Soldier on death row for murder freed by supreme court after 12 years in prison

The Supreme Court has discharged and acquitted Akawu Bala, a sergeant in the Nigerian Army, who had been accused of murder. 

 

Bala had been imprisoned in Kaduna since 2012, following a death sentence issued by a general court-martial for allegedly shooting a man identified as Isa Mohammed with an AK-47 rifle on December 9, 2012. Mohammed died the next day at Saint Gerald’s Catholic Hospital in Kaduna.

 

Bala was originally found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging under Section 106 of the Armed Forces Act 2014. However, on February 17, 2017, the Kaduna Court of Appeal overturned the death penalty, citing that the charge sheet was not signed by a General Officer Commanding (GOC) as required by law, rendering the trial and conviction null.

 

Despite this ruling, the court did not order Bala’s release, prompting him to appeal to the Supreme Court on March 16, 2017. Bala’s lawyer, Reuben Atabo, argued that since the trial was declared null, Bala should have been discharged. Atabo also highlighted Section 193 of the Armed Forces Act 2014, which prohibits retrial after a voided trial.

 

The Nigerian Army, represented by Isaac Udoka, opposed this and sought a retrial. However, the Supreme Court, in a judgment delivered by a five-member panel led by Justice Helen Ogunwumiju, upheld Bala’s discharge, stating that under Section 193 of the Armed Forces Act 2014, he could not be retried for the same offences. The court ordered Bala’s immediate release from Kaduna prison.

 

Bala maintained that he acted in self-defence, claiming he fired at Mohammed and another person in the dark during a period of heightened Boko Haram attacks. He asserted that he had instructed them to stop, but they continued advancing towards him, causing him to fear for his safety.

 

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