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Hundreds of Nigeria soldiers face court martial over Boko Haram conflict

Officers and troops in Nigeria are facing court martial for their conduct in the conflict with Islamist terror group Boko Haram in the north of the country. The trials are being held in secret.

Nigerian army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman said 579 officers and troopers were appearing before two courts in Abuja for "quick dispensation of justice, discipline and professionalism."

Usman gave no details of when the trials began but said on Wednesday: "We have about 473 officers and soldiers being tried at the Army Headquarters Garrison and 106 in 81 Division." He did not specify the charges.

A human rights lawyer working on the case, Femi Falana, said the charges included "cowardice, mutiny and disobedience to authorities."

The lawyer called the trials "a travesty." He said they were being held in secret because evidence provided by his clients was a condemnation of Nigeria's military establishment, indicating corrupt officers often divert money meant for salaries and arms.

Falana said the army was making scapegoats of inexperienced soldiers. His clients were aged between 21 and 25 years and had often been sent to fight with minimal training and inadequate weapons.

Falana had defended 54 soldiers sentenced to death last year. Three courts martial condemned a total of 72 soldiers to death by firing squad for alleged cowardice, mutiny, aiding the enemy and other charges related to fighting Boko Haram extremists.

In the cases last year, many of the troops said they had fled the fighting when they ran out of bullets. They complained that the

Boko Haram, Islamist fighters,

were better armed than Nigerian troops.

Falana and other lawyers have appealed to the Federal High Court to overturn the convictions and death sentences imposed last year, arguing the courts martial were unconstitutional as they were not fair trials.

Former military dictator

Muhammadu Buhari takes office

as president next week.

jm/bw (AP, AFP)

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