Brutality: Lagos offers free legal service to Okere
Written by Olasunkanmi Akoni & Kingsley Omonobi
Friday, 07 November 2008
*As Navy sets up Board of Inquiry
THE Lagos State Government has offered legal assistance to Miss Uzoma Okere in getting justice following her battering on November 3, by security aides of a naval officer on Victoria Island, Lagos.
The Nigerian Navy has also instituted a Board of Inquiry into the incident which has provoked indignation at home and abroad.
Miss Okere was severely beaten and almost stripped naked by the security aides for allegedly not making way for Rear Admiral Harry Arogundade’s convoy in traffic.
However, Governor Babatunde Fashola at an audience with the victim in his Ikeja office yesterday said: “Even though this is not an act of the Lagos State government, I will first of all apologise to you.
Those of us who exercise authority in the state who owe it a responsibility to protect you have actually turned against you. I am sorry.
“This matter has been brought to my attention by e-mails, well placed on the internet on what took place. I can assure you that our democracy will protect you, you will get justice.
“I have summoned the Solicitor-General of the state and Head of Office of Public Defender, they will go out with you, they will continue to advise you.
Whatever legal assistance you will require, the state government will provide it for you. I will make representation to his Excellency, Mr. President and all the reports I get from the Ministry of Justice, I will pass it to him. I am sure that he will do justice to it.”
The governor who noted that though the wheel of justice might turn slowly, pledged that “this one will be different. I don’t think that any act of provocation could have justified what I have seen and of course we need to hear from the other side on what happened.”
Fashola urged her to remain law-abiding, adding that the state would assist in footing her medical bills.
“This is not what our country represents for her citizens. I am sorry,” he said.
Earlier, Okere who was apparently still in shock and pain had narrated her ordeal to the governor, saying the officer whose orderlies’ beat her did not show any sign of remorse but said she could have been killed.
Vanguard gathered yesterday that the Naval authorities in Abuja had set up a Board of Inquiry (BoI) to investigate the incident and if necessary, mete appropriate punishment to those found culpable.
Navy sets up Board of Inquiry, defends Arogundade
Speaking when Vanguard contacted him on the issue, Director of Naval Information, Commodore David Nabaida said: “We have set up machinery to fully investigate the matter. A board of inquiry with the naval police involved is looking into the matter.
He gave the navy account of the incident: “What really happened is that there was a traffic problem usually associated with Lagos and the escorts of the Admiral jumped down to go clear the traffic in front. Along the way, a rating used his whip to hit the car, urging the lady to move.
“Instead, she jumped out of her car, switched it off, and forcefully took the whip from him (rating), telling him that we are in a democracy, that he (rating) had no right to hit her car.
A colleague of the rating then followed the lady and collected the whip from her. When the Admiral learnt that there was altercation between a lady and a rating in front, he asked that the lady be brought to him.
“She resisted and in the process of taking her to the Admiral, her shirt got torn. When the Admiral asked her what happened, she owned up to forcefully taking the whip from the rating and apologised for the behaviour, saying she was stressed up, that was why she behaved that way,” he said.
He said the Admiral later got to know that the father of the lady, Colonel Okere (rtd), who is the Sergeant-at-arms in the Senate, was two years his senior at the Nigerian Military School (NMS), and they both spoke during which Okere apologised for the conduct of his daughter.
Commodore Nabaida said: “That does not mean we would let it die like that. In Lagos area where the incident happened, the Flag Officer Commanding is looking into the matter. The fact that we didn’t say anything before now is because we needed to know what happened. It is not that we are covering anybody or that somebody is above the law. We don’t condone our boys beating up anybody or harassing anybody.
“We are very sensitive to how the public perceive us as a service. The general thrust of the armed forces is centred on building public confidence. We cannot be seen to be doing this and go against it. Individuals should be held accountable for their actions.
“It is wrong for anybody to assume that the Navy is lawless or they go about beating people. The impression was wrongly given that Admiral Arogundade was part of the altercation whereas he is a complete gentleman an amiable officer who even sought to resolve the matter as an elder.
“It (incident) should not be used as a basis to run a complete service down. This is a service where officers and men are deployed to very dangerous trouble spots, dying to protect the territorial integrity of the nation.
In fact, if you know the casualty the Navy has suffered this year alone in the Niger Delta, you will appreciate what I am talking about. So, for anybody to say the Navy is lawless or we are wasting tax payers money is way off the mark because we also pay taxes. So, Nigerians should learn not to jump to conclusions without hearing the other side,” he said.