Barely after a month that the General Court Martial sitting in the Nigerian Air Force Base, Makurdi handed down 21 years imprisonment on Master Warrant Officer Michael Oyebanji and lesser punishments to three other officers; investigation by TheDispatch has revealed that no evidence was admitted in the trial before the judgment was eventually delivered.
Investigation by the news medium revealed that all evidences and documents in connection with the alleged misappropriation of N41million cooperative fund got burnt in an inferno that affected living apartment and vehicle of one Sgn. Ldr. Lawrence Ohio Ogbomah at the NAF Base Makurdi who was in custody of the documents.
Further investigation by TheDispatch showed that the General Court Martial sitting on the matter was prevailed upon by top officials of the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, to go ahead with the case without allowing evidences and documents tendered by those accused to be used to defend themselves.
TheDispatch also gathered that photocopies of the documents tendered as evidence by some of the accused over the refusal of the NAF’s judge advocate to produce the original documents were expunged and regarded as false documents by the General Court Martial that sat on the matter.
It would be recalled that the Director of Public Relations and Information, Nigerian Air Force, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, disclosed in a statement that four Executive members of the 151 Base Services Group Multipurpose Cooperative Society, Makurdi, who were standing trial before a general court martial sitting at the Nigerian Air Force Base, Makurdi, for criminal misappropriation of over N41,000,000:00, were on 24 September 2020, awarded various sentences.
“The four NAF personnel, who were arraigned before the GCM for misappropriation of cooperative funds, amongst other offences, include Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) Sherifi Olawoore, Flying Officer (Fg Offr) Ademola Adekoya, Master Warrant Officer (MWO) Michael Oyebanji and Warrant Officer (WO) Paul Atteh. The personnel were sentenced based on their levels of involvement.
“Delivering his judgment, President of the GCM, Air Commodore Nazib Aliyu, pronounced the four accused personnel guilty of various charges. Flt Lt Olawoore was tried for negligently performing his duty as the President of the cooperative, found guilty and awarded six months loss of seniority.
In the same vein, Fg. Offr. Adekoya was tried for negligently performing his duty as Secretary of the cooperative.
He was found guilty and awarded one year loss of seniority.
“MWO Michael Oyebanji, who was the Vice President of the cooperative, was tried on a 46-count charge, including; criminal breach of trust, theft, criminal conspiracy, criminal misappropriation, making of false documents and conduct to the prejudice of service discipline, contrary to Sections 114 and 103 (d) of the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and sections 312, 287, 96 and 309 of the Penal Code Cap P3 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
“He was found guilty on all 46 counts and subsequently sentenced to serve 21 years imprisonment, as well as reduction in rank to corporal and ordered to refund all monies misappropriated.”
“In the same vein, WO Paul Atteh, who was tried for negligently performing his duty as the Treasurer of the cooperative as well as for the making of false documents and criminal breach of trust, was found guilty of all three charges. He was awarded reduction in rank from WO to sergeant, in the first instance, and then eventually reduced to the rank of corporal. He is also required to pay a fine of N1, 000,000.00.
Meanwhile, the GCM has ordered the release of WO Atteh from detention.
Efforts to get the reaction of NAF’s Director of Public Relations and Information, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola proved abortive as calls made to his phone were not answered.
Also efforts by TheDispatch to get Squadron Leader Lawrence Ohio Ogbomah in whose custody the cooperative documents got burnt yielded no result as his whereabouts was unknown after the fire incidence.
Indeed, an officer who pleaded to remain anonymous said it was generally the fault of the legal adviser to the court martial (Squadron Leader Umoh Akpan) called the Judge Advocate who failed to uphold the law.
“How possible is it that a 46 count charges bothering on finance and the accused is a chartered accountant, that he could not say anything to be able to defend even one charge? Aside the various sentences, he is also told to refund all the money used for investment and which is already yielding interest.
This according source shows that the trial was merely a ploy to make the world believe MWO Oyebanji was going to get a fair trial. The Judge Advocate demonstrated absolute lack of knowledge of what law is. This may not be unconnected to the fact that he has never entered a courtroom aside from their military courts or his personal desire to please the powers that be. Either way, he failed in his duty to address the requisite legalese.”
The source also told our correspondent that the President of the Court Martial, Air Commodore Aliyu Mohammed Nasir is a man with a very bitter heart. He is a man who has the penchant of punishing innocent airmen.
“It is most unfortunate for MWO Oyebanji as his case was handled by the worst elements in the NAF.” Speaking further, he told our correspondent that only the appeal court will re-right the injustice done to the airman as it is not in doubt that the judgment of the court martial was against the weight of evidence even to the blind.
Also, a non-governmental organization known as MYVIE Foundation International has issued a statement condemning the judgment of the General Court Martial on the case MWO Oyebanji.
The Group in a press release by its Sub-Saharan Coordinator, Oliver Chinwendu said that the judgment of the General Court Martial, especially on MWO Oyebanji has not only made a mockery of the Nigerian Air Force but has also portrayed Nigeria in a bad light among the community of nations.
“The judgment of the General Court Martial on the case of personnel accused of misappropriating cooperative fund has shown a case of ‘selective justice’ , especially against MWO Oyebanji.
It added that the way and manner the trial of MWO Oyebanji and others went has shown to the entire world that the General Court Martial that sat on the case was after no other person than MWO Oyebanji.
“As a civil society group, we will not fold our hands and allow an innocent man to be jailed for no reason.”