Monday, March 7, 2016 12:37 am
By Funsho Arogundade
Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka has described as unwarranted humiliation the demotion of Brigadier-General Eniitan Ransome-Kuti to the rank of Colonel by the Nigerian Army Council which quashed his earlier conviction by a Special Court Martial.
Soyinka spoke Sunday during a press conference titled ‘Justice At Bay: The Long, Twisted Road to Ese’, which he jointly hosted with Femi Falana, human rights lawyer and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
He stated that full justice ought to be done since the embattled senior officer has been acquitted on all the counts for which he was charged in the first place.
“I think full justice should be done. He (Ransome-Kuti) has been acquitted eventually on all the counts for which he was charged in the first place. So, why the sting at the end of supposed conveyance of justice? Why the sting of reduction in his rank and the humiliation?” Soyinka said.
According to the literary giant, “there is nothing worse than a serving soldier, of any rank, being stripped of his rank. It amounted to an unwarranted humiliation. So we are appealing to the military command and to the president to restore this man to his rank.”
Ransome-Kuti, 52, was arrested in January 2015 and tried by a Special Court Martial over a three count charge of cowardly behaviour, failure to perform military duties, and miscellaneous offences relating to military property, while serving as Commander of a Joint Multinational Task Force in Baga, Borno State.
The first count of cowardly behaviour was later struck out by the military court, but Ransome-Kuti was found guilty of the other two counts: earning him a dismissal from the army and six months imprisonment.
Ransome-Kuti was charged alongside Colonel O.C Ajunwa, his chief of staff; Lieutenant-Colonel G.A Suru, Multi-National Joint Task Force Garrison Commander; Lieutenant-Colonel Haruna, Commanding Officer of 134 Battalion; and Major Aliyu, Commanding Officer of 174 Battalion. But. Ransome-Kuti was the only one convicted.
But his lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, in a letter to the Defence Minister, described Ransome-Kuti’s conviction and sentence as “fundamentally wrong, unjust, and illogical”.
According to Falana, who was also at Sunday’s media briefing, he noted that while his client was convicted, his co-defendants who were Commanding Officers were discharged and acquitted.
He then requested for a dispassionate review of the case and urged the minister to set aside the finding and sentence of the military court against Ransome-Kuti in the interest of justice.
“This is most desirable because the prosecution did not prove that it was the responsibility of our client to personally coordinate troops and assets of HQ MNJTF to repel the Boko Haram insurgents attack on HQ MNJTF in view of the fact that the troops and assets were under the command of their respective commanding officers,” he stated.
Of interest is the fact that our client who had no direct control of the troops and assets was found guilty while his subordinate officers such as the Commanding Officer 134 Battalion, Commanding Officer 174 Battalion, and Garrison Commander MNJTF Garrison who had direct control of the troops and assets were freed.”
But before Falana’s letter was considered, the officer’s six-month jail term ran out. Yet, he was not released and this forced the SAN to threaten a legal action in another letter to the Chief of Army Staff dated 26 February, if his client was not immediately released.
Few days later, the COAS directed that Ransome-Kuti be immediately released from custody.
“This is about the saying that half a loaf is better than none. What the Nigerian Army has done here was the offer of half a loaf to the demand of justice,” Soyinka said.
The foremost playwright, who described the whole episode as “a very painful one”, praised Falana for his doggedness over the matter. He said he has been very restrained commenting on the trial given that Ransome-Kuti is a member of his family.
“I want to thank Femi (Falana) for his doggedness over this matter. I have been reticent to some extent, but active not in public, because General Eniitan Ransome Kuti is my family. It’s been quite a very painful episode. If you recalled that in my last publication ‘The Republic of Liars’, I mentioned that a certain member of my family, in fact not only been in the army but was actually at the forefront confronting Boko Haram. He was the one I was referring to. I must thank Femi for a very lucid articulation of the circumstances of that event that led to his arrest which many people do not know,” he stressed.
Soyinka then appealed to the military high command and to President Mohammadu Buhari to employ the moral courage to do what is right absolutely from start to finish without reducing that mandate of justice.
“Let justice be done to this man, Eniitan Ransome-Kuti by restoring the man to his original rank, and also extend justice to other serving military officers who have been at the forefront of our security. We should also remember that this fight against Boko Haram is not for military alone. We better support the military both materially and morally. Let them know and understand that we know the sacrifices they are making for us. So, I repeat we should do justice, a thorough justice,” he said.
“If we must absolutely jail anyone as a result of this (insurgency) episode, let those thieving Generals take on the sentences of all the innocent officers, in addition to their own. Those who deprived soldiers of the weaponry they needed to execute their humanitarian duties, we should add those sentences to that of the thieving Generals. Let’s give these soldiers leniency and absolutely clean their records which must not be besmirched. That’s the essence of justice.”
Also, the duo of Soyinka and Falana, have berated individuals masking the abduction of 14-year-old Ese Oruru with religion.
The two eminent Nigerians said the matter was purely criminal and not religious, adding that the perpetrator should be prosecuted so the victim could get justice.
Soyinka disagreed with a professor of Islamic Eschatology and Director of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Ishaq Akintola, who claimed that Islam has no age barrier in marriage.
“I want to ask him (Akintola), who invoked religion in the first place? What everybody was screaming was that this was a crime, a criminal act. Who brought religion into a purely criminal act? People should be very careful when they speak. They should take care not to worsen an already inexcusable situation by dragging religion into it,” Soyinka said.
According to the Nobel laureate, specialists in human physiology had declared that at a certain age, a girl-child is not fit for sexual intercourse with “a grizzled, horny adult”.
“So, who exactly brings religion into issues of governance, of constitution, of law? We’re saying that there’s something higher than the protocols of any religion, and has to be higher simply because those who inhabit this border called Nigeria belong to more than one religion.
“There has to be a commonality which directs our conduct, which organises our lives. As inadequate as it is, it is the Constitution.
“For me – I don’t know about you – the welfare of a child is even more important than money that is stolen. You can always retrieve the money, but when you damage a child with a fistula, which ruins a child for life, if you believe in God, you’re committing a crime against God.
“If you steal money, you commit crime against the circular society, but when you damage a child because of your own depravity, you ruin that child for life, you traumatise that child, so don’t come and tell me that you’re religious and pious.”
Soyinka noted that during the Yerima child-marriage saga, scholars highlighted tenets from the Quran which proved Yerima wrong.
“A governor, now senator, boasts that he has a right to marry and consummated a marriage with a 13-year-old, when it’s proven that he actually paid the father who was a driver in Egypt, and we screamed at the time that this was a crime, not only in Nigeria but in a Moslem country – Egypt; that this was cross-border sex trafficking, in addition to flouting the laws of this nation and Egypt.
“He took the girl from school and then announces his right to consummate the marriage – that his religion permitted him to do so,” Soyinka said.
According to him, acts of impunity inevitably lead to problems such as Boko Haram.
“When you invoke religion, there are others who will say: ‘O, you say you are pious, but I am holier than you, therefore I can interpret that same source the way I want to authorise me to kill you, your wife, your brothers, your family; because I say you’re not holy enough and I can prove it.’ That is what happens when we allow people to get away with impunity based on religion.
“So, let’s take religion out of this. We’re talking about pure criminality and it is my demand, and will always remain my demand, that until you make an example of people like Yerima, there will be thousands of Yunusa, the man who abducted Ese,” Soyinka said.
Soyinka said demanding justice for Ese does not mean being against Islam.
“I sympathise with his (Akintola’s) feeling that his religion is under siege. But he should look for other reasons. He shouldn’t try and suggest that people hate Islam. Don’t say that people are Islamophobic. That’s rubbish.
“We’re against crimes, defined by the Constitution, the legal structure that bind us all together, and we say leave religion out of it. Any religious practice involves a continuous debate. But when we’re talking about crime please don’t diffuse the subject. When we say Yerima should be prosecuted, don’t diffuse it,” Soyinka said.
He also faulted the idea that it is culturally acceptable to marry under-age girls. According to him, culture changes.
“Culture is not static. It’s dynamic. It constantly evolves. There are hard-core materials in any culture, but culture itself, especially the practice, in view of greater knowledge, discoveries, even as a result of learning from other cultures, we adopt what we have always considered sacrosanct, because at the bottom of it all, at the heart of it all, culture is about human beings, about humanity.
“There’s no culture without humanity. It’s human beings who create culture and who are guided by it and who adapt them.
“So, when I read anything which suggests that a culture is sacrosanct, I just wonder on what planet they are living, because history contradicts this absolutely.”
Falana said under Section 38 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, no child of school age should be forced to convert to another religion other than his parents’.
The section says: “No person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if such instruction ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his own, or religion not approved by his parent or guardian.”
Falana said Ese was attending a school in Bayelsa State when Yunusa allegedly abducted her to Kano State and forcefully converted her to Islam without her parents’ approval.
“That is a violation of Section 38 of the Constitution,” Falana said.
Falana noted that Yunusa’s father had spoken out that he warned his son not to bring Ese to Kano, adding that when the Emir learned of it, he directed security agencies to intervene.
“There is a United Nations convention for the rights of the child. Nigeria as a UN member ratified the convention and domesticated the law in 2003. Since 2003, we have had the Child’s Right Act. Under Section 15 of the Act, every child in Nigeria shall be educated at the expense of the state from primary to junior secondary school.
“For the avoidance of doubt, in 2004, we also enacted the Compulsory Universal Basic Education Act that has also imposed a duty on the state to ensure that every child is educated from primary to junior secondary school.
“In fact, under that law, it is a criminal offence not to allow your child to be educated. What Yunusa has done by taking that girl from her school in Yenegoa is a violation of that law.
“About 24 states have adopted the Child’s Right Act, and under the law, which is applicable in Bayelsa State, what Yunusa did is purely criminal – kidnapping, forced marriage, rape, sexual assault on a girl who was 13 last year. Now she has been put in a family way. You can imagine the danger to the health of that girl.
“That is why all Nigerians must rise to retrieve all under-age children that have been forced into illegal marriages. We need a national movement against child marriage in our country,” Falana said.