The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, on Thursday, prayed the Federal High Court in Abuja to dismiss a suit seeking to compel him to produce the ‘missing’ leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu.
A team of lawyers representing the embattled IPOB leader had in the suit, prayed the court to order Buratai to produce their client either dead or alive.
The lawyers who were led by Mr Ifeanyi Ejiofor, told the court that they have not seen or heard from their client since September 14 when the Nigerian Army invaded his house “on a murderous raid, where life and mortar bullets were fired on unarmed and defenceless populace, leaving 28 persons dead and abducting many”.
Pursuant to section 40 of the Federal High Court Act, F12, LFN 2005 and section 6(6) (1) (4) of the 1999 constitution, as amended, Kanu’s lawyers applied for “an order of Habeas Corpus ad subjiciendum, commanding the Respondent (Buratai), to produce the Applicant in Court”.
However, in a counter-affidavit he filed in opposition to the suit, Buratai told the court that Kanu was never in custody of the Nigeria Army.
He maintained that contrary to claims in the suit, soldiers who were deployed to the South-East for ‘Operation Python Dance II, did not have any contact whatsoever with Kanu on September 12 or 14, or anytime thereafter as alleged.
The Chief of Army Staff told the court that the Nigerian Army did not at any time arrest or take Kanu into custody within the period the military operation lasted, even as he denied allegation that soldiers invaded the IPOB leader’s house in Afara-Ukwu Ibeku, Umuahia, Abia State.
A colonel attached to the Chief of Army’s office in the Army Headquarters, Abuja, Col. A.A Yusuf, who deposed to the counter-affidavit on behalf of Buratai, said the alleged invasion of Kanu’s house was totally false.
However, the Army boss told the court that his men only chased a truck he said was laden with arms and explosives of different kinds, into a compound he said was later discovered to belong to Kanu and his father.
The counter-affidavit read in part, “That the applicant (Kanu) is not and has never been in his custody or in the custody of any person, officer or institution receiving instruction directly or indirectly from him.
“That the applicant was not at any time whatsoever arrested, taken into custody or detained by the Officers and men of the Nigerian Army.
“That the officers and men of the Nigerian Army did not have any contact whatsoever or confrontation or any operational engagement with the applicant on September 12 or 14, 20l7 or any other date thereafter, contrary to the allegations in the affidavit in support of the application.
“That the allegation of invasion of the South-Eastern part of Nigeria by officers and men of the Nigerian Army, especially the applicant’s home and or residence is totally false.”
He told the court that during “a peaceful movement” that formed part of Operation Python Dance II, soldiers, on September 14, pursued a truck loaded with arms and ammunition into a compound which was identified in the suit as jointly owned by Kanu and his father.
He alleged that the fleeing truck and its occupants ran over Army barricade and defied soldiers’ order stopping them to be searched.
Buratai insisted that soldiers that chased the truck into Kanu’s house did not fire any shot, saying it was the occupants of the fleeing truck that deliberately ignited the ammunition they were carrying.
“That while on a peaceful movement on the said September 14, 2017, the soldiers randomly conducted stop-and-search operations as are necessary and it was during one of such exercises in Umuahia, Abia State, that it flagged down a truck, which as it turned out later, was loaded with arms and ammunitions of varying degrees and descriptions.
“Rather than comply with the stop order, the driver and other occupants of the truck recklessly ran over the barricade mounted on the road by the soldiers and sped off, whereupon the soldiers at the point gave a hot chase and called for reinforcement to enable them pursue and arrest the fleeing vehicle. The soldiers did not fire any shot at the fleeing truck in order to prevent the loss of lives.
“That the truck loaded with the arms and ammunition was pursued into a compound which has now been described in this application as belonging to and under the control of the applicant (Kanu) and his father.
“That it was tthe legitimate attempt by the officers and men of the Nigerian Army to arrest the fleeing occupants of the truck and impound the truck that precipitated the deliberate igniting of the ammunition in the truck by persons now believed to be IPOB members.
“That the act of the IPOB members resulted in sporadic explosions within the said applicant’s compound”, the affidavit further stated.
Buratai said his men that participated in the operation, complied with Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct that prohibit any form of human right abuses, denying that they killed scores of IPOB members during the military exercise in the South East.
He said: “Throughout the duration of the Operation Python Dance II, officers and men of the Nigerian Army obeyed the Rules of Engagement and Code of Conduct to the letter as there was no reported case of indiscriminate shooting, unlawful arrest, detention or torture, contrary to the wild, bland, untrue, incorrect, bogus and insipid allegations contained in or oozed out in the affidavit of Prince Mandela Umegborogu Esq.
“The allegations of firing of live bullets on the applicant’s relatives, killing of scores of persons, wounding and arrest of many, attack and invasion of applicant’s home, barricade at Isialangwa, arrest and torture of civilians by officers and me of the Nigerian Army, as stated by the deponent, are a figment of his imagination as same are not true.”
Meanwhile, Justice Binta Nyako will commence hearing on the suit on Friday.
The lawyers had in the suit they filed Kanu’s name, told the court that, “On the 12th September, 2017, the Nigeria Military Soldiers acting under express command handed down by the Respondent, violently invaded the Applicant’s home in Afara-ukwu Ibeku, Umuahia Abia State, wherein scores of his relative were brutally wounded and many killed.
“On 14th day of September, 2017, the Nigerian Military led by Soldiers of the Nigerian Army invaded the Applicant’s house on a murderous raid, where life and mortar bullets were fired on unarmed and defenseless populace, leaving 28 persons dead and abducting many.
“The Applicant, who was in the house during this bloody onslaught by the Soldiers, has not been heard from or seen after this bloody attack in his home by the Agents of the Respondent since the 14th day of September 2017.
“That the invading Soldiers in their desperate bid to ensure that the Applicant is caught in the attack climbed stairs to his bedroom upstairs to shot him; walls of his bedroom were riddled with bullets.
“The invading Soldiers who had direct contact with the Applicant on this fateful day (14th day of September 2017) should be in a position to produce the Applicant before the court. It is either the Respondent’s rampaging Soldiers abducted the Applicant during this raid or must have killed him in the process”.
Besides, in a supporting affidavit that was deposed by one Prince Mandela Umegborogu, he said that he was told by Kanu’s younger brother, Emmanuel, that on September 12, “Soldiers of Nigerian Army, numbering about 200 ( two hundred) fully armed to the teeth invaded the residential home of the Applicant in Afarauwku- Ibeku, Umuahia, in Abia State”.
“That the invading Soldiers were deployed to the South-Eastern part of the Country by the Respondent in a covert operation tagged Operation Python dance II (Egwu eke II), an exercise exclusively under the Respondent’s command and control.
“That the Soldiers who also drove in a purpose-built sophisticated armoured personnel carrier, fired live bullets on the relatives of the Applicant, leaving scores brutally wounded, and arrested many.
“That the said Military deployment to the South-East was approved, without any history of arms resistance by the Applicant’s members or combatant attacks on Military personnel and installation from the civilian populace.
“That during the bloody attack/invasion of the Applicant’s home, scores were killed and others forced to abandon their sleep and run for cover in nearby bushes, which include nursing mothers, pregnant women, children and the aged.
“That on that same day, September 12, dozens of supporters of the Applicant who were on a courtesy visit to him, were also barricaded at Isialangwa and tortured on the same day.
“That the Applicant was emotionally traumatized and visibly tortured on account of heavy causalities recorded in this unprovoked attack from the invading Soldiers.
“That on September 14, the Nigerian Soldiers invaded the Applicant’s home for the second time, unfortunately on a brutal but murderous raid that left 28 (twenty eight) persons dead, and over 48 (forty eight) arrested and taken away to an unknown destination.
“That the Applicant was sitting right inside his bedroom when the Soldiers invaded his home.
“That the Soldiers in their desperate efforts to ensure that the Applicant who is their main target is gunned down, climbed the stairs to his bedroom upstairs to shot him.
“That the wall of the Applicant’s bedroom is riddled with bullets holes till date. Attached and marked as Exhibits EK1, EK2, EK3, EK4, EK5 EK6, EK7 and EK8 are photographs showing with sufficient clarity the impact of this assault on the Applicant’s home.
“That the by virtue of this contact the soldiers had with the Applicant in his room on this 14th day of September 2017, the soldiers must know where the Applicant is, his fate and state of health”.
He told the court that “the rampaging Soldiers”, busted into Kanu’s room in the course of the “bloody attack and shoot at everything on sight, including living objects”.
Attached and variously marked Exhibits EK9, EK10, EK11, EK12, EK13 and EK14, in the suit, were photographs and video footage the deponent said was evidence of the “dastardly attack on the home of the Applicant, including the bullets holes in his bedroom”.
He said: “That the trigger happy Soldiers shot sporadically into the air, for about forty minutes, before forcing their way into the Applicant’s house.
“That the Applicant only managed to alert his Lawyer- Bar Ifeanyi Ejiofor on the war-like deafening sounds of guns, being fired into the air, which shooting was targeted at the unarmed and defenseless members of the Applicant’s household, and IPOB members who were on a visit to the Applicant’s house.
“That his Lawyer Bar. Ifeanyi Ejiofor quickly issued a statement drawing the attention of the world to the bloody attack going on in the Applicant’s house, which statement was promptly published by reputable online media houses”.
According to the affidavit, the soldiers took away many dead bodies and arrested over 48 persons.
Kanu’s lawyers told the court that search so far conducted by the Applicant’s siblings had not been yielded any fruit, as the Applicant is still missing, adding that the palace of their aged father, housing the Applicant’s apartment, inclusive of the Applicant’s building, was shattered with mortar bullets.
They told the court that they have made several entreaties to the Respondent to direct his Soldiers to release the Applicant or his body for a befitting burial if he was killed in the onslaught, saying their effort has not yielded fruit.