Nigerian Army’s Board of Inquiry on 17 slain soldiers illegal—Falana, SAN


Respected silk and rights activist, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, is pushing for the immediate disbandment of the board of inquiry established by the Nigerian Defence Headquarters to probe the gruesome killing of soldiers at Okuama community in Delta State.

The senior lawyer, in a letter, sent to the office of the Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), on Wednesday, is contending that the Board is illegal

According to him, by the provisions of the Armed Forces Act, it is only a state governor that is statutorily empowered to set up a board of inquiry to unravel the circumstances which led to the death of the army personnel in the state.

The letter reads: “The Board of Inquiry constituted by the Defence Headquarters to probe the March 14 killing of 16 soldiers at Okuama, Delta State, commenced sitting in Warri, Delta State last week.

“The Chairman of the Board, Air Vice Marshal David Ajayi, told Governor Sheriff Oborevwori in Warri: ‘We are on a fact-finding mission and not to apportion blame. We are here to gather facts from security agencies, community leaders, and community dwellers.’

“By virtue of section 172 of the Armed Forces Act, a board of inquiry is set up by military authorities to consider a wide range of misconduct or issues that pertain to the conduct or performance of members of the armed forces or their suitability for continued military service.”

Falana said that, therefore, the authorities of the armed forces lack the power to investigate alleged criminal activities of citizens who are not subject to service law.

He said, “For the avoidance of doubt, section 172(4) of the Armed Forces Act states that ‘Evidence given before a board of inquiry shall not be admissible against a person in a proceeding before a court-martial or at a summary trial by the commanding officer or appropriate superior authority other than a proceeding for an offence under section 101 of this Act or for an offence under section 114 of this Act when the corresponding offence is perjury.’

“Under the current democratic dispensation, the Governor of Delta State, Hon. Sheriff Francis Orohwedor Oborevwori is the only competent person empowered by the Delta State Tribunal of Inquiry Law to set up a commission of enquiry to investigate the killing of the 17 soldiers.

“Our authority for this submission is the case of Fawehinmi v Babangida (2003) 10 WRN 1, where the Supreme Court held that the power to institute a judicial or administrative inquiry to investigate civil disturbances is vested in the Governor of each state of the Federation and that the power of the President to set up a panel of inquiry is limited to the Federal Capital Territory.

“Since the board of inquiry set up by the defence headquarters lacks the power to investigate ‘community leaders and community dwellers’, it should be disbanded forthwith. The Delta State Governor ought to be advised to institute a judicial commission of enquiry to probe the remote and immediate cause of the brutal killing of the 16 soldiers at Okuama.”

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