This Day (Lagos)

26 June 2001

Nigeria: No Regrets Over Obasanjo's Conviction -- Aziza

Abuja — The Chairman of the Special Military Tribunal (SMT) that convicted President Olusegun Oba-sanjo and the late Major General Shehu Musa Yar'-Adua for their alleged invo-lvement in the 1995 coup plot against the regime of the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, Major General Patrick Aziza (rtd), yesterday said he had no regrets over the trial.

Testifying at the resumed sitting of the Human Rights Violation Investigation Co-mmission in Abuja, Aziza, who was later appointed Minister of Communications in the Abacha regime, denied ordering that the coup suspects be tortured.

Similarly, Major General Felix Mujakperuo who chaired the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) which investigated the alleged coup plot ahead of the trial by the SMT, denied ordering that the suspects be tortured. The commission headed by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, which began its final public sitting in Abuja yesterday, slated seven petitions for consideration, five of which were on the 1995 coup plot, generally believed to be a "phantom coup". Aziza, in his testimony, described the petition against him by one of the accused persons who was sentenced to death, Lt.-Col. Martins Igwe (rtd), as vindictive and characterised by blackmail.

He said the sentences by the SMT were based on evidence before it and urged the commission to dismiss Igwe's petition. Earlier, Igwe, whose petition was partly heard last year at the commission's first sitting in Abuja, denied involvement in the coup, which he said was "stage-managed by Abacha, and his agents to deal with Obasanjo and Yar'adua for not supporting the administration.

"We were merely used to make a concocted coup story for effect," Igwe said, adding: " my arrest, detention, investigation, trial and conviction were ill-motivated, stage-managed, in order to do the bidding of Abacha's vicious plot of possible self-succesion which is of public knowledge."

Igwe informed the commission that his entire life and career was tampered with, which led to his compulsory retirement from the army, as well as unlawful arrest, conviction and victimisation, while he was not proved to have committed the offence of treason. He described Mujakperuo as "the chief torturer", adding that he brought an addendum to his earlier petition challenging Mujakperuo to prove that the 1995 coup plot was real as he claimed before the commission in Lagos. He insisted that the coup only existed in the imagination of those alleging its reality.

"I committed no offence whatsoever. My arrest, detention, investigation/torture, trial, conviction and subsequent imprisonment were ill-motivated; stage-managed, unlawful and illegal in order to do the bidding of Gen. Abacha's vicious, invidious, capricious and satanic plots of possible self succession which is of public knowledged."

He argued that since Abacha's successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar had pardoned the convicts, it would be good and desirable for the totality of the charges to be quashed and attest to the innocence of those convicted over the non-existent plot. He urged the commission to quash the proceedings of the SIP and SMT and order his re-instatement into the Nigerian Army with a promotion to the next higher rank, now held by his course mates in the military. He further asked for N200 million as compensation and a return of his personal property which he alleged was stolen by security agents sent to conduct a search on his houses in Zaria and Enugu.

Reacting to the petition, Aziza denied that he presided over a 'kangaroo tribunal', maintaining that SMT was a creation of an act (Treason and Other Related Offences act), Cap 444 laws of the federation, which specified its composition and the nature of offences it could try.

"The trial, judgment and sentence imposed on the petitioner cannot be called into question because the jurisdiction of the SMT was by the enabling act, unassailable," he submitted.

He denied the allegation by Igwe that he was motivated by extraneous considerations in passing a death sentence on the petitioner, stressing that, "it was the appropriate punishment for the offence of treason under military law." He said that he never collected money from Abacha to condemn the petitioner or any other accused person to death, and that his subsequent appointment as minister had nothing to do with his actions as the chairman of the tribunal. Aziza said although he was a member of the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), he did not participate in the confirmation of the conviction and the sentences passed by the tribunal.

In his testimony, Colonel R. Emokpae who was represented by Brigadier Idada Ikponwen, called on the generals to be bold and own up to the fact that they colluded to deal with them even though they were used. He described as disappointing for a general to tell bare-faced lies even with all the virtues in the military profession.

Emokpae, who also cross-examined Aziza and Mukjaperuo, spoke in anger over his maltreatment at the torture chamber located at Alexander road, Ikoyi, Lagos. Asked by Oputa if he was aware of such a chamber, Mukjaperuo denied, saying he never participated in carrying out torture orders. He however said he saw Colonel Lawan Gwadabe who was also sentenced to death, under a severe condition arising from torture and he moved to save his life. On why his job as chairman was described as "dirty", Aziza responded that it was because it involved the trial of those who might be his friends after they had had close interactions.

After the blanket denials, Aziza and Mukjaperuo were advised by Reverend Father Matthew Hassan Kukah and Mrs. Elizabeth Pam that for obvious facts like the torture chambers, they ought to admit and explain it as part of the deterioration of the system instead of total denial. Others who alleged that they were tortured were Captain U. S. A. Suleiman, Lt. Akin Olowookere and Navy Commander L. M. Fabiyi.

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