Awka – The International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law is strongly calling for immediate discharge and acquittal of those paraded recently by the Nigerian Army, 82 Division in Enugu and its satellite formations, including the 34 Artillery Brigade, Owerri and the 302 Artillery Regiment, Onitsha.
To be released unconditionally, too, the group said, are others abducted and presently languishing in illegal Army and police cells numbering over 30.
Nine out of the total 33 persons arrested by the Nigerian Army, have been arraigned and remanded, with the allegation that they are ‘IPOB/ESN terrorists and murderers who recently killed soldiers and innocent civilians in Orlu, Imo State’.
The Army had further claimed that they were arrested with rifles and Biafra insignias in Orlu and environs.
The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Imo State, Barr Cyprian Akaolisa, had corroborated the Army report by saying that ‘among the arrested were pastors of white garment churches who harbored the hoodlums.’
But Emeka Umeagbalasi and Comrade Samuel Kamanyaoku, in a statement on Sunday, on behalf of the International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law, said independent investigation by the group shows that most of the paraded persons are innocent and defenseless citizens abducted in their homes, church sanctuaries and other quiet places in Orlu, Njaba, Orsu and Oru Eastern Local Government Areas of Imo State and some parts of Ihiala and Nnewi South Local Government Areas of Anambra State.
“The persons paraded include Christian clerics of the African Instituted Churches-a branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and some mentally challenged citizens. The abducted and paraded included nine persons secretly arraigned last week Friday, 19th Feb 2021 at the Magistrate Court 16 in Owerri, Imo State, labeled ‘murderers of soldiers in Orlu’ and remanded in Prison or Correctional custody.
“Apart from the fact that the abducted and paraded citizens are not subject of the military necessity or non rival field combatants, their abduction, parading and criminal labeling was also done on the grounds of their religion and ethnicity. Abducting, parading and arraigning mentally challenged persons for heinous offense of murder, is a height of jungle justice and trial by ordeal and clearly offends the hallowed principles guiding Actus Reu and Mens Rea in criminal investigation and prosecution. It is also abuse of judicial process and a further indication that no form of criminal and medical investigation was conducted on them,” he said.
The group accused the Attorney General of Imo State and Commissioner for Justice, Barr Akaolisa, of gravely misrepresenting facts by saying that among the arrested were pastors of white garment churches who harbored the hoodlums.
“As a matter of fact, whoever that holds forth as the Attorney General of Imo State and Commissioner for Justice under whom such unpardonable blunder was committed is unfit to continue in office. Among the mentally challenged persons abducted, paraded, arraigned and remanded in Prison are Citizens Amuche Oguaju and Ambrose Ibeanuka. Citizen Amuche Oguaju was a 200 Level Zoology Student of the Imo State University, Owerri who dropped out because of his mental illness. He was subsequently admitted at a Psychiatric Hospital in Owerri from where he was referred to a spiritual healing center run by the House of Prayer International Covenant Church in Okporo-Orlu where he was responding to treatment before his abduction by soldiers in the early morning of on 22nd Jan 2021. Citizen Ambrose Ibeanuka, on his part, is an elderly man in his seventies and a mentally challenged person. He was also receiving treatment at the same House of Prayer International Covenant Church before he was abducted same date and time by soldiers.
“Also abducted same day at the church were the Presiding Priest, Pastor Paulinus Izuchukwu Offor and seven others namely: Johnson Francis, Izuchukwu Osuzuigbo, Chigozie Onyekaigwe, Obi Nzubechukwu Daniel, Chukwudi Chukwubueze, Ezenwa Chisindi and Emmanuel Chiadi. Citizen Johnson Francis and six others were later granted police bail at the Imo State CID, Owerri after forced payment of hundreds of thousands of naira as bail fees and out of the freed seven, four were hired building laborers working on a new church building of the Church scheduled for dedication later in the year,” it revealed.
The group continued; “The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barr Cyprian Akaolisa, must discontinue and step down. This call of ours is hinged on his recent promotion of the globally rejected and atrocious practices of jungle justice and trial by ordeal. Apart from rubbishing and making mockery of his professional title of ‘Barrister at Law and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria’, he misrepresented facts and disappointedly lowered and impeached the Hallowed Principles of nemo judex in causa sua and audi alteram partem.”
Intersociety said it has investigated further and found that over 12 pastors and 25 church elders, mostly of the African Instituted Churches, were abducted in their homes or church sanctuaries and labeled harbourers of hoodlums.
“Their abduction took place in some communities in Orlu, Njaba, Oru East and Orsu Local Government Areas in Imo State and some parts of Ihiala and Nnewi South Local Government Areas in Anambra State. Some of the affected communities include Ubokoro-Atta, Okporo, Uda Orsuihiteukwa and Okwudor in Imo State and Orsumoghu, Lilu and Ukpor in Anambra State and mong the pastors abducted and paraded is Pastor Chigozie Nwaka, Presiding Priest of Our Lord’s Sabbath Church in Atta Community, Njaba Local Government Area. In all, not less than 50 defenseless citizens were abducted by soldiers and there are unconfirmed reports that scores of civilians including about seven farmers were killed during the Army siege and attacks,” it said.
The Rights group also described the appointment of Northern Muslims as Commanders of Army formations in Igboland, as fueling killings and abductions.
“It is no longer hidden that the Nigerian Army is now being used to kill, abduct and rape defenseless citizens on the grounds of their religion and ethnicity. A clear case in point was Obigbo in Rivers State where the Nigerian Army deceptively claimed to be embarking on ‘secular and professional military operation targeting criminal citizens’ but ended up perpetrating mass murders and unspeakable acts of torture, abduction, rape and disappearances. This is to the extent of abducting over 400 defenseless citizens, out of which over 390 have been traced and serially raping scores of abducted women in its captivity.
“Intersociety has therefore statistically investigated and found that appointment of Northern Muslims as senior Army commanders in Igbo Land is fueling killings and abductions targeted at innocent and defenseless Igbo population. For instance, the present Commander of the 34 Brigade in Owerri, Imo State is Brigadier- General Ibrahim Tukura. The Commander of the 14 Brigade in Ohafia, Abia State is Brigadier General M. Ibrahim. The Commander of the 63 Brigade in Asaba, Delta State is Brig Gen A. Idris and the Cantonment Commandant of 302 Artillery Regiment in Onitsha, Anambra State is Col Abdulsalam Abubakar Sambo.
“These are not only just to mention but few but also to expose the ethno-religious motives behind the Army invasion of Orlu and environs and abduction and parading of defenseless citizens including Christian clerics and mentally challenged persons,” it said.