Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has refuted the alleged illegal detention of two of its personnel and the plot to kill them over the mismanagement of funds that was credited to a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) under the aegis of the Movement for Social Justice and Care (MSJC) and published by some online news portals.
The NAF said yesterday that it had become necessary to ensure that the discerning public was not left with a distorted impression of situation.
The Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, in a statement, noted that the matter was before a court martial.
The statement reads in part: “The attention of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has been drawn to some spurious, baseless and unsubstantiated allegations being made in some online news media as well as by an organisation known as Movement for Social Justice and Care (MSJC) claiming that there was a plot to murder two NAF personnel currently standing trial before a Special Court Martial (SCM) in Makurdi for misappropriation of funds and that the NAF authorities have continued to detain the airmen illegally under the guise of the SCM,” it said.
The NAF affirmed that “the insinuation that the two personnel, Master Warrant Officer Micheal Oyebanji and Warrant Officer Paul Atteh, ‘were detained after they set up a multipurpose cooperative society to service soldiers and interested civilians outside of the Nigeria Air Force to the disdain of their superior’, is not true.
“The cooperative society in question was not set up by the duo alone but was initially set up by 35 Base Services Group (BSG), now 151 BSG, in 2014 where the duo and two commissioned officers were among the executive members,” the statement said.
It further noted that “MWO Oyebanji was the Vice President while WO Paul Atteh was the Treasurer. In 2017, the cooperative started experiencing a downward trend due to alleged mismanagement of funds as it could not meet its financial obligations to its members who are largely serving NAF personnel.
“In 2019, a Board of Inquiry (BOI) was convened to investigate the alleged fraud, which subsequently led to the constitution of the SCM. The insinuation that they were cleared by an investigation is also not true as an SCM would not have been convened if prima facie case of misappropriation had not been established”.
The NAF spokesperson further explained that the SCM, which was reconstituted on January 7, 2020, to try the case had continued with its sittings until April 3, 2020, when it suspended its proceedings due to the national lockdown occasioned by the spread of COVID-19 pandemic disease. The SCM resumed sitting on July 13, 2020.
He maintained that the “endless adjournments” alluded to by the petitioners were not caused by the prosecution but rather by the defence counsel, whom while taking briefs from other clients across the country in addition to involvement in other civil court engagements, caused the delay in the timely completion of the SCM.
“It is pertinent to mention that since inception of the SCM, the family members, especially the spouses of the accused, have never been denied access to their loved ones. It is also noteworthy that the two accused personnel were granted bail by the SCM but could not meet their bail conditions, which necessitated their continued stay in the NAF’s custody.
“The counsel to the accused had subsequently filed a suit at the Federal High Court Makurdi against the NAF but the case was struck out for lack of merit (as contained in the attached documents). It is clear from the foregoing that the allegations against the NAF are merely a smear campaign aimed at tainting the sterling reputation of the service,” the statement said.
Daramola said that the NAF, as a highly disciplined and professional force, would not tolerate or condone violation of human rights of any individual, much less the rights of its own personnel.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Navy yesterday debunked claims in a trending video alleging maltreatment of one Seaman, Haruna Goshit (a naval rating) by a senior officer.
In the viral video, the said naval rating stated how he was unjustly maltreated by a superior senior naval officer.
The navy asserted that in line with global best practices, the military high command had commenced investigation on the viral video with a view to unraveling the true state of affairs.