By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
THE alleged brutalization of Delta-based lawyer, Sonny Ikwe (Esq) by five soldiers at Okpara Waterside community, Ethiope –East Local Government Area, Delta State, March 9, went viral when his professional colleague and friend, Maxwell Ogedegbe, posted it on his Face book page on Sunday.
Apparently due to the media reports on the incident the following day, Monday, the Chief of Army Staff swiftly ordered an investigation into the incident.
Twist in the story
But, there was twist to the story barely 24 hours after senior intelligence officers, led by Captain Abner and Captain EK Effiong, drafted from the 16 Brigade, Operation Delta Safe, JTF, Yenagoa, to probe the incident, same day, visited the 222 Battalion, Agbarha-Otor, Ughelli, where the soldiers were detained.
Captain Abner, who headed the panel, absolved the soldiers on the incident, saying: “The lawyer in question has denied giving his consent to the said publication in some dailies. His intent suggests he deliberately wanted to destroy the name of the Nigerian Army, which is highly respected both in Nigeria and the international community.”
“As a disciplined institution, the army left no stone unturned in unraveling the truth and the general public should be assured of the readiness of the military in protecting their interest as the military would not tolerate any form of unprofessional acts from its officers and men,” he said.
An account investigation relayed to Saturday Vanguard by a military source, indicated that “Contrary to media reports being spearheaded by a human right activist lawyer, Barrister Maxwell Ogedengbe, indicting the Nigerian Army of an alleged assault and brutality on one Barrister Sonny Ikwe, who was reportedly beaten to pulp by some men of the Nigerian Army on March 9, 2017, at Okpara-Waterside in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State, the victim, Barr. Sonny Ikwe, has denied knowledge and authorization of the said publication.”
He said: “Barrister Ikwe regretted the damage the publication must have caused the Nigerian Army, as the issue was exaggerated beyond the facts,” and that he never consented to the publication by his professional colleague.”
“Asked what exactly transpired between him and the soldiers, Barr. Ikwe said it was a minor issue, as the said soldiers were his townsmen. Stating that a misunderstanding ensued between him and the soldiers but was resolved amicably, he wondered why his learned colleague, went ahead to post the incident on the social media and published in two national tabloids,” the source said.
Beer parlour connection
He added: “Barr. Sonny Ikwe on the said March 9, 2017 had visited a beer parlour at Okpara-Waterside and in the process had an argument with two girls, Oghenegare Doris and Sandra Omonoje, which later degenerated to a scuffle between the said Barrister and the girls.”
“Our findings reveal that angered by the utterances of the girls, Barr. Ikwe allegedly attempted forcing the girls into his car. This drew the attention of the soldiers said to be indigenes of the community, “he stated.
The source asserted that Ikwe told the military investigators that the publication was false and unfounded, adding: “Barr. Maxwell Ogedengbe, who also accompanied the alleged assaulted lawyer to the headquarters of the 222 Battalion in Agbarha-Otor, when asked if he verified his facts from the military authority before his publication, said that lawyers do not investigate cases as it was not their duty to do so, hence he used the available facts revealed to him by the victim.”
I didn’t say I was not assaulted – Ikwe
Ikwe, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard on phone, denied ever recanting the story, saying he was put under undue pressure by soldiers.
In a joint statement signed by Ogedegbe and Ikwe, 24 hours after the visit to the battalion, Ogedegbe, who accompanied Ikwe to the 222 Battalion, said: “Our office received oral complaint from one Barr. Sunny Ikwe to the effect he was subjected to the crudest brutality by five young soldiers discovered to have returned to Okpara waterside community after their nine months training in the army.”
“While we commend the Divisional Police Officer, Isiokolo, for arresting two of the said military officers on the 11th of March, 2017 and more so, the commanding officer for his determination in reiterating by action that the military is not an institution for indiscipline, we must also commend the Nigeria Army under the leadership of the present headship of the Chief of Army Staff, who timely responded to the allegations so raised,” they said.
They said they were aware of the claim by the military that the victim, Ikwe, had denied the assault, hence the statement to make clarity.
“Upon the allegation of how a lawyer was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, we got invitation that the Chief of Army Staff immediately drafted a team of senior military intelligence officers, led by Captain Abnar and Captain E K Effiong of 16 Brigade operation Delta Safe, JTF Yenagoa, while our client, the victim was led by Omes Ogedegbe, Esq to the 222 Battalion of the Nigeria Army at about 10.00 am on Monday.
Heavy weather over photograph
“The issue of the publication took the front burner and dominated major debates of the deliberations to the point of demanding whether the victim of the incident authorized the said publication to which he answered he was not aware when the publication was made. “We make bold to state that when a lawyer takes up a matter for a client, he is never duty bound to inform the client on the procedure and process at actualizing the said brief, more so for a bedridden client as at the time of instruction. The investigating officers made heavy weather out of the source where the photograph was obtained failing to realize illegal evidence is admissible in law as relevance is the watch word,” they said.
The lawyers asserted: “The other issue that dominated the investigation panel was whether before the information was made public on the human right portal; our office investigated the other side of the allegation.”
“We make bold to say that no lawyer is vested with the powers to investigate complaints as where there is a gross violation of rights as in this case behoves on the agencies or institution involved to carry out investigation, which was the fulcrum of the team drafted by the Chief of Army staff.
Soldiers’ families offset part of medical expenses
“We are aware that after the matter got to public domain, the families of the soldiers so involved took serious step to write off the medical expenses incurred by the lawyer, who has hereby briefed us by way of further instruction, not to take any further step in the matter, which cannot amount to a rebuttal, especially when viewed from the backdrop of the fact that medical reports are available to accentuate the degree of injuries so sustained,” they said.
According to them: “The victim was under immense pressure in the guise of interrogation, as despite his failing health condition, he arrived at 222 Battallion office at about 10.00 am and joined the investigation team to Okpara Waterside and when he opted to be allowed to go for medicals at about 5.00 pm, same was turned down, as we were conveyed to the 222 Battalion in a way that smacks of an executive arrest, save for the fact we drove under their watch.”
They disclosed: “Upon arrival, we were kept in their Agbarah-Otor office till about 12.00 am in the guise of investigation without food. The victim insisted he was tired, but the military officers insisted that they came from Bayelsa and must return and cannot sacrifice another day, hence the victim possibly gave them answers they insisted to hear, as he was bound to return to Ovoirie from Agbarha-Otor upon his release at the dead of the night.”
“The victim has agreed to let go, not on grounds of over-exaggeration or falsehood of facts, but on the ground that prominent indigenes of the community have prevailed on him to live on and more so, the family had written off a substantial part of the medical bills which is distinct from a rebuttal.
“We make bold to commend the military hierarchy for the timely reaction to our complaint as with the current administration of the army, the Nigeria army has arrived,” they added.