Defence chief justifies suspects’ arrests, says critics ignorant

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The Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Christopher Musa, has said the military is not stepping beyond its boundaries by arresting and interrogating suspects linked to the killing of 17 military personnel on a peacekeeping mission in Okuama community in the Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State.

He added that the military was authorised to make arrests and interrogate civilians during joint operations.

Musa also alluded to the mandate given to the military by President Bola Tinubu to arrest the perpetrators and recover weapons, noting that the military was not acting illegally.

The Chief of Defence Staff spoke while featuring on Arise News on Wednesday.

He was reacting to reactions in some quarters that the military had no power to arrest and prosecute suspects.

Specifically, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), stated that murder was not a military offence, adding that the military could not arrest, detain, investigate, and charge civilian suspects with any offence.

Citing the case between Dr Issa Perry Brimah v Nigerian Army, Falana said Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu held that the military could only make a formal report to the police on such matters.

“Otherwise, it would transmute to self-help. The defendant must make a formal report to the appropriate authorities like the police and await the outcome,” Falana said.

Also, a former Director of the Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, stated that the Nigerian Army is an interested party in the matter, adding that it should not be involved in investigating the incident.

However, Musa said that the military was not acting unlawfully, insisting that the military was legally deployed and authorised to make arrests and interrogate suspects.

He said, “We are happy that the Commander-in-Chief has given us a mandate to recover the arms and to arrest the perpetrators. A lot of comments have been made by different kinds of people, some from a lack of understanding.

“When you have a Joint Task Force, Joint Task Force involves members of the armed forces, that is the Army, Navy Air Force, we have the police, the DSS, every other security agency is part of it. So when we have arrests, we have a joint investigation team. It is not like the Army is taking laws into their hands. Once we are deployed on operation, we have the right and the mandate to arrest all acts of criminality within that area.

“They were legally deployed and with their mandate, they are authorised to make arrests, they are authorised to interrogate, because we have a joint interrogation centre that works together as a team under the Joint Task Force.”

Musa also noted that the killing of his personnel in Delta was a deliberate act by the criminals due to their efforts to eradicate pipeline vandalism and oil theft from the area.

He added that the criminals were able to perpetrate the dastard act because his men went to the community unarmed.

Musa said, “The Okuama attack was premeditated, just because they are a group of criminals, cultists, militants that because they make a lot of money from crude oil theft, they believe they are above board. And they did this deliberately.

“Just because the commanding officer and his team were ensuring that any acts of pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft, and illegal refineries were completely eradicated from that region.

“So they were deployed there legally, they were doing a legal operation and it was because the commanding officer felt the threat was not that high, that was why he went there and felt he could discuss with the individuals. He did not go armed. If he had gone armed, he would erase everybody in that place. But he felt these were people he knew. These were Nigerians that he could talk to.

“And when he stepped up to talk to them with his team, they were rounded up and all shot, and not only shot, their body parts were cut, their hearts and private parts were removed.”

He described the operations ongoing in the community as a ” measured response,” adding that the military was out to recover weapons and apprehend those responsible for the attack.

Musa added, “It was a measured operation. It was a measured response. We are conducting cordon and search operations to thoroughly search for our weapons and to arrest those who carried out this dastardly act.

“I’m sure you’re watching what’s ongoing in Ukraine-Russia, you’re watching what’s ongoing with Hamas and Israel. We’re not doing that. We’ll try to do things differently this time around.

“The aftermath definitely will be that gradually, when we finish the cordon and search operations, and cordon and search operation means we are searching every nook and cranny within the community, because we know they have a lot of illegal money from crude oil theft, they have bought a lot of weapons.

“During the disarmament exercise that was conducted, a lot of them didn’t hand over all they had. And because it is in the riverine area close to other countries, they have ways that they also bring in weapons. It was because they had weapons that they were able to perpetrate this.

“So, it is for us to thoroughly clean this community and ensure that no weapons, no explosives, nothing is left there, and that none of them is hiding. I’m happy with the traditional ruler who submitted himself, which is the best thing. I wish all those other ones that were in the pictures would also equally do the same. ”

Musa said the military would have had no business in the community if his men had not been killed by the people of the community.

He said, “We are not animals. We are not barbaric… If they had not touched our armed forces, nobody would have been there. We have lived peacefully with them, we have encouraged them, and we conduct civil-military relationships.

“If you go to most of the communities, we provide amenities for them just to show them that we are not an occupational Army. We are the Nigerian Armed Forces. And we are here for Nigeria to ensure that Nigeria is peaceful.”

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