The appellate court, in a unanimous judgment of a three-man panel, led by Justice Abubakar Datti Yahaya, voided the proceedings leading to the conviction and sentence.
The Court of Appeal was of the view that Major General was denied fair hearing in the trial process.
The judgment, given on April 18, 2019 is on an appeal, marked: CA/A/791/2017 which arose from four interlocutory rulings and the judgment by the Court Martial, which sat at the Army Headquarters Garrison, Mogadishu Cantonment, Asokoro, Abuja.
The Special Military Court Martial, led by Air Vice Marshal (AVM), Gbum (NAF/1366), gave the rulings and judgment on July 11, 2016; November 1, 2016; April 25, 2017 and July 20, 2017.
The Court of Appeal, while allowing the appeal by Maj. Gen. Sani, said: “The proceedings and judgment of the special court martial in respect of charge No: NA/COAS/GI/39/16 filed before the lower Special Court Martial was set aside.
“An order is made for the retrial of the charges against the appellant by another Special Court Martial.”
Mahmud Magaji (SAN), who led the appellant’s legal team, said: “By this decision, setting aside the judgment of the Special Court Martial, the proceedings, conviction and sentence of the court never existed in the eyes of the law.
“They are null and void. Therefore, the Nigerian Army is obligated to obey the judgment by restoring the appellant to his rank as a Major General with all his benefits and entitlements in the Nigerian Army.”
Maj. Gen. Sani was arraigned on July 4, 2016 on a nine-count charge bordering on service property, making of false documents and cheating punishable under sections 56(2), 66(a), 90(a) and 113(3) of the Armed Forces Act (AFA), CAP A20, LFN, 2004.
The charge was in relation to his alleged role in the management of a large parcel of land allocated to the Nigerian Army in Asokoro, Abuja.
He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment and in the course of the arraignment; count 9 was struck out for being duplication of count 3.
At the close of the prosecution’s case, the appellant made a no-case submission in respect of all the remaining 8 counts.
The Court Martial, in a ruling on the no-case submission, struck out count 5 on the grounds that the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case linking the appellant with the alleged act of cheating or unlawfully obtaining N15million from one Brigadier General Koko Essien.
In the course of the trial, the appellant made interlocutory applications both orally and formally, challenging the jurisdiction of the Special Court Martial on the basis of contravention of section 36 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the competence of its President and a member and other issues relating to the right to fair hearing, which the court rejected.
The applications included that of July 11, 2016, where Maj. Gen Sani raised the issue of likelihood of bias and denial of his right to fair hearing under section 36(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) if his trial continued before the Special Court Martial convened by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. T.Y Buratai (N/7630), which the court rejected.
In a ruling on April 25, 2017 the court ordered the Maj. Gen. Sani to front-load the evidence of all his witnesses, mid-way into his defence, and refused appellant’s application for certified true copy (CTC) of the said ruling.
On July 20, 2017, the Court Martial, particularly the Judge Advocate, dismissed defendant’s motion, challenging its jurisdiction to try him, because two members of the Court Martial – the President, AVM J.M. Gbum (NAF/1366) and a member, AVM A.A. Iya (NAF/1429) – were due for retirement and therefore, incompetent to sit as members of the Court Martial.
On July 20, 2017 the Court Martial gave its judgment in which it found Maj. Gen. Sani guilty on counts 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8, and sentenced him to a reduction in rank from Major General to Brigadier General, but discharged him of the charges in counts 5 and 9.
The Court Martial equally made a consequential order of restitution directing the appellant to pay N7m to Col. 0. Idoniboye-Obu; N10m to Col. M. O. Ihanuwaze and N6m to Col. O. P. Sintatali in relation to counts 6, 7 and 8.
The Nigerian Army Council later confirmed the judgment by a letter of confirmation titled: “Third Army Council decision from implementation Maj. Gen. I. Sani (N7361),” dated 20th October 2017; and another letter titled: “Third Army Council decision from implementation Maj. Gen. I. Sani (N7361),” dated 17th November 2017 by Maj. Gen. Agugo, communicating the decision to relevant authorities of the Nigerian Army.
Maj. Gen. Sani, by a notice of appeal, filed on the March 3, 2018 challenged the rulings of the Court Martial, delivered on July 11, 2016; November 1, 2016; April 25, 2017 and July 20, 2017 and the final judgement equally given July 20, 2017.
On appeal, the appellant formulated six issues bordering on lack of jurisdiction and denial of fair hearing among others, for determination from the fourteen grounds in the notice of appeal.
The Court of Appeal, in the judgment delivered on April 18, 2019, determined the appeal based on issues two and three, which relates to denial of fair hearing.
The Court of Appeal held that the entire proceedings of the Special Court were conducted in a manner that breached and denied the appellant his right to fair hearing.
It held that there is merit in the appeal and allowed it.
The Court of Appeal said: “The proceedings and judgment of the special court martial in respect of charge No: NA/COAS/GI/39/16 filed before the lower Special Court martial was set aside.
“An order is made for the retrial of the charges against the appellant by another Special Court Martial.