The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai on Thursday prayed the Federal High Court in Abuja to dismiss a suit seeking to compel him to produce the â€˜missingâ€™ leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu.
A team of lawyers representing the embattled IPOB leader had in the suit, prayed the court to order Buratai to produce their client either dead or alive.
The lawyers who were led by Mr Ifeanyi Ejiofor, told the court that they have not seen or heard from their client since September 14 when the Nigerian Army invaded his house â€œon a murderous raid, where life and mortar bullets were fired on unarmed and defenceless populace, leaving 28 persons dead and abducting manyâ€.
Pursuant to section 40 of the Federal High Court Act, F12, LFN 2005 and Section 6(6) (1) (4) of the 1999 constitution, Kanuâ€™s lawyers applied for â€œan order of Habeas Corpus ad subjiciendum, commanding the respondent (Buratai), to produce the applicant in courtâ€.
But in a counter-affidavit he filed in opposition to the suit, Buratai told the court that Kanu was never in custody of the Nigeria Army. He maintained that contrary to claims in the suit, soldiers who were deployed to the South-East for â€˜Operation Python Dance II, did not have any contact whatsoever with Kanu on September 12 or 14, or anytime thereafter as alleged.
The Chief of Army Staff told the court that the Nigerian Army did not at any time arrest or take Kanu into custody within the period the military operation lasted, even as he denied allegation that soldiers invaded the IPOB leaderâ€™s house in Afara-Ukwu Ibeku, Umuahia, Abia State.
A colonel attached to the Chief of Armyâ€™s office in the Army Headquarters, Abuja, Col. A.A Yusuf, who deposed to the counter-affidavit on behalf of Buratai, said the alleged invasion of Kanuâ€™s house was totally false.
However, the army boss told the court that his men only chased a truck he said was laden with arms and explosives of different kinds, into a compound he said was later discovered to belong to Kanu and his father.
The counter-affidavit read in part, â€œThat the applicant (Kanu) is not and has never been in his custody or in the custody of any person, officer or institution receiving instruction directly or indirectly from him.
â€œThat the applicant was not at any time whatsoever arrested, taken into custody or detained by the Officers and men of the Nigerian Army.
â€œThat the officers and men of the Nigerian Army did not have any contact whatsoever or confrontation or any operational engagement with the applicant on September 12 or 14, 20l7 or any other date thereafter, contrary to the allegations in the affidavit in support of the application.
â€œThat the allegation of invasion of the South-Eastern part of Nigeria by officers and men of the Nigerian Army, especially the applicantâ€™s home and or residence is totally false.â€
He told the court that during â€œa peaceful movementâ€ that formed part of Operation Python Dance II, soldiers, on September 14, pursued a truck loaded with arms and ammunition into a compound which was identified in the suit as jointly owned by Kanu and his father.
He alleged that the fleeing truck and its occupants ran over Aamy barricade and defied soldiersâ€™ order stopping them to be searched.
Buratai insisted that soldiers that chased the truck into Kanuâ€™s house did not fire any shot, saying it was the occupants of the fleeing truck that deliberately ignited the ammunition they were carrying.
â€œThat while on a peaceful movement on the said September 14, 2017, the soldiers randomly conducted stop-and-search operations as are necessary and it was during one of such exercises in Umuahia, Abia State, that it flagged down a truck, which as it turned out later, was loaded with arms and ammunitions of varying degrees and descriptions.
â€œRather than comply with the stop order, the driver and other occupants of the truck recklessly ran over the barricade mounted on the road by the soldiers and sped off, whereupon the soldiers at the point gave a hot chase and called for reinforcement to enable them pursue and arrest the fleeing vehicle. The soldiers did not fire any shot at the fleeing truck in order to prevent the loss of lives.
â€œThat the truck loaded with the arms and ammunition was pursued into a compound which has now been described in this application as belonging to and under the control of the applicant (Kanu) and his father.
â€œThat it was the legitimate attempt by the officers and men of the Nigerian Army to arrest the fleeing occupants of the truck and impound the truck that precipitated the deliberate igniting of the ammunition in the truck by persons now believed to be IPOB members. â€œThat the act of the IPOB members resulted in sporadic explosions within the said applicantâ€™s compoundâ€, the affidavit further stated.
Buratai said his men that participated in the operation, complied with Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct that prohibit any form of human right abuses, denying that they killed scores of IPOB members during the military exercise in the South East.
He said: â€œThroughout the duration of the Operation Python Dance II, officers and men of the Nigerian Army obeyed the Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct to the letter as there was no reported case of indiscriminate shooting, unlawful arrest, detention or torture, contrary to the wild, bland, untrue, incorrect, bogus and insipid allegations contained in or oozed out in the affidavit of Mandela Umegborogu
â€œThe allegations of firing of live bullets on the applicantâ€™s relatives, killing of scores of persons, wounding and arrest of many, attack and invasion of applicantâ€™s home, barricade at Isialangwa, arrest and torture of civilians by officers and me of the Nigerian Army, as stated by the deponent, are a figment of his imagination as same are not true.â€
However, Justice Binta Nyako will commence hearing on the suit on Friday.
The lawyers had in the suit they filed Kanuâ€™s name, told the court that â€œon the 12th September, 2017, the Nigeria soldiers acting under express command handed down by the respondent, violently invaded the applicantâ€™s home in Afara-ukwu Ibeku, Umuahia Abia State, wherein scores of his relative were brutally wounded and many killedâ€.
They further averred: â€œOn 14th day of September, 2017, the Nigerian military led by soldiers of the Nigerian Army invaded the Applicantâ€™s house on a murderous raid, where life and mortar bullets were fired on unarmed and defenseless populace, leaving 28 persons dead and abducting many.
â€œThe applicant, who was in the house during this bloody onslaught by the soldiers, has not been heard from or seen after this bloody attack in his home by the agents of the respondent since the 14th day of September 2017.
â€œThat the invading soldiers in their desperate bid to ensure that the applicant was caught in the attack, climbed stairs to his bedroom upstairs to shoot him; walls of his bedroom were riddled with bullets.
â€œThe invading soldiers who had direct contact with the applicant on this fateful day (14th day of September 2017) should be in a position to produce the applicant before the court. It is either the respondentâ€™s rampaging soldiers abducted the applicant during this raid or must have killed him in the process.â€
Also, in the supporting affidavit that was deposed by Umegborogu, he said that he was told by Kanuâ€™s younger brother, Emmanuel, that on September 12, â€œsoldiers of Nigerian Army, numbering about 200, fully armed to the teeth invaded the residential home of the applicant in Afarauwku- Ibeku, Umuahia, in Abia State.
â€œThat the invading soldiers were deployed to the South-Eastern part of the country by the respondent in a covert operation tagged Operation Python dance II (Egwu eke II), an exercise exclusively under the respondentâ€™s command and control.
â€œThat the soldiers who also drove in a purpose-built sophisticated armoured personnel carrier, fired live bullets on the relatives of the applicant, leaving scores brutally wounded, and arrested many.
â€œThat the said military deployment to the South-East was approved, without any history of arms resistance by the applicantâ€™s members or combatant attacks on military personnel and installation from the civilian populace.
â€œThat during the bloody attack/invasion of the Applicantâ€™s home, scores were killed and others forced to abandon their sleep and run for cover in nearby bushes, which include nursing mothers, pregnant women, children and the aged.
â€œThat on that same day, September 12, dozens of supporters of the applicant who were on a courtesy visit to him, were also barricaded at Isialangwa and tortured on the same day.
â€œThat the applicant was emotionally traumatized and visibly tortured on account of heavy causalities recorded in this unprovoked attack from the invading soldiers.
â€œThat on September 14, the Nigerian soldiers invaded the applicantâ€™s home for the second time, unfortunately on a brutal but murderous raid that left 28 persons were killed and over 48 arrested and taken away to an unknown destination.
â€œThat the applicant was sitting right inside his bedroom when the soldiers invaded his home.
â€œThat the soldiers in their desperate efforts to ensure that the applicant who was their main target was gunned down, climbed the stairs to his bedroom upstairs to shot him.