ABUJA – The Nigerian Army is yet to comply with the judgment of the Industrial Court, sitting in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, which asked it to pay a soldier, Lance Corporal Zuberu Rafiu, who was wrongly dismissed from the Army after being tortured the sum of nine million naira.
The soldier had gone to court, complaining that he was wrongly accused of being an informant to Boko Haram insurgents in Maiduguri, Borno State, where he was assigned to fight the same insurgents whereupon he was tortured by his superior officers and dismissed from the Army.
The court, ruling in the case which had dragged on since August 2014, directed the Nigerian Army, which is the first defendant, to pay the plaintiff the sum of N9 million within 30 days of the judgment, beginning from May 24, 2017, ending on June 24.
Despite the judgment, the Nigerian Army had neither settled the judgment debt, including the N100,000 against it, nor appealed against the ruling.
The judge also asked the Nigerian Army to reinstate Lance Corporal Zuberu having described his dismissal from the Nigerian Army as unlawful, null and void.
The justice Lifu, in his 20-page judgment, said that the arrest and detention of Lance Corporal Zuberu for nine months, trial and torture for alleged offences of threat to lives of senior military officers and “being informant to Boko Haram insurgents being baseless, unconstitutional and constitutes acts of arbitrariness.”
The judge granted Lance Corporal Zuberu access to tertiary health care facility in Nigerian, where he would be treated and the military authority would pay for his medical bills.
The court further directed the Nigerian Army to defreeze forthwith, the account of the officer which he kept with bank as salary account.
“This judgment in this case shall be satisfied by the defendant (Nigerian Military) within 30 days from today (May 24, 2017) or else it shall attract 10 percent interest per annum,” the judge pronounced.
Lance Corporal Zuberu, who was attached to 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army had, in November, 2013, narrated to Greenbarge Reporters, how he survived nine-month detention and torture in Maiduguri in the hands of his superior officers who insisted that he must confess to be an informant or a member of Boko Haram.
Zuberu had said that the more he denied that he never knew anything about Boko Haram the more he was tortured, and that he sustained permanent injury and developed liver disease from the over battering.
He was forced to put up a three-page document which he titled: “application for redress over inhuman treatment, torture and defamation of character meted on me by Colonel V. Ebhaleme and my Commanding Officer (CO), Colonel N.J Edet, brought pursuant to section 179 of AFA Cap A20 LFN 2004.” It was addressed to the Chief of Army Staff with copies to Chief of Defence Staff and relevant other army leadership. His lawyer, Cletus Aloke Esq. from C.N Aloke and Co. Chamber also sent similar petition to the Chief of Defence Staff, with copies to Senate President, House of Reps Speaker and other army leadership.
In his application for redress, Zubairu had said that sometime in July 2012, while he was on duty at the main gate in Ada Barracks, Takum, in Maiduguri, he received a call through his phone and that the caller identified himself as Col. V. Ebhaleme.
“I quickly recognised him as our Operational Commander when I was at JTF Maiduguri. I paid him compliment. He then asked me if my name is Zubairu, I answered in affirmative. He then cut off the call.”
Zuberu said that soon after, he received another call from his CO, Lt Col N.J Edet asking him where he was at that particular time, to which he replied that he was on duty at the main gate.
He said that within 20 minutes, Lt Col Edet came to his duty post, accompanied by some armed soldiers and chained his legs and handcuffed him before locking him up in unit guardroom without informing him of the nature of his offence.
Parts of the content of the document continue thus: “It was after I have spent five days in detention that the Commanding Officer called LCpl Obaje Mayowa and asked him of his relationship with me. The soldier informed him that I am his friend and I used to render him assistance whenever the need arises. He warned the soldier that I am Boko Haram informant and that he should desist from associating with me.
“On hearing this, the soldier ran down to the guardroom and informed me that the reason of my detention is terrorism. On his way out, he was sighted and detained on allegation that I sent him to inform Boko Haram where I was detained so that they will come and rescue me. When I got this information, like the saying ‘clear conscience fears no accusation’ I became composed and prepared to watch the drama as it was unfolding.
“On the 6 days in detention, I was moved from Takum under heavy military escort and on the order of Col V Ebhaleme, detained at 21 Provost Guardroom, Mallari Barracks, Maiduguri on 14 July 2012. I was kept in both legs chained and handcuffed for more than 9 months…I was constantly beaten and tortured to the point that I was given permanent injury by Major Ama Ndubisi Mack, Legal Officer of JTF who hit me with heavy stick during one of the interrogation sessions.
“When all efforts to taint me as Boko Haram member or informant failed, I was accused of sending a threat text message to Col V Ebhaleme. Neither the number alleged to be mine was shown to me nor the content of the text message to the senior officer. I was informed in confidence by Lt Nnamdi OC MP after one of the interrogation bouts (on 23 October 2012) that the number was investigated at MTN and it was found that I was not the sender of that text, that the Colonel was just using his rank on me and him; him, being a junior officer, cannot do anything to help me. That he was directed to charge me for insubordination.
“When I heard this, I said to myself, God is great; a terrorism suspect now ending up with charge of insubordination after undergoing more than nine months torture and inhuman treatment. It is pertinent to add sir, that even when Col. V Ebhaleme discovered my innocence concerning aiding Boko Haram and was proceeding on a foreign course, he instructed Lt Col MD Sulaiman (intelligence officer) and Major Ama Ndubisi Mack to continue detaining me until he came back. It was my wife who kept seeking for intervention from authority that led to my release from guardroom on 05 May 2013.
“I returned to my unit with the intention of forging ahead and continuing with my work, but to my astonishment, my CO Lt Col NJ Edet begins to refer to me as Boko Haram terrorist. There was a day he ordered that I should be marched to his office with all the unit officers in the unit and told them that he was informed that I am a Boko Haram terrorist. My life and my family are in danger now because wherever I go, people look at me as Boko Haram informant.
“I appeal to you sir, to direct Col Ebhaleme to give the Army authority all evidences involving me in Boko Haram activities with a view of giving me a trial as envisage by section 36(6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to afford me an opportunity of restoring the trust and dignity I have among my superior, mates and subordinates for the past 18 years of my service in the Army.
“I also appeal to you to restrain my CO Lt Col NJ Edet from calling me Boko Haram informant since the name or words are capable of disparaging me and bringing my name into disrepute, causing me psychological trauma.
“I appeal to you too to cause me to be posted out of 93 Battalion to any other unit you deem appropriate in this case and to award any other remedy you deem appropriate in the circumstance of my case.
“I look forward to your fatherly and magnanimous response to my application, sir.”
Barrister Aloke argued in his letter to the Chief of Defence Staff that: “the fact that one is an officer does not mean that he can take laws into his own hands.
“There are procedures for punishing erring soldiers and we do not think that our client did anything wrong in the first place.”