Emmanuel Onwubiko: How far did Army, police, others go in 2019
It is again that time of the year when members of the human family are busy analyzing how far and how well the passing year 2019 has impacted on their collective wellbeing and indeed contributed significantly to the advances in technology, human relations, constitutional democracy, peace and harmony in their specific communities.
In Nigeria, the year 2019 has seen the good, the bad and the very ugly even as the nation has witnessed some of the ugliest side of life with very specific reference to the upsurge in all kinds of oddities in the area of criminality such as the beastly mass killings of the members of different communities by a combination of freelance armed hoodlums including but certainly not limited to armed herdsmen and those nefarious characters that politicians have chosen to identify only as armed bandits.
The year under critical review has seen the beast in the Nigerian police with serial extralegal executions of suspects in their detention facilities and the worst acts of depravity and criminality such as open brigandry and armed robbery by policemen identified as special anti-robbery squad otherwise known as SARS.
One of such police extra-judicial execution is the mindless execution of a young football fan in Lagos when some rogue elements known as SARS invaded the football viewing center in Lagos and shot and killed at close range the only son of the Lagos struggling family.
There have been several instances of enforced disappearances by the police. The Department of State Services which is legally called States Security Services is accused of harbouring and detaining citizens for prolonged periods of time extralegally just as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is another mindless abuser of human rights by way of prolonged extralegal detention of suspected fraudsters who by way of constitutionalism are innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law. Recently, a man walked into the courtroom from the underground dungeon of the EFCC where he was reportedly locked up for a year. However, the Nigerian police force reached a new height of infamy in the cases of extralegal killings.
One of such happened in Port Harcourt, Rivers state and as reported, the 28-year-old woman from Bayelsa State, Mrs. Chidinma Robinson, had to call on the Inspector-General of Police to intervene in the sudden disappearance of her husband, Mr. Imonima Robinson, from the custody of the IGP Monitoring Team in Rivers State.
Chidinma told journalists in Port Harcourt on Tuesday that she suspected that her husband had been extra-judicially killed while in the custody of the police after a court ordered his release.
The woman, who clutched her baby, said her husband was arrested on August 1, 2019, in Port Harcourt by the cops, who accused him of being a friend to a wanted kidnapper. Punch newspaper did an excellent job of reporting on this matter. The newspaper showed this young wife and her toddler clutched to her hands amidst sobs whilst briefing the media pleading for the release of her husband whether alive of dead.
She stated that though her husband insisted that he was a businessman and not a kidnapper, the policemen held on to him and transferred him from one station to another until his sudden disappearance at the station of the IGP Monitoring Team in the state.
She maintained that the 33-year-old Imonima was shot in the leg by the cops after the court had ordered that he should be released.
Chidinma stated, “My husband was arrested when he went to buy something on Aggrey Road in Port Harcourt. He was later transferred to the Divisional Police Station, Old GRA.
“He was again transferred to the Anti-Cultism Unit, Port Harcourt. I went there several times when I got information that he had been moved there. But they did not allow me to see him. There, they handcuffed him to a generator.
“They were asking that I should send N500,000 to them. I told them that I didn’t have such money and that after my husband was arrested, we had not been feeding well. They later transferred him to the IGP Monitoring Team’s office in Aluu. When I got there, they had already shot him in the leg.
“Since that time, I have not seen my husband. I learnt that he had been killed. We have been looking for him; we can’t find him. I am calling on the IGP to tell his men to please produce my husband. If they have killed him, they should show me his corpse.”
The lawyer to the family, Mr. Godwin Omereji, confirmed that the family had taken the matter to court and got an order for Imonima’s release.
Omereji expressed dissatisfaction that the police disregarded the court order for Imonima’s release and demanded that the businessman be released from police custody dead or alive.
The lawyer also demanded that the Commander of the IGP Monitoring Team in the state should be prosecuted in the interest of justice.
He stated, “No matter the gravity of the crime that Imonima Robinson allegedly committed, he is still presumed innocent by the constitution, and this constitutional presumption of innocence encapsulated in Section 36 (5) of the Nigerian Constitution (as amended), 1999, remains until a court of competent jurisdiction adjudges him guilty.
“Our law does not provide for jungle justice and also the law establishing the Nigeria Police Force does not empower the police to be the accuser, investigator, prosecutor, judge and executioner at the same time.”
When contacted, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Nnamdi Omoni, said he was not aware of the matter and Chidinma and the family’s lawyer to visit his office.
However, there is a cause for joy especially amongst us in the civil society and human rights community with regards to some remarkable improvements in the human right rating of the Nigerian Army this year.
Hitherto, the Army got a lot of criticisms in the past for poor human rights records.
But due to a rash of policies and initiatives done by the chief of Army staff lieutenant General Tukur Buratai and his competent management even his die-hard critics have applauded the improving human right records of this institution of the Army and it is hoped that they would sustain these good works that have catapulted the Army to the lofty height of the PERSON OF THE YEAR 2019.
The Army in this year under review did the unthinkable by launching internal military operations in different parts of Nigeria in aid of the regular police and apart from forensically confronting armed bandits and hoodlums, the Nigerian Army has distinguished itself as a wonderful socially responsible corporate body to such an extent that Tafawa Balewa university in Bauchi state will not forget the good gestures done by the Army this year.
On Monday, August 5, 2019, as captured by a writer in the media, the students and entire staff of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, were thrown into mourning, following the death of three students after a bridge collapsed on the main campus in Gubi, Ganjuwa Local Government Area.
Seven other students were alleged to have sustained various degrees of injuries in the incident.
The Gubi campus says the report, is one of the two campuses of the university. It is situated on Kano Road, about 20 kilometres from the Bauchi metropolis and five kilometres from the Bauchi Operations Command Headquarters of the Nigerian Air Force and the Sir Abubaka Tafawa Balewa International Airport. The presence of both establishments makes the Gubi area a beehive of activities.
On that fateful Monday, as recalled by the media practitioner who witnessed it, there was a downpour, which started at 6pm and lasted several hours. Many students were on campus at that time preparing for the first semester examinations. After the rain subsided, some of the students decided to rush to their hostels.
Eyewitnesses said that as the students hurried to reach their respective hostels, in order not to be caught in the rain again, the metal fabricated bridge, which linked the academic area and the hostels caved in, so the newspaper disclosed in a clinically written piece.
The incident, which occurred at 11.45pm, was due to the heavy traffic on the bridge. Many of the students fell into the river underneath the bridge and the current swept them away. Those who could swim survived, while the others hung on to tree branches for safety till help came much later. We must admit that there is a failure on the part of first responders. This is because there was no sign that National Emergency Management Agency intervened or Did anything close to carrying out their mandate.
The newspaper narrated that the following day, it was rumored that many students had lost their lives in the incident.
This the journalist observed threw the entire university community into confusion. Parents, guardians and relatives, whose loved were on the campus at the time the incident occurred, were also agitated and confused. Immediately, a search and rescue operation began.
The Management of the university immediately summoned an emergency Senate meeting to discuss the development. Shortly afterwards, the Vice-chancellor, Prof Mohammed Abdulazeez, in a meeting with journalists, confirmed that three students died as a result of the incident, while seven others were injured.
Consequently, he announced the closure of the university, just as he reportedly added that the bodies of the deceased had been recovered.
The dead students were identified as Joseph Akoh Isah (100 level), Blessing Godfrey (200 level) and Salmat Akpaojo (200 level).
They were all students of the Department of Business Education and Management Studies.
The students who protested had accused the management of not listening to pleas for replacement of metal bridge. One of the students said to a media practitioner thus: “The management has been insensitive to our needs. We wrote several letters requesting the construction of a better bridge for us because the metal bridge was not good and safe enough. But nothing happened. If the management had listened to our pleas and done the needful, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Also as noted by the journalist, the National Association of Nigerian Students President, Danielson Akpan, at a briefing held in Bauchi, said the ugly incident could have been avoided if the management of the institution had responded to complaints from the Students Union Government regarding the deplorable condition of the bridge. Succour came their way in torrents from a very unexpected quarter- The Nigerian Army.
The Nigerian Army, decided to construct a standard bridge over the river. The United Bank for Africa also promised to build another bridge and an access road in another location on the main campus of the university says the reporter of Punch newspaper who has professionally reported on this human angle matter.
The media reported the Bauchi State Government as pledging to construct a road network within the campus.
AS narrated by the media, more than three months after, most of the promises have not been fulfilled. Only the Nigerian Army kept to its pledge to rebuild the collapsed bridge. The Army has become a PROMISE KEEPER.
The media reports that the new bridge was constructed by the 43 Army Engineering Brigade, Jos, within two months. The Commander of the brigade, Brigadier-general Briggs, said the bridge was designed to contain up to 60 tonnes at a time.
He disclosed that he received a directive from the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-general Tukur Buratai on September 15, 2019 to commence the construction of the bridge and the engineers were mobilised to the site on September 20.
“After the directive, we mobilised here on the 20th September with a view to constructing a bridge that will last for a minimum of 50 years. It is a class 60 bridge, which can carry two armoured tanks at a time without collapsing,” he stated.
Also, Buratai, who inaugurated the bridge, on November 25, 2019, said the new bridge was meant to address the plight of the students.
Buratai who was represented by the Commander of the Armour Corps, Bauchi, Major-general James Akomolafe, charged the university community, especially the students, on the need to embark on academic research in different fields in order to keep the memories of the three students who lost their lives during the unfortunate incident alive.
Army chief also urged the management of the university to ensure that the bridge was properly used and adequately maintained.
The vice-chancellor, who could not hide his feelings, praised the Army for keeping to its promise and thanked various corporate bodies and individuals for supporting the university in its trying moments.
Nigerian Army engineers also fixed a portion of a failed federal highway in the South East of Nigeria and executed multimillion Naira worth of corporate social responsibility in the soon to end OPERATION EGWU ATILOGWU in the South East of Nigeria. The Army swept Ojualegba in Lagos.
Clearly, if the Nigerian Army should maintain this tempo, I’m sure we will return to the good old days when most school children were dreaming of enlisting in the Nigerian Army because of the childhood fantasy about a highly professional Army. Nigerians await that day.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.huriwanigeria.com;www.