty was turned down by the Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division on the ground that the charge sheet upon which he was tried and convicted was not signed by a General Officer Commanding as required by law.

Justice Obietonbara Daniel Kalo, who read the lead judgement of the Court of Appeal, held that the process of the trial and conviction of Sergeant Bala was a nullity but, refused to discharge him from the nullified trial which led to his appealing to the Supreme Court.

His Counsel, Mr Reuben Okpanachi Atabo, SAN, had argued on behalf of the convict that having declared the trial of his client, a nullity, the Court of Appeal ought to have made a consequential order to discharge the accused person from the flawed trial.

Atabo therefore drew the attention of the Supreme Court to section 193 of the Armed Forces Act 2014 which prohibited retrial of any military personnel after his trial has been voided and set aside.

The Nigerian Army through its Counsel, Isaac Udoka vehemently opposed and objected to the arguments of the defence and urged the Supreme Court to order the retrial of the convict in the interest of justice.

But, in the Supreme Court judgment in the appeal marked SC/889/2017, Justice Ogunwumiju agreed with Counsel to Sergeant Bala, Mr Atabo SAN that the Court of Appeal ought to have discharged the accused person having voided his trial and declared it a nullity.

The defendant, Sergeant Bala had told the Court that he fired the gun shot at Isa Mohammed and one other person when they were walking towards him in the dark at the African Petroleum Station and stressed that his order to them to go back was rebuffed which left him with no option than to fire at them before they could capture him

Bala said that he fired the gun at the two men because it was during the peak of Boko Haram activities in Kaduna during which they were walking towards him in the dark which was a dangerous situation.

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