By Joseph Onyekwere.THE GUARDIAN. November 28, 2012
INSISTING that he did no wrong, a detained Naval officer, Lt. Commander Stephen Ochepo Edeh, who just returned to the country from a study trip abroad and arrested by the Naval authorities on the allegation that he exceeded the time he was supposed to spend abroad, has cried out for help.
Edeh, who has already been dismissed from the Nigerian Navy for alleged disobedience and absence without leave, had travelled to the United Kingdom for his Master’s Degree programme.
Speaking through his lawyer, Anthony Omaghomi, Edeh said he was transferred to the torture centre of the Nigerian Navy in Lagos on November 19, 2012, on the orders of Rear Admiral Azubuike Ajuonu, the Flag Officer Commanding in charge of Naval Training Command, Lagos.
At the torture centre, Edeh was allegedly chained, beaten and poured water on.
Omaghomi said it was unfortunate that his client was treated in such a dehumanizing way for no just cause.
He recalled that Edeh had applied for a study leave abroad and was granted. He explained that because his client had issues with the timing of the programme, he missed out on some of the semesters, and that eventually prolonged the time he was supposed to return to Nigeria, adding that his client was always getting in touch with the Naval authorities through their representatives abroad.
Omaghomi explained that when Edeh eventually returned to Nigeria on July 31, 2011, he proceeded straight to the Naval headquarters in Abuja the following day (August 1, 2011) to explain himself but ever since then, his client had remained in custody without seeing his relatives.
“After we wrote several letters to the Nigerian Navy for the release of our client, Naval authorities failed to release him and we were left with no other option than to approach the Federal High Court in Lagos seeking his release from custody,” Omahomi explained, adding that on November 11, 2011, Justice Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court ordered the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Naval Staff to forthwith release Edeh from custody.
The judge had also awarded N3 million damages in favour of Edeh against the Nigerian Navy for the unlawful detention.
Omaghomi stated that instead of complying with the judgment and release his client, the Navy hurriedly set up a court marshal to try him on four-count charge.
The counts included disobedience to particular order contrary to Section 56 (1) of the Armed Forces Act; absence without leave contrary to Section 59 (a); desertion contrary to Section 60 and failure to perform military duties contrary to Section 62 of the same Act.
Omaghomi stated that he defended Edeh at the military court chaired by Captain D.O Kolawole, which eventually handed down dismissal verdict against Edeh, but without custodial sentence.
Instead of releasing Edeh from custody after the court marshal, the Naval authorities rather subjected him to further dehumanizing treatment.
Consequently, Omaghomi has filed a fresh suit before Justice Okechukwu Okeke of the Federal High Court seeking the immediate release of his client from custody and N20 million damages.
But a statement endorsed by Rear Admiral Ajuonu debunked Omaghomi’s claim, and stated that the allegations against the Navy was untrue.
Ajuonu stated: “The fact of the case is that, Lt Commander Stephen Edeh was released by the Nigerian Navy on August 23, 2004 to undergo a Master’s of Arts degree in Intelligence and International Security School in London. The period of his leave was for one year, however, the officer betrayed the trust and opportunity given to him and failed to report back to the country.
“He again unlawfully took another Master’s degree course in Business Administration in another school. Efforts to get him back to Nigeria failed, however, Lt Commander Stephen Ochepo Edeh sneaked into the country on July 31, 2011 and in a bid to leave again, he was arrested at the airport.
“He was court marshalled under the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 Law of Federation of Nigeria 2004. Lt Cdr Stephen Ochepo Edeh was given the opportunity to defend himself by a civilian lawyer during the trial.
The case was concluded on August 4, 2012 and the judgment forwarded to the Naval Headquarters for confirmation”, Ajuonu said.
He stated that while awaiting confirmation, Edeh who was on open arrest, however on November 22, 2012 became riotous at the Naval Base, Apapa, threatening to kill anyone on sight.
“In order to save him and others, he was taken for a medical check-up same day. The report indicated that he was of sound mind. After this incident, he was put on closed custody”, adding that the Nigerian Navy is a disciplined Service and has zero- tolerance for indiscipline.