For the families of two naval officers and 20 others arrested and detained for nearly one year by the Nigerian Navy, these are agony-filled times.
The families are asking the Nigerian Navy, notably, the Nigerian Navy Ship NNS
BEECROFT Ijora, Lagos State to obey a court order and release their breadwinners who they claimed were arrested and physically assaulted without any cause.
Anxiety started when Captain Bola Labinjo and Lt Commander Ibe Lambert, both of who were in the Navy, had their appointments terminated along with that of Labinjo’s wife.
They headed to the Federal High Court Lagos, where the presiding judge, C. J. Aneke, declared that the arrest and detention of Bola Labinjo was a violation of his fundamental rights as guaranteed under the constitution.
He ordered both Labinjo and Lambert to be reinstated. Justice Aneke also ordered that Labinjo, his ship, MT Adeline Jumbo and crewmembers be released without delay, adding that further arrest, infringement on his fundamental rights and detention be halted.
The Nigerian Navy appealed the decision at the Appeal Court and Supreme Court but lost.
Comrade Shina Loremikan of Centre Against Impunity In Nigeria noted that rather than complying with the lawful order of the Federal High Court, as affirmed by both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, the Navy resorted to self-help by denying them justice.
He observed that the naval authorities began systemic emotional and physical attacks on Captain Labinjo, his wife, friends and businesses as well as employees, which resulted in the deterioration of his health.
Loremikan said while Labinjo was recuperating, the men and officers of the Nigerian Navy descended on his premises and arrested him alongside his wife, adding that the detention was followed by the arrest and detention of 19 crewmembers of his ship through an Exparte Order from a Magistrate Court.
He explained that after proper examination of the case, the Magistrate Court vacated the order of arrest and detention three months later and ordered the release of all the detainees without delay.
He observed that the Nigeria Navy surreptitiously moved all the detainees to an unknown location, denying them access to their solicitors, doctors and family members, rather than complying with the order to release them.
He regretted that even in a democracy, Nigerian citizens could be detained and their whereabouts remain unknown for almost a year without bail or trial, noting that this was contrary to the provision of the constitution.
He added that it was worrisome and dangerous that an organ of the state has made it a habit to disobey valid court orders.
He urged the Nigeria Navy to obey the court order and release Captain Labinjo, his wife and other persons incarcerated unjustly.
“It is appalling that the Naval authorities, which is supposed to set good examples for other institutions to follow, have instead shown flagrant disobedience to court order by openly promoting lawlessness,” he stated.
Mrs. Ijeoma Grageche, wife of one of the victims arrested and detained by the Navy told this reporter that when her husband was arrested, she got a text message from him that he was being detained.
She said that she tried to find out from her husband what the offence was, but her husband couldn’t explain. She said he subsequently told her not to send further messages, saying his phone was about being seized.
She said she went to NNS Beecroft base, Ijora but was refused entry. She said she headed to Labinjo’s house and noticed that he was also arrested.
“I went back to the base to see if I could get in touch with a senior officer of the Navy, but they didn’t allow me,” she continued. “I had to use some contacts the next day, having served my NYSC with the Nigerian Navy in 1989. I was able to gather that my husband was in the base. God granted me favour, and they allowed me in.
“I got in touch with one of the Intercept Officers (I.O.) who gave me audience. Yet, I didn’t see my husband home after one week. I kept on going there, until one day I went with my daughter.”
She said when she finally saw her husband, they held each other and started crying. Shortly after, she noted, one of the commanders ordered her out, along with her daughter.
She recalled that during one of such visits, she asked her husband to disclose the offence that prompted his arrest, but he was not allowed. She said till date, she could not tell why her husband was arrested and detained.
“Right in my presence, they put him in their NNS BEECROFT coaster and drove off. “In the course of pursuing the matter, his mother who is sustained by my husband took ill and died this year,” she said.
She called on the Nigerian Navy to tell her the whereabouts of her husband. “I have written petitions to Chief of Naval Staff, Chief of Defence Staff, Department of State Services, National Security Adviser, Attorney General of the Federation, Ministry of Justice, and human rights groups. If our husbands are guilty of any offence, they should charge them to court.”
She enjoined President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene on the matter so as to ameliorate the plight of families who are suffering the effects of the unjust arrest and detention of their breadwinners by the Nigeria Navy.
When this reporter contacted the spokesman of the Nigeria Navy, Commodore Suleman Dahun, he said: “I don’t have information about the matter. Anytime I have it, I will let you know.”