Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Mr. Femi Falana, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to call to order, soldiers who took over a property owned by Robert Azibaola in Abuja.
The soldiers had last Saturday sealed off the construction site of Kakarta Civil Engineering Limited, owned by Mr. Azibaola, a cousin to former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Although the Nigerian Army is yet to formally react to the sealing off of the site, which shares boundary with the Lungui Barracks along the Kubwa-Asokoro expressway, Abuja, a military source said the move was borne out of security concerns.
According to the source who spoke in confidence, the land was allocated to Mr. Azibaola by the last administration on strong recommendations by the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, in spite of security concerns expressed by the military that the construction site, which houses explosives used in blasting rocks, could serve as a launch pad for attacks on the nearby Army Barracks.
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But Mr. Falana, in a statement on Sunday, described the soldiers’ occupation of the premises of the construction company, as illegal.
“The troops, who were reported to have driven away the workers in the premises, have since seized the property without a court order”, he said.
“Sequel to the illegal action of the army of occupation, the innocent workers in the company have been dispatched to the unemployment market”, the senior lawyer noted.
Mr. Azibaola is currently facing prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for the diversion of $40 million through One-Plus Holdings, a sister company of Kakarta Civil Engineering Limited, meant for securing oil pipelines contract.
Mr. Azibaola had pleaded not guilty to the charge and is currently on bail.
Falana stressed that the implication of the not guilty plea is that the former president’s cousin is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved by the prosecution.
“Therefore, if the Nigerian military authorities had wanted to dispossess him of the property in question they ought to have applied for a court order.
“But by taking over the property under the pretext that it constitutes a threat to a nearby military barracks, the military authorities took the law into their hands.
“The forceful seizure of the property should not be tolerated in a civilized society which operates under the rule of law”, the statement said.
Mr. Falana, therefore, called on the federal government to stop members of the armed forces from violating the rights of criminal suspects accused of engaging in the looting of the public treasury.
“By allowing the security forces to adopt Gestapo tactics in the recovery of the loot, the Buhari administration stands the risk of winning undeserved sympathy for the criminal suspects who are standing trial”, he said.
“Indeed, the security forces are unwittingly colluding with corruption to fight back”, the SAN added.
He also accused the army of usurping the functions of the police to maintain law and order in the society, adding that “power drunk military officers” now declare civilians wanted.
“Even under the defunct military junta, the courts never condoned the forceful seizure of the assets of citizens by armed troops,” said Mr. Falana.
“Since the seizure and the illegal occupation of Mr. Azibaola’s property cannot be justified in law, the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai should order the immediate withdrawal of the armed troops and sanction the officers who have exposed the nation to ridicule in the circumstance.
“Having regard to the massive infringements of the fundamental rights of the Nigerian people by armed soldiers, President Buhari should order the Army to stop interfering in the police duty of maintaining law and order in the country”, Falana stated.