The Nigerian Army on Tuesday began the trial of a former General Officer Commanding, 8 Division, Sokoto State, Maj. Gen. Hakeem Otiki, over the alleged diversion of N400m by five runaway soldiers attached to the division.
The trial at the General Court Marshal in Asokoro, Abuja, was presided over by the Nigerian Army Chief of Policy and Plans, Lt.-Gen Lamidi Adeosun.
The court has seven other Major-Generals as members. They are Maj.-Gen A.A Tarfa, Maj.-Gen John Malu, Maj.-Gen C.T Olukoju, and Maj.-Gen C.C. Okonkwo.
The prosecuting counsel was led by Major J.S. Obot and has Majors I. Suleiman and Orumo as members.
The defence counsel for the embattled GOC is led by Okechukwu Ajunwa, a barrister, and supported by Major Femi Oyebanji (retd.) and Ishaq Adekunle.
The former GOC, Otiki, appeared to be ill and was brought into the court on a wheelchair, having beside him medical officers of the Nigerian Army who monitored him during the trial.
The Nigerian Army had on July 21 begun the quizzing of the former GOC over missing N400m said allegedly stolen by escort soldiers in the division.
The former GOC had been interrogated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence, the Special Intelligence Bureau and the Nigerian Army Corps of Military Police.
Five soldiers had been confirmed to have carted away a consignment containing the money while on an escort duty from Sokoto State to Kaduna State in July.
The money was to be delivered to a “Very Important Personality” in Kaduna.
The army’s spokesman in 8 Division, Lieutenant Audu Arigu, had identified the runaway soldiers as Corporal Gabriel Oluwaniyi, Corporal Mohammed Aminu, one Corporal Haruna, Oluji Joshua and Hayatudeen.
Army sources said the runaway soldiers perfected their escape by turning in their rifles and their mobile phones at the Infantry Corps in Jaji, Kaduna State, on the day of theft before they escaped.
On Tuesday, the Nigerian Army formally began the trial of Otiki over the diverted N400m in a court martial convened by the Chief of the Army Staff, Lt.-Gen Tukur Buratai.
Represented by Adeosun who read the address, the army chief said, “I, Lt.-Gen. T.Y. Buratai, by the powers conferred on me as the Chief of Army Staff, Nigerian Army, and pursuant to Section 131, Sub Section 201 of the Armed Forces Act, Cap 20, Laws of Nigeria 2004, hereby convene this General Court Martial to assemble at Army Headquarters Command Mess, Asokoro, Abuja on September 17, 2019.
“The proceedings will be guided by the Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution 1999 as amended, the Armed Forces of Nigeria Act 2004, the Evidence Act, the Holy Bible, the Holy Quran and relevant authorities.”
There was however drama at the court when Otiki was asked if he had any objection to the constitution of the GCM by the Chief of Army Staff.
His counsel, Maj.-Oyebanji (retd.) got up and said, “With due respect to the President of the GCM, I wish to invoke our right under Section 137 of the Armed Forces Act to object to the inclusion of the President of the court (Adeosun) because he bears grudges against Maj.-Gen Otiki and he might not get a fair trial under you.
“Going back to the Nigerian Defence Academy, Otiki entered the NDA on January 3, 1983, while Lt.-Gen Adeosun entered NDA on July 4, 1983. It is a fact that Gen Otiki trained and punished you (General Adeosun) while in the NDA.
“It is a fact that Maj.-Gen Otiki as GOC, 8 division, conducted Operation Sharan Daji and Operation Harbin Kunama which were directly under you (Lt. Gen Adeosun) as the Chief of Training and Operations.”
He added, “It is also a fact that he (Otiki) took over as Commander, Infantry Corps from you (Lt. Gen Adeosun) and inherited the soldiers, who were your personal aides and who form the crux of this Court Martial. So I believe the President will not be fair.”
While the conversation went on, the army authorities asked journalists to leave the court martial around 1.30pm and they were prevented from the continued hearing of the trial.