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Danger Alert! 22 Arrested Naval Officers Whereabouts Sparks Off Row * Rights Group Raises Alarm

A civil society group,  The Centre Against Impunity, has raised the danger alert over  the illegal arrest and unlawful detention of 22 sacked Naval officers by the Nigerian Navy.

In a  statement issued in Lagos on Thursday and signed by its scribe, Comrade Shina Loremikan, the group  said the 22 people were sacked, arrested and detained illegally by the navy.

“After the dismissal of one Captain Labinjo and Lt Commander Ibe Lambert and the 20 others, the armed force was ordered by a federal high court and the Supreme Court to reinstate  the victims.

“However, the naval authorities have refused to obey the court orders.

“The Nigerian Navy rather than comply with the said order of release surreptitiously removed all the detainees to an unknown location,” the group reported in the statement.

The names of the detainees are  Captain D.O Labinjo,  Lt. Commander Sherifat Ibe Lambert, Segun Yusuf, Benjamin Gold, Petter Pulle, Pius Paul, Onoja Reuben, Adeleke Adewale, Labinjo Kehinde, Ogunmoyero Oluwaseun, Emmanuel Oputa, and Innocent Sunday, Lejoro Friday.

Others are Hamza Yakubu, Master Melvin Jack, Chief Mate Adebayo Mayowa, Chief Mate Francis Onyema, Engr Godwill Umoh, Bosin Miebaka Iyala, Edu Fidelis, Richard David, and Daniel Harrison.

Submitting that  it was  acting  for and on behalf of the detained persons and their distraught families to bring to the fore the injustice meted to the officers, the group said  the  dismissal  of the officers was held unlawful by the federal high court of Nigeria and both Captain D O Labinjo and Lt Commander Ibe Lambert were ordered to be reinstated.

It added that the Nigerian Navy appealed the decision up to the appeal court and the Supreme Court  but lost.

“Rather than comply with the lawful order of the court as affirmed by both the court of appeal and the Supreme Court, the Nigerian Navy resorted to self-help with the sole aim of denying them the fruit of their judgment.” the statement read in part.

The group further alleged that the naval authority began a systemic and deliberate physical, emotional and psychological attacks on Labinjo, his wife, children, friends, and businesses.

“The arrest and detention were effected by an ex parte order from a magistrate’s court. However, after three months and the magistrate being made aware of the true fact of the case, the said magistrate court vacated the order of arrest and detention and ordered the release of all the detainees forthwith,”

The detainees, the statement reiterated, had approached the court for an order enforcing their fundamental rights which according to the group was granted with the court directing the Nigerian Navy to release the detainees.

Raising the alarm over the uncertainties of the state of the detainees, however,  the human right group  said they  have been denied access to their solicitors, doctors and family members and that the denial by the Naval Authority of the whereabouts of these detainees raises grave concern for their safety and well-being.

Lamenting  the development, the group said It is sad that in a democracy, Nigerian citizens could be detained for almost a year without bail or trial contrary to the provision of the constitution, declaring that one  is bound, therefore, to ask why the Nigerian Navy is refusing to obey the order of the federal high court, direct the release of all these Nigerian citizens since the Nigerian Navy is not  above the constitution.

Giving  a background to the dilemma of the officers, The Centre Against Impunity narrates that in 2001, Labinjo and his wife were indicted and charged before a general court-martial. They were tried and convicted for the offence of disobedience of orders contrary to Section 57  of the Armed Forces Decree No 105 of 1993; conduct prejudicial to good order and service discipline contrary to Section 103 (1) of the Armed Forces Decree No 105 of 1993; scandalous conduct contrary to Section 91 of the Armed Forces Decree No 105 of 1999 all as amended.

In response to his being brought before the court-martial, he applied to the Federal High Court in Lagos, asking for a review of the composition of the court-martial.

On May 3, 2004, the court granted him his appeal and ordered his reinstatement. It ruled that the conviction by the court-martial was “null and void”.

On May 30, 2004, the Navy filed an appeal to the court of appeal in Lagos.

On May 12, 2005, the court of appeal struck out the case for  “want of diligent prosecution”.

The counsel to the Navy failed to show up in the court on the day the judgment was struck out.

On June 1, 2012, the Supreme Court, led by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, unanimously ruled that the case brought by the Navy had no merit.

Onnoghen had said in his lead judgment that the lower court whose judgment the navy sought to set aside, was rightly struck out .

~~ femi Adepoju

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