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OKUAMA KILLINGS: Institute judicial commission of inquiry, SANs urge FG

…Argue CDS, has no power to set up public inquiry

 

Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, and retired judges have called on the Federal Government to institute a judicial commission of inquiry into the March 14 killing of military personnel at Okuama in Ughelli South Local Government of Delta State or ask Delta State government to set one up.

 

This is as the legal luminaries condemned the Board of Inquiry constituted by Defence Headquarters to investigate the incident.

They told the federal government that the correct thing to do was to institute a judicial commission of inquiry into the incident or ask Delta State government to set one up.

Olorogun Albert Akpomudje, SAN, and Life Bencher, former Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State, Uwemedimo Nwoko SAN, and retired President of the Delta State Area Customary Court, Miakpor Emiaso, said the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, did not have the power to set up a public inquiry into the Okuama incident.

Olayiwola Afolabi, SAN, and Chief Magistrate E.O Eferakoro, retd., advised the federal government to order the Army to vacate Okuama.

Akpomudje, the Otota (Prime Minister) of the ancient Olomu Kingdom in Delta State, said in his reaction: “A public inquiry will mean that members of the public will have access to go and say their mind because it is an inquiry. Is that what they have set up? The Chief of Defence Staff does not have those powers.

“It is unknown that an internal inquiry within the army cannot be open to the public. Maybe he can do that just to ascertain some facts.

“However, an inquiry that will touch on how the whole scenario of the killings in Okuama happened is not a matter for the Army to do. We are asking the federal government to set up that inquiry. If not the federal government, then Delta State government.

“Now, on the issue of whether the army has powers to do investigation, well, with the greatest respect, what investigation? Is the military going to investigate itself?

“That is why it is said that you cannot be a judge in your matter; they should leave that to either the federal or the state government to do.

“When it comes to investigation, it is the police that will do it, independent of the component of the police force in the Joint Task Force, JTF, he is talking about a combined team of several security outfits and does not have the jurisdiction and power to conduct the investigation.”

In his comment, Uwemedimo Nwoko SAN, in Uyo, capital of Akwa Ibom State, said: “Yes, 17 soldiers were killed, and the event that occurred was, of serious, consequence but the government should set up the board of inquiry, not the Army, to ensure transparency in that process, it is important.

“The government should set up the board of inquiry itself, not the military because it is an interested party. The Army is already a victim, so they cannot set it up.

“Whatever the federal government is doing must abide by the rule of law. Whether it involves individuals, communities, civil security agencies, or the military, the important thing is that the government must work within the confines of the rule of law.

“So much damage has been done in that community, the government should engage the survivors. It should be able to stop the security pressure from the situation that occurred.

“Secondly, it should find out the extent of damage, how many people have lost their lives, because it was not the militants that killed the soldiers that are suffering; it is innocent people that suffered the brunt that escalated on their heads.

“The government, particularly to manage the environment, should find out how many people died and see what procedure can be adopted to ensure that the place is sanitized.”

In Delta State, retired President of the Delta State Area Customary Court, Miakpor Emiaso, said: “It is not about constitution, we are talking about fairness, canons of natural justice that you cannot be a judge in your case.

“If Defence Headquarters sets up a panel, the panel will have allegiance to Defence Headquarters which may have an overbearing influence over such a panel. Therefore, the outcome of the efforts of that panel would be suspect. We may not get an objective result from the efforts.

“We have suggested that since the military are the ones that are primarily affected by this dastardly act, they should allow an independent body to carry out the investigation.”

Also reacting to the military board of inquiry, Edo-based Olayiwola Afolabi, SAN, asserted: “The federal government should order the military to vacate the place immediately, they should leave the place, they have no right to take over the community. It is wrong.

“The Inspector General of Police should be empowered to take over all arrested suspects, so they can be investigated and then be prosecuted.

“The Attorney General of the Federation has the power to order the military to disband that panel; we are not in a banana republic.

“What the military has done in setting up a board is wrong, it is unlawful because the people concerned are not military officers, it is criminal, you must go to the regular court, there is a Supreme Court decision on this matter, you can only do this if the people involved are military.”

Retired Chief Magistrate E.O Eferakoro in Warri opined: “What the army did cannot be right, they cannot be a judge in their case. The army has questions to answer, so they should leave the investigation to a neutral body like the police.

“The position of the law is that if they do not see dead bodies, it means nobody is missing. Do they have the number of people living in Okuama? You cannot accuse somebody of murder if you cannot bring the physical body. Therefore, if they announced a figure, they should produce the number of dead bodies in a tally. The army is aware of this.

“The first thing Mr. President should have done was set up a judicial commission of inquiry, where all sides, including the army, will appear before it. This judicial commission of inquiry should be set up, let the army come, and give reasons for being in the community.”

The Urhobo Renaissance Society, URS, while reacting to the unfortunate incident said that although killing of the 17 military personnel was lamentable, Okuama people should be allowed to breathe.

Secretary of the group, Dr. John Uwa, said: “So far, the military has pointed accusing fingers at the people of Okuama as the culprits since the mutilated bodies of the soldiers were found floating on the Forcados River which run by Okuama.

“We dare say that this is an allegation which has not been proven by any investigative panel. While the Urhobo people commiserate with the families of the slain soldiers and offer her condolences to the federal government of Nigeria for which the military serves as a symbol of power, we cannot continue to be silent in the face of the deliberate act to wipe Okuama off the face of the earth as embarked upon by the Nigerian Army.

“What is happening at Okuama is a tragic instance of scapegoating intended to destroy an entire community by a military that abandoned the rules of engagement with citizens as enshrined in global best practices. The military has turned its arsenal against the citizens it should be protecting. Okuama has become victim of state violence.

“The premise that the people of Okuama are victims of state malevolence is now glaring to all with the conflicting utterances coming from the peak of the military high command. The Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa, has offered four different narratives on the Okuama incident.”

Meanwhile, the military panel, headed by Air Vice-Marshal David Ajayi, started sitting, Wednesday, in Warri. However, Okuama community, whose leaders and lawyer, said the displaced residents were hiding and suffering in the forests because of the cordon-and-search operation by the Army, rebuffed the hearing.

However, six representatives of Okoloba community in Bomadi Local Government Area, whose boundary dispute with Okuama triggered the tragic episode, appeared before the Ajayi-led board of inquiry on Wednesday afternoon, while officials prevented reporters from covering the proceedings.

 

 

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