Posted by News Express | 28 February 2021 | 666 times
The International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law (Intersociety) on Sunday strongly called for immediate discharge and acquittal of those paraded recently by the Nigerian Army, 82 Division in Enugu and its satellite formations – the 34 Brigade, Owerri and the 302 Artillery Regiment, Onitsha – in connection with the military operation in Orlu, Imo State.
“To be released unconditionally, too, are others abducted and presently languishing in illegal Army and police cells numbering over 30. For the nine abductees arraigned and remanded, charges against them concocted by the arraigning authorities must be withdrawn and they must be discharged and acquitted. Citizens numbering over 33 were paraded by the Nigerian Army and criminally labeled “IPOB/ESN terrorists and murderers who recently killed soldiers and innocent civilians in Orlu”. The Army further claimed that they were “arrested” with “rifles and Biafra insignias in Orlu and environs”. The Attorney Gen of Imo State and Commissioner for Justice, Barr Cyprian Akaolisa also gravely misrepresented facts by saying that “among the arrested were pastors of white garment churches who harbored the hoodlums”,” Intersociety said in a statement issued in Onitsha, Eastern Nigeria.
In the statement signed by its Principal Officers Emeka Umeagbalasi and Comrade Samuel Kamanyaoku, Intersociety said that its investigation “clearly shows that most, if not all the paraded citizens 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. They 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.”
According to the rights group, “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. 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.”
Intersociety identified “the mentally challenged persons abducted, paraded, arraigned and remanded in Prison or Correctional custody” as “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. On Friday, 19th Feb 2021, nine of the 33 paraded citizens including the two mentally challenged persons (Citizen Amuche Oguaju and Elder Ambrose Ibeanuka) and Citizens Udechukwu Nwachukwu, John Okonkwo, Udechukwu Okwara, Justice Duruigbo, Odii Goodluck and Paulinus Offor (Pastor in charge of the House of Prayers Int’l Covenant Church) were arraigned in the Magistrate Court 16, Owerri on one count charge of “murder” and remanded in the Owerri Prison or Correctional custody.”
Continuing, the statement said: “Intersociety has investigated further and found that over 12 pastors and 25 church elders, mostly of the African Instituted Churches-a branch of CAN were abducted and criminally labeled by soldiers of the Nigerian Army between Jan and Feb 2021. They were abducted in their homes or church sanctuaries and abominably 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.”
The rights group demanded that Imo State 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” – the chief custodian of the Repugnancy Test Principle or natural justice, morality, equity and good conscience, the Imo AG also made himself a hostile visitor to Section 211 of the 1999 Constitution (office of the State Attorney General). He misrepresented facts and disappointedly lowered and impeached the Hallowed Principles of nemo judex in causa sua and audi alteram partem.
“The Imo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice was during his recent press conference quoted as saying as follows: “the church leaders were arrested (abducted) because they harbored hoodlums against whom the military operation in Orlu was initiated” and that “if you investigate the activities of some of these churches, you will understand that over time, hoodlums establish and use some of these churches as front for their nefarious activities. We have records that armed robbers have been hanging out as pastors, in the night they will go for their operations but in the day they will wear their garments and use such as white garment churches”.
“These hostile comments by the Imo State AG also constitute threats to life and personal liberty, contrary to Sections 33 and 35 and offend Sections 38 (right to freedom of religion, conscience and thought) and 42 (freedom from discrimination on the grounds of religion or ethnicity) of the 1999 Constitution,” Intersociety said.
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