17 slain soldiers: It’s illegal to declare suspects wanted – Falana warns army

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“The decision of the defence headquarters to declare the murder suspects wanted is completely illegal. Let the federal government direct the defence headquarters to hand over the investigation of the suspects involved in the gruesome murder of the 17 officers and soldiers. It ought to be pointed out that murder is not a military offence to warrant investigation by the defence headquarters. If the federal government fails to call the defence headquarters to order, the case concerning the tragic murder of the soldiers will be completely bungled”.

 

The above statement was made by the human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, on Thursday in response to the eight persons declared wanted in connection with the killing of 17 soldiers in the Okuama community in Delta State by the army.

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Recall that 17 military personnel comprising a lieutenant colonel, two majors, one captain, and 12 soldiers were killed while on a “peacekeeping mission” in the Okuama community on March 14.

 

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Reacting to their death during their burial ceremony on Wednesday, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu promised to punish perpetrators of the heinous crime, advising the elders and chiefs of Okuoma to help the military in fishing out the gunmen who committed the barbaric cr

 

His words: “I want to make it clear, once more, that those who committed this heinous crime will not go unpunished

 

Assuring Nigerians that the culprits must be caught and brought to book, Tinubu opined: “We will find them and our departed heroes will get justic

 

However, commenting on the wanted lists published today by the Nigerian army, the outspoken lawyer, warned the military not to bungle the case of the slain soldier

 

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He said: “The authorities of the armed forces should be made to realise that the military cannot arrest, detain, investigate and charge civilian suspects with any offence whatsoever.

 

In Dr Issa Perry Brimah v Nigerian Army, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu held that “It must be stated here without equivocation that the defendant [Nigerian Army] has no right to declare the plaintiff wanted without following the appropriate procedur

 

“The Judge further said that the defendant cannot arrest the plaintiff arbitrarily without making a formal report to law enforcement agency with the mandate to enforce law and order. Otherwise, it would transmute to self-help. The duty of the defendant is to make a formal report to the appropriate authority like the police and await the outcom

 

“In Miss Grace Anita Paul v. The Chief of Army Staff, the Army, Inspector General of Police & the Nigerian Police Force the Federal High Court where held that the Nigerian Army lacks the power to arrest, investigate and hold in custody, anyone who is not subject to the Armed Forces Act or any other military law. Justice Taiwo Taiwo, on Wednesday, warned the military not to usurp the powers of the Nigerian Police under Sections 4 and 84 of the Police Act which empowers the police to detect and investigate crime.

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“We have also read the 8 people alleged to be involved in the cruel murder of the soldiers have been declared wanted by the Defence Headquarters it is trite law that the police and security agencies lack the power to declare any suspect wanted without a court order. In Benedit Peters v Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, a high court in Abuja ruled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission lacks (EFCC) the powers to declare anyone wanted without obtaining a court order or charging the suspect with an offence

 

“The presiding judge, Justice Othman Musa ruled that though the EFCC could declare as wanted persons who fail to honour its invitation for investigation, it could only do so if it obtains a court order for that purpose. So, the decision of the defence headquarters to declare the murder suspects wanted is completely illega

 

“Let the federal government direct the defence headquarters to hand over the investigation of the suspects involved in the gruesome murder of the 17 officers and soldiers. It ought to be pointed out that murder is not a military offence to warrant investigation by the defence headquarters. If the federal government fails to call the defence headquarters to order, the case concerning the tragic murder of the soldiers will be completely bungled.

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