The group alleged that the former Nigerian Army chief secretly executed six Igbo soldiers last Monday, a day to his retirement from service.
One of the signatories of the international press statement, Nigerian lawer based in South Africa, Austin Okeke, revealed the position of the group to Tropics Nigeria NewsReporters on Tuesday.
The group, which is an assemblage of intellectuals of Igbo extraction in Nigeria and overseas, said the action was to make the former Nigerian Army chief pay for allegedly killing the soldiers from the South-East, among other atrocious acts he allegedly committed while in office.
Okeke alleged that though Buratai was the biggest culprit, there other senior serving military and police officers that were privy to the atrocity, including Governors Willie Obiano and Okezie Ikpeazu of Anambra and Abia states respectively.
“We, the undersigned human rights and intelligentsia coalition of old Eastern Nigeria origin, working toward redressing abuses and violations of human rights of grievous nature as defined by international instruments, have today resolved to launch local and international justice campaigns against the immediate past Nigerian Army chief, Retired Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai and over 20 others concerning their atrocious rights abuses while in office.
“The referenced international justice campaigns specifically border on justice for the victims of the horrendous rights abuses and violations and the severe punishment of their perpetrators. The chief perpetrator in this regard is the immediate past Army Chief, Retired Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai. Others in the list are senior serving and retired military and police chiefs, as well as the Governors of Anambra and Abia States; all numbering over 20,” the statement reads partly.
The statement revealed that an international human rights lawyer, E. R. Okoroafor, was contacted by a relative of one of the slain soldiers to come to their aid before the execution at Abacha Barracks, Abuja, the nation’s capital.
“We have received with rude shock and deepest dismay the Monday, 25 January, 2021 secret execution of six Igbo Christian soldiers, attached to the Armory Department of the Nigerian Army, Abacha Barracks in Abuja.
“The slain Igbo Christian soldiers; namely: Prince Ukwuoma, son of a traditional ruler; Ebube Isaiah, Amos Azubuike, Ekene Ebere, Moses Anyim and Godwin Uchendu were allegedly secretly executed under the instruction of now Retired Lt. Gen L. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, a day before he left office on Tuesday, 26th January, 2021.
“This shocking news was disclosed to us by E.R. Okoroafor, an international human rights lawyer, who is very conversant with the matter and was also contacted by one of the slain soldiers through his family to defend them regarding the trumped-up charges against them. They were executed using hazy and clandestine military court-Martial.”
The report quoted Okoroafor as, saying “Sometime in September 2020, an allegation of missing weapons was made at Abacha Barracks and it was immediately traced to a senior Colonel of Fulani-Hausa Muslim origin and instead of the Chief of Army Staff to issue a query and sanction the colonel, he exonerated him on the grounds of his tribe and religion.
“The COAS turned around and ordered the arrest of 12 soldiers guarding the armoury, comprising six Igbo soldiers, three Yoruba soldiers and three Fulani-Hausa Muslim soldiers. In the end, the latter soldiers were shielded and exonerated under questionable circumstances and the six Igbo soldiers made to face secret court-martial during which they were blocked and prevented from having access to their families and defence lawyers of their choice.”
E. R. Okoroafor also told the Coalition that his attempts to stand in for the Igbo soldiers were stiffly opposed and he was flimsily told by the Army’s Legal Department that, “civilian lawyers are not allowed to defend the accused soldiers except for military lawyers.”
According to the report, “Their trial was totally shrouded in secrecy and never disclosed to the public through Army statements till date; likewise their constitutional right of appeal to Court of Appeal and Supreme Court which was also totally denied. The persecuted and executed soldiers protested their innocence to the point of tendering their resignation in protest; all to no avail.
“Apart from their secret execution being totally despicable and condemnable and a clear case of ethnic cleansing, the coalition also strongly suspects that the six Igbo soldiers were framed or singled out for persecution on the grounds of their ethnicity and religion.
“It is also doubtful whether the offence of ‘missing weapons’ in peace time is commensurable with death sentence in the Nigerian military laws, all subject to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Another shocking part was where the immediate past Army Chief derived his power to order the secret execution of ‘justly’ and ‘unjustly’ convicted soldiers. This is more so when there is a national moratorium on the death penalty in Nigeria.
“The coalition, therefore, notes further that dozens, if not hundreds of Igbo soldiers have in recent times particularly since 2017/8 died under similar circumstances both in the fronts and ‘peace time.’ Additionally, there have been several reported and unreported cases of dismissals, resignations and desertions involving soldiers and officers of old Eastern Nigeria extraction on account of the ethnic cleansing under Buratai as Nigerian Army chief,” the statement revealed.
The statement was signed by Emeka Umeagbalasi (MSc.), Board Chair, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law; Prof Anthony Ejiofor, Chairman, World Igbo Congress (USA); Prof Uzodimma Nwala-President, Ala-Igbo Development Foundation (ADF); Prof Justice Chidi-President, Concerned Elites for Better Society Initiative; Prof Justin Akujieze-President, Ekwenche Research Institute (USA); Dr. Moses Nwaigwe, President, Biafra Genocide Survivors Group (USA); Austin Okeke, Esq, Global Leader, Igbo Board of Deputies (UK), among others.