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Questions On Agbiti, Kolawole

Posted by Guardian on 2005/01/08 | Views: 319 |

Questions On Agbiti, Kolawole


ALTHOUGH the celebrated trial of "the three Admirals" over missing ship, MT African Pride, has taken the back burner of national discourse, questions are currently being raised on the manner the trial was conducted; and the eventual result.

ALTHOUGH the celebrated trial of "the three Admirals" over missing ship, MT African Pride, has taken the back burner of national discourse, questions are currently being raised on the manner the trial was conducted; and the eventual result.

Indeed, some military insiders claimed that high military politics may have been involved in the entire court marshal, and trial. Two Rear Admirals Francis Agbiti, then Chief of Operation and Training (COT) and Samuel Kolawole, formerly Commanding Officer, Western Command
were convicted, while a third, Anthonio Bob-Manuel, Commanding Officer, Eastern Command Bob-Manuel was freed by the military court.
For example, one of the accused was said to be a top contender to the post of Chief of Naval Staff (CNS); while the other two are also in a race for some of the top posts, with even some of the members of the jury that tried them.

"So, effectively, the succession politics in the Navy was masked as the federal government's fight to root out corruption," a military source told The Guardian at the weekend.

"Unfortunately," according to the source, the protagonists of the "cleansing" of the Navy in line with the government's anti-corruption crusade, "employed other strategies to achieve their design.

One, they used the supposed "sin" of one of the accused against the nation's First Family, "which was freely circulated during the struggle for succession, as proof that the Villa was interested in nailing him."
Continued the source, "Generally, (the officer) was openly called the 'Abacha man' by those who reportedly felt he stood between them and the Navy's top post".

Also, the source reminded that one of the convicted "was a member of the Tribunal that tried Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in the 1995 phantom coup for which Obasanjo was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was later freed.

"After the coup trial, (the officer) was posted out as a Defence Attachˇ. He was in that capacity when Mrs. Stella Obasanjo visited while her husband was in jail.

"The then Nigerian High Commissioner in India, who is presently one of the top civilian officers of the National War College, allegedly gave Mrs. Obasanjo "a red-carpet treatment."
The officer "was alleged to have forwarded the report of the visit to Defence Intelligence Agency, the arm in charge of all Nigerian Defence Attachˇs. Based on the report, which was forwarded to the Presidency, the High Commissioner was relieved of his duties.

But till date, there has been no proof of the involvement of the Presidency in the ordeal of the officers.

It was also gathered that during the scramble for succession of the office of the Chief of Naval Staff, senior officers of the Navy interested in the office, dug up this information ostensibly in an attempt to tarnish the image of the concerned officer.

"When that didn't change events, the issue of the missing ship came up. And then, the night of the long knives arrived," another source said last week.

Interestingly, it was another of the accused naval chiefs that set up the Board of Inquiry (BOI) on the missing ship with a chief of training and operation at the Naval Headquarters, as chairman.

But when the BOI completed its assignment, it submitted its findings to the Chief of Naval Staff, with the three officers indicted to face trial.

The General Court Martial (GCM), which was inaugurated on October 27, 2004, was held in controversial circumstances on account of revelations at the proceedings. It delivered judgment last Wednesday.

While it discharged and acquitted Bob-Manuel, the court, headed by Rear Admiral Samuel Ajayi, returned a guilty verdict on Agbiti and Kolawole, with their accompanying dismissal from the Navy. Before his dismissal, Agbiti was demoted to the rank of a Commodore.

Surprisingly, none of the two Admirals was convicted of any involvement in the disappearance of the missing MT African Pride. Hence the perception in some quarters that the duo knew that the court-martial was constituted to nail them. They were rather convicted on


Conspiracy (with others unknown) (Agbiti was not found guilty on this, however).

Negligence of duty

Official misconduct

Alteration of several documents
At the beginning of the trial, they had alleged that they would not get fair treatment from the court because of its composition. They were also the two that went to a civil court to stop the trial.
Those alleged to be against the convicted officers literally confirmed their antagonism towards them immediately the officers were found guilty, convicted and sentenced on Wednesday.

Perhaps based on prior briefing, a naval Lieutenant wanted to disgrace the two Rear Admirals in public by removing their epaulets. But wise counsel prevailed based on the words of the Court President. Thus, they were allowed to go home in dignity of their full uniform.

However, it was gathered that immediately they got home, they were ordered to report at the Naval Base, Apapa for what was termed an "open arrest." Although they were reportedly allowed access to their families and phones, the situation changed the following morning.

Having not been sentenced to any length of jail term, the two officers are now under what Navy Headquarters calls "protective custody" at the Naval Base.

Said a source at the Base: "Each officer is restricted to a self-contained room with fan, television with toilet and bathroom. The rooms are normally for the use of Lieutenants, who are on course at the naval training facility of the naval base, NNS
QUORRA.

"Visits to the two officers are fully restricted. They are not allowed to use their phones. They are not allowed to move freely around. But they can use the terrace of the flat where they are being held to see what is going on around them."
But a senior naval personnel has debunked the claim that the convicted officers were arrested or their movements restricted. He said that the naval authorities invited them "so as to ensure that they could be reached as at when needed pending the ratification of the verdict."
His words: "No. No. There is nothing like arrest or restriction of movement. This is misinformation. The Navy only invited the two officers to Quorra Base. This is because it was the same Quorra that inaugurated the court-martial.

"I can tell you that their invitation is to sort out which office they would be reporting to pending when the recommendation of the panel would be ratified."
For now, the fate of the convicted officers is in the hands of the Chief of Naval Staff, who is the Convening Authority for the court-martial, and who, along with Army Board, is also the Confirming Authority of the sentences.

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