Molly Kilete, Abuja
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has denied rumours of a ‘plot to murder’ two of its personnel, Master Warrant Officer Micheal Oyebanji and Warrant Officer Paul Atteh, facing a Special Court-Martial (SCM).
The two are currently being held by NAF authorities in Makurdi for misappropriation of funds from a Multipurpose Cooperative Society of the 35 Base Services Group (BSG), now 151 BSG, in 2014.
NAF Director of Public Relations and Information Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola made this known in Abuja on Tuesday
Daramola said that the personnel are currently facing a special court-martial are still being held owing to the frequent adjournments obtained by their defence counsel.
The NAF spokesman in a statement described the ‘plot to murder’ allegation as a smear campaign aimed at tainting the reputation of the Force and called on the public to discard the claims as the matter was still before a court of competent jurisdiction.
Daramola said in the statement:
‘The attention of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has been drawn to some spurious, baseless and unsubstantiated allegations claiming that there was a plot to murder 2 NAF personnel currently standing trial before a Special Court-Martial (SCM) in Makurdi for misappropriation of funds and that the NAF Authorities have continued to detain the airmen illegally under the guise of the SCM. The NAF would not have responded to the ridiculously orchestrated allegations as the case is still before a Court of competent jurisdiction. However, in view of the need to ensure that the discerning public is not left with a distorted impression of situation, it has become necessary to state the facts as they truly are.
‘The insinuation that the 2 personnel, Master Warrant Officer Micheal Oyebanji and Warrant Officer Paul Atteh, “were detained after they set up a Multipurpose Cooperative Society to service soldiers and interested civilians outside of the Nigeria Air Force to the disdain of their superior”, is not true. The Cooperative Society in question was not set up by the duo alone but was initially set up by 35 Base Services Group (BSG), now 151 BSG, in 2014 where the duo and 2 commissioned officers were among the executive members. MWO Oyebanji was the Vice President while WO Paul Atteh was the Treasurer. In 2017, the Cooperative started experiencing a downward trend due to alleged mismanagement of funds as it could not meet its financial obligations to its members who are largely serving NAF personnel. In 2019, a Board of Inquiry (BOI) was convened to investigate the alleged fraud which subsequently led to the constitution of the SCM. The insinuation that they were cleared by an investigation is also not true as an SCM would not have been convened if prima facie case of misappropriation had not been established.
‘The SCM, which was reconstituted on 7 January 2020 to try the case, had continued with its sittings until 3 April 2020 when it suspended its proceedings due to the national lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The “endless adjournments” alluded to by the “petitioners” were not caused by the Prosecution but rather by the Defence Counsel, who, while taking briefs from other clients across the country in addition to involvement in other civil court engagements, caused the delay in the timely completion of the SCM. The SCM resumed sitting on 13 July 2020.
‘It is pertinent to mention that since the inception of the SCM, the family members, especially the spouses of the accused, have never been denied access to their loved ones. It is also noteworthy that the 2 accused personnel were granted bail by the SCM but could not meet their bail conditions which necessitated their continued stay in the NAF’s custody. The Counsel to the accused had subsequently filed a suit at the Federal High Court Makurdi against the NAF but the case was struck out for lack of merit (as contained in the attached documents).
‘It is clear from the foregoing that the allegations against the NAF are merely a smear campaign aimed at tainting the sterling reputation of the Service. The NAF, as a highly disciplined and professional Force, does not tolerate or condone the violation of human rights of any individual, much less the rights of its own personnel. Accordingly, we will continue to work within the ambit of extant laws to ensure the fraud case is pursued to its logical conclusion to obtain justice for the thousands of Cooperative Society members whose hard-earned money is yet to be recovered. We will not be distracted in any way by campaigns of calumny in ensuring that justice is served while guaranteeing fair hearing for the accused.’