Maj. Gen. Otiki’s fate hangs on Army Council, previous unblemished record may count for him
Lawyers for the Immediate past General Officer Commanding (GOC) 8 Division Sokoto, Major General Hakeem Otiki, who was convicted and sentenced last week on various charges after soldiers serving under him absconded with N100million belonging to the army last year have said that he is awaiting the final decision of the Nigerian Army Council on his fate before taking the next legal steps.
The statement comes amidst fresh revelations that have emerged on the intrigues that surrounded the 9-month trial including facts that were ignored but which may now form the final decision of the “confirming authority”, the Nigerian Army Council, on the sentencing passed against him.
Major General Otiki had last week been convicted on all five count charges brought against him by army authorities and demoted to the rank of Brigadier General by an army court martial in Abuja. It also dismissed the former GOC with “disgrace and dishonour”.
Counsel to the accused senior army officer, Israel Olorundare (SAN) told journalists that the conviction and sentencing by the General Court Martial “did not reflect the realities on ground, facts, witnesses called and evidences tendered” hence they are looking forward to a favourable response from the Army Council on the matter.
– Sentencing by court martial –
“Many will be praying to have such an unblemished career and record of military service in the country like the accused senior army officer”, President of the General Court Martial, Lt. General Lamidi Adeosun had said before sentencing Otiki after his army profile was read following his earlier conviction.
Adeosun said that having confirmed that Maj. Gen. Otiki is a first time offender in his 34 years of “previously unblemished career in the army and to the Nigeria armed forces”, the court president however said it would “not fail in dispensing justice. We would do the very best with the humanness and kindness that the law allows”.
The President of the General Court Martial then went ahead and delivered the sentencing of Otiki and ruled as follows:
COUNT FIVE: Two (2) years loss of seniority on rank of Major General. Subject to confirmation by the Army Council.
COUNT FOUR: Severe reprimand. Subject to confirmation by the Army Council.
COUNT THREE: Reduction of rank to Brigadier General with two years seniority on the rank. Subject to confirmation by the Army Council.
COUNT TWO: Dismissal, disgrace and dishonour. Subject to confirmation by the Army Council.
COUNT ONE: Dismissal, disgrace and dishonour. Subject to confirmation by the Army Council.
1. All monies recovered by the Special Investigation Bureau (SIB) of the Nigerian Army totaling N135,382 million and $6, 600 dollars from the convicted senior officer should be returned to the Nigeria Army coffers.
2. The N150million stolen by the accused senior officer which remained unaccounted for in Count Two should be returned to the coffers of the Nigerian Army.
The prosecution counsel, Major AA Onumo had earlier thanked the court martial for doing justice to the case after the conviction of the army general last week.
– Judge Advocate submission at end of hearing –
Earlier before the conviction and sentencing was passed, Judge Advocate of the court martial, Major A. Mohammed had in an over three hours address of the case profile outlined the processes engaged by the General Court Martial from its composition to the hearing, summons of witnesses, presentation of evidence and final address by the prosecution and defence counsels.
The accused Major General Otiki was seen on wheelchair facing the court martial due to an earlier surgery on his spine that is due for renewal, as he awaited judgment.
The judge advocate said the prosecution in its final address had insisted that the military court martial should impose harsh punishment on Major General Otiki for stealing and negligence of duties.
The judge advocate in his final address also indicated that evidence during hearing of the case showed that the missing money in question was N100million carted away by the deserting soldiers and not N400million and that the defence counsel informed the court martial that the accused had immediately returned the money in less than 24 hours.
Soldiers under Maj. Gen. Otiki’s command were said to have been assigned the money to be delivered to a senior officer in Kaduna to purchase furniture for the 8th Division Sokoto while on escort duties but absconded with the monies including the sum of 86,000 dollars belonging to the senior officer in July 2019.
The soldiers were on escort duties to Kaduna to fetch ammunition for the division from military authorities, the judge advocate said.
“The sum of One Hundred Million Naira (N100,000,000.00)…has already been refunded with effect from 12 July 2019, within 24 hours after the unfortunate incident of 11 July 2019, as averred by Brig-Gen. Inuwa, erstwhile Finance Officer of 8 Division before the General Court Martial”, Defence Counsel Olorundare had told the court martial during the final address by both parties two weeks ago.
According to the judge advocate, in the defence address, it had been canvassed at past hearings by Otiki’s lawyers that the court should see the immediate return of the stolen amount as a sign of goodwill and respect for military procedures hence there was no reason for the army to charge Otiki for stealing based on Counts 1 and 2 as contained in the 5-count charge sheet before the court martial.
But on the contrary, the judge advocate said that the prosecution felt that Otiki was wrong to have authorised the removal of the funds in the first place regardless of its replacement after the incident occurred.
– Battle shifts to Army Council –
After a request for release from detention of the accused senior officer by his lawyers, President of the General Court Martial, Lt. General Lamidi Adeosun said the senior army officer had in recent times been confined to house arrest and that the status quo remains until the SIB guards are eventually pulled out since there was no custodial sentencing.
“The SIB and the administrative officer of the court are the ones to handle that. When you say (he has been in) detention the accused senior officer has been in his house since, unless you want us to pronounce that he should be moved out of his house,” Lt. General Adeosun had said.
The defence counsel said with the court’s clarity, the accused senior army officer would not be under custody and had regained his freedom subject to confirmation of the sentencing by the Army Council.
Fresh information available indicates that the military authorities are making moves not to sacrifice Otiki who is one of the best infantry officers in the army with a previously unblemished record as read by Colonel NG. Mohammed, the Deputy Director Records, Army Headquarters Department of Military Secretary after the conviction of the embattled army general last week.
Some retired and serving military officers who analysed the conviction and sentencing but preferred not to be named said Maj. Gen. Otiki was likely to get a reprieve at the Nigerian Army Council as he was not directly linked to the money stolen by soldiers but “had to be convicted to make the army look good in the eyes of the public” and also because of his role as the accounting officer of the funds.
“There was too much misinformation about the actual amount stolen by the deserting soldiers and the army authorities do not want to make it look like they are shielding one of their own before the public but the facts have now been revealed as N100million stolen and not N400million by the deserting soldiers. Otiki was only indicted using the Manual of Financial Administration for the Armed Forces of Nigeria (MAFA) 2017 because the funds, though being conveyed by soldiers, were deemed to still have been under his custody as the chief accounting officer of the 8 Division of the Nigerian Army in Sokoto”, one serving army officer knowledgeable on the matter said.
The MAFA in page 9, paragraph 01.41 of the manual defines “Accounting officer” as follows;
“An accounting Officer is any commissioned officer of the Services duly appointed and vested with the powers of command of a formation and unit. He is responsible for the receipt, custody and disbursement of the funds.”
But in the light of fresh facts and information being brought to light after the sentencing of Maj. Gen. Otiki last week Monday in Abuja, a fresh lobby has begun for the Nigerian Army Council to commute the sentencing to retirement seeing that the accused senior officer never had any blemish in his career before now and was initially due for retirement in December 2020.
A military insider said that one of the fresh facts is that General Otiki had earlier in the course of trial asked for the army to take note that during his handover as GOC of 8 Division Sokoto, his successor, Major General JJ Ogunlade did not at any time or in takeover notes said that army monies were missing in the division.
“When Major General HO Otiki was relieved of command as GOC 8 Division Sokoto, Major General JJ Ogunlade who took over agreed to sign the handing/taking over note because he was satisfied that there were no discrepancies in the 8 Division’s account”, the serving army officer said.
Also, then engineer commander of the division, Brig-Gen EO. Aikhomu had clearly testified during the trial that a separate N150million project funds (which Otiki is being asked to refund after sentencing) was clearly spent on projects that are completed or ongoing with all financial documents and transaction receipts tendered.
“The 150million projects have either been fully executed or at various stages of completion in Giginya Barracks as ably stated by Brig-Gen EO. Aikhomu, the then Engineer Commander 8 Division, Sokoto,” the defence team earlier led by Barr. Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, had said during the trial where documentary evidences were also tendered to back up Maj. Gen. Otiki’s assertion.
“On the order to refund the sum of One Hundred And Fifty Million Naira (#150,000,000.00) in respect of count 2, the undisputed evidence before the General Court Martial is that the sum of One Hundred And Fifty Million Naira (#150,000,000.00) was released for projects in 8 Division Nigerian Army, Sokoto. The projects have either been fully executed or are at various stages of completion as ably stated by Brigadier General E0 Aikhomu, the then Engineer Commander 8 Division, Sokoto”, Defence Counsel Oludare had told the court martial.
The counsel added that “it is in evidence that Brigadier General Aikhomu, whose duties it was to substantiate facts of the projects, collected N61,000,000 for fencing, construction of ditches round the Barracks etc. While a supplier of building materials, Mallam Abubakar collected N42,900,000 for supply of construction materials. Also, Brigadier General Abdul, the Signal Commander collected N6,900,000 for installation of digital security equipment; Brigadier General Galadima who is the Commander of the 8 Division Workshop collected N6,850,000 for repairs of vehicles and purchase of motorcycles.
“Other sundry expenses in course of the projects executed by the senior officer includes; purchase/installation of mini transformer for the GOC’s house N4,500,000, interlocking stones N: N2,100,000, repair/replacement of car shed N1,800,000, digging of borehole N3,700,000, connection of NEPA line from Giginya Barracks to the GOC’s residence at Bafarawa Estate N1,200,000 amongst others.” Oludare told the military court.
– Army Council at a glance –
The Nigerian Army Council consists of four people: the Minister of Defence (Chairman of Council), Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence (Secretary of Council).
Section 9 of the Armed Forces Act (2007) clearly spelts out the composition of the Nigerian Army Council.
Section 9 – Establishment and Composition of the Nigerian Army Council
1. There shall be established for the Army a council to be known as the Nigerian Army Council (in this Act referred to as “the Army Council”).
2. The Army Council shall consist of-
a. the Minister of Defence who shall be the Chairman
b. the Chief of Defence Staff who shall be the Vice-Chairman
c. the Chief of Army Staff.
3. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence shall be the Secretary to the Council.
4. The Chairman may, from time to time, appoint any member of the Army Council to perform the duties of the Chairman at any meeting of the Army Council at which the Chairman is absent and the appointment may be either general or in respect of a particular meeting.
5. If a member of the Army Council is unable for any reason whatsoever to perform his duties as a member, he may, with the approval of the Chairman, nominate any other officer to perform those duties during the period he is unable to do so.
6. The Army Council may, whenever it deems it necessary, co-opt any officer, public officer or any other person as a member of the Army Council for the purpose of any particular meeting of the Army Council but that officer, public officer or other person shall not be entitled to vote at the meeting or count towards a quorum, and his membership of the Army Council shall cease at the end of that particular meeting unless the Army Council otherwise decides.
Earlier in his final submission, lead counsel for Major General Otiki, Barr. Olorundare SAN, had pleaded for clemency and urged the General Court Martial to temper justice with mercy saying it should not use a sledge hammer to kill a fly.
He reminded the court that General Otiki in all his years in the Army leading to this point, was a very loyal officer, a disciplined officer and well mannered and a good manager of resources which was attested to by Col. Nuhu Mohammed, Deputy Director, Records in the office of the Military Secretary, Army, who read his resume.
“As Commander Defence Headquarters Garrison, Maj. Gen. Otiki used his uncommon ability for command and administration in the management of men and materials placed under his watch to achieve commendable result, he rehabilitated facilities and vehicles in the Garrison to improve the welfare of troops and services, he facilitated the acquisition of Department of Petroleum Resources licence (sic) resulting in direct allocation of petroleum product from Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to Defence Headquarters thereby making the product available for use at reduced cost as read out by the Military Secretary, Army”, Oludare pleaded with the court martial.
Aside from this, the senior advocate reminded the court that General Otiki was the officer who assisted greatly in helping to tackle criminality in Lagos area during his time in Operation Mesa.
Olorundare also shed more light on his earlier allocutus for the convicted senior army officer while speaking with journalists after the sentencing had been delivered.
“If you listened to my allocutus, you will see that I raised some questions and it was even confirmed by the court that they recovered the sum of N135,382,000.00 million, $6,682 and ongoing projects. Witnesses for the prosecution confirmed that ongoing projects were on and some were completed. So if some projects were completed and some were ongoing as at the time they came to testify, why would you now dismiss a person based on that with disgrace and dishonour?”, Olorundare said.
The defence counsel went ahead to query why the court martial convicted Otiki when he was not the one that was robbed directly of the army funds.
“And you recovered even the N100million. Even the N100million was returned even before the investigation by the SIB started on July 12th (2019). He (Maj. Gen. Hakeem Otiki) was not the one that was robbed, it was the soldiers under him that robbed. It was confirmed that the soldiers robbed, he was not the one. Is it now a crime to entrust money even to soldiers?” Olorundare added.
“Supposing even if he had intention to steal it, it was confirmed that he was the one who reported, even the theft. He was the one who reported the theft. So all these ones, we will put them together as mitigating factors before the Army Council for them to have a rethink about all these and we believe that it will be in our favour.” the defence counsel told journalists.
– The case file –
Major Gen. Otiki had been on trial following the abscondment of five soldiers attached to his office with the sum of N100 million but which had erroneously been reported in the media as N400million. The five soldiers, who absconded with the money were allegedly instructed to deliver it to a senior officer in Kaduna for the purchase of furniture meant for the officers mess of the 8 Division of the Nigerian Army in Sokoto.
The fleeing soldiers, who have since been declared wanted are: Corporal Gabriel Oluwaniyi, Corporal Mohammed Aminu, Corporal Haruna, Oluji Joshua and Hayatudeen. One of them Lance Corporal Saidu Isah later returned the sum of N15 million as well as $6,600 to army authorities voluntarily saying that he was troubled by his conscience having been a driver to Maj. Gen. Otiki.
Lt. General Lamidi Adeosun who is also the Army Chief of Policy and Plans led the nine month trial. Others on the jury of the court martial include Major General A Tarfa, Major General FO Agbugor, Major General FA Nadu, Major General N Mohammed, Major General CT Olukotu, Major General C C Okonkwo. He also named Major A Mohammed was the judge advocate; and Captain A Ibrahim the Liason Officer.
– Is Adeosun hitting back at Otiki? –
At the opening of the court martial at the army officers’ mess, Asokoro in Abuja in September last year, Lt. Gen. Adeosun’s appointment to preside over the case was met with a fierce objection from the defence team of Otiki who claimed the soldiers, who are still at large, were Adeosun’s aides.
Femi Oyebanjo, a retired major and a counsel to Otiki had argued that there was an unending grudge between the two generals and in the interest of justice, Adeosun should recuse himself as the presiding officer.
“We have it on good authority that you bear grudge against our client. We have this deep feeling that he may not get a fair trial under your leadership,” Oyebanjo had said.
“The reasons are as follows: it is a known fact that general Otiki got into Nigerian Defence Academy on 10th January 1983 while you got in on 4th July 1983. He got in there before you. It is a fact that General Otiki actually pitied you, established and trained you.
“We have this feeling that that grudge is still there. More so that general Otiki took over from you as the Corps Commander, Infantry. We still believe that because this grudge has been there since then and because of this grudge, when you were promoted, lt. general, he sent you a text message to congratulate you but you did not respond.
“In addition to that Sir, it is a fact that by the time we go into this trial proper, certain issues will certainly come up and these are issues that affect your office as Chief of Operations, Nigerian Army which you left before you got to where you are presently. What am I staying sir, it is a fact, sir, that General Otiki as the GOC Commanding 8 Division of the Nigerian Army conducted operation Sharan Daji. He also conducted operation Harbin Kunama III.”
Oyebanjo said these were offices directly under Adeosun’s command as Chief of Policy and Plans, adding that the operations listed were going to come up in the course of the trial.
Arguing that Adeosun is an interested party, he said, “Finally Sir, it is also a known fact, that as at the time general Otiki took over from you as the Corps Commander Infantry brigade, he inherited your security personnel, your soldiers that formed the inner security of general Otiki.
“These are the same personnel that formed the reasons why we are here. They are actually your soldiers, your personal aides; the soldiers he took over from you, these soldiers are the basis why we are here today. My Lord, we say on the basis of all these, you are going to be part and parcel of this trial, we are going to be talking and referring to you.
“If you are going to do this job, there is no way you are not going to feature prominently. There is no way we will not talk about those soldiers, they were your aides, there is no way we will not talk about operations.”
But despite the objection by Otiki’s lawyers, the court martial dismissed the allegations against court president Adeosun and trial began last year and stretched for nine months culminating in the conviction and sentencing of Otiki on all five count charges.
With Maj. Gen. Otiki being convicted of all 5-count charges and being “dismissed with disgrace and dishonour” last week, some military analysts and observers say the earlier argument canvassed by the accused senior officer at the beginning of the trial that Lt. General Adeosun was an interested party in the case and should recuse himself may have angered the court president and led to an outleash of vendetta.
The defence team including the accused senior officer had at various times been assured of fair hearing for all parties after trial commenced and Adeosun had given his word and assurances that the court martial would not be vindictive in its judgment.
Military sources had earlier told journalists when the trial commenced that the rift between the two generals, including many others, was over who would succeed Lt. General Tukur Buratai as Chief of Army Staff as many were not comfortable with the unblemished records of General Otiki as “a highly accomplished, disciplined and no-nonsense officer”, one army source in the know of the scheme said.
Recall that President Buhari had in July 2019 promoted Adeosun to the rank of lieutenant-general — same rank as Buratai, placing him in good stead to become Nigeria’s next Chief of Army Staff. That move was seen as a quick action by the incumbent army chief to create a public perception that even if Adeosun was not appointed as Chief of Army Staff, he would have risen to the zenith of his career more than Maj. Gen. Otiki despite the fact that Otiki is of the 33 Regular Course of the NDA while Adeosun is of the 34 Regular Course meaning that despite his rank, Adeosun is a junior to Otiki as per military rating parlance. Adeosun is one of the closest aides to army chief Buratai.
But many observers have wondered why Adeosun and Otiki could have allowed outsiders to ruin what was “once an excellent relationship between two brothers from the same region”, a military insider said. Both men are from the Yoruba tribe in Southwest Nigeria.
Analysts have also wondered why top political, traditional and influential leaders from the Southwest especially in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) including APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu did not intervene in the rift between the two brothers during the unfortunate saga while some said it was a trap set up for the Lagos-born general Otiki who is from Ikorodu kingdom.
As the Nigerian Army Council is set to review the sentencing of Major General Hakeem Oladapo Otiki in September this year, it is left to be seen whether the Southwest leaders and other influential Nigerians would intervene or not to save one of the army’s finest officers through a more justifiable punishment system than the current “disgrace and dishonour” slammed on Otiki.