A Federal High Court sitting in Ibadan, today, ordered the General Officer Commanding, Second Mechanised Division, Ibadan, Major-General Muhammed Abubakar, to appear before it on October 30 or risk being committed to prison for contempt infacie curiae (contempt committed in the face of the court).
Justice Adejumo Obaseki, who was newly posted to the court on Monday, this week, gave the order during what was meant to be the hearing of a contempt motion filed by Alhaji G.O Fagbohun on behalf of himself and the Olukola Oganla family.
The family had approached the court to press contempt charges following the refusal of the GOC to cause the release of the land as ordered by the court in an enrolled consent judgment delivered the same court in 2005.
The said land measures 8.572 hectares and forms part of the expanse of land used as old shooting range by the army at Letmauck Barracks in Ibadan.
Counsel to the family, Mr Abiodun Amole, had observed that it was an insult on the court for the contemnors, particularly the GOC, not to send Colonel M.K Mohammed as a representative in a committal matter, adding that the GOC was proving to be above the court.
Amole wondered what the interest of Abubakar was in not releasing the land to the family, even after a former Chief of Army Staff had written to him to release same to the rightful owners.
Counsel to the Nigerian Army, Temil AA, who said the army never took in the suit on which the verdict was based, said his clients came to know about the matter through the contempt motion, a claim punctured by the plaintiff’s counsel.
But just as the judge was about asking for time to acquaint herself with the genesis of the matter as she was newly transferred to the court, a mild drama ensued in the court, leading to the judge dressing down Colonel Mohammed for saying the GOC enjoyed immunity under the Armed Forces Act.
In reaction, Justice Obaseki said, “The GOC does not have immunity in criminal matters. To whom does he have allegiance if not Nigeria? Although this case was initially a civil matter, it has become a criminal matter since the GOC disobeyed a court judgment. To use the language you understand, it has become a guardroom affair.
“I am coming from Makurdi, where you have your formations and where your men rise to the occasion when they have matters. This is not a magistrate court; it is a Federal High Court and the GOC must respect this court. If soldiers have immunity, why did Governor Fashola stop one of you who flouted traffic law in Lagos recently?
“You said you are a lawyer, but you seem to have forgotten the law. You should go and pick up your law books and read about what contempt means because you seem to have forgotten your law since you joined the army. I am sure you as you are standing, you will be thinking “oh I wish I had a gun and this were Barracks,” the judge said.