*welcomes Press Ombudsman head by Mr.Emeka Izeze:
Gentlemen of the media. We welcome you. The concern of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) is on the rapid decline of media ethics abd the total disregard of media laws by media organisations especially those of the Online genre. We in HURIWA are amongst the few groups that support FREEDOM OF THE PRESS in line with SECTION 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 as amended.
HURIWA is however worried by the misdemeanours that have continued to emerge and challenge the ways and manners that the media practitioners ought to practice their profession. Journalism in Nigeria shouldn’t be a TRADE BUT A PROFESSION. There has to be a way to bring ONLINE REPORTERS under some kind of self regulation like the NEWSPAPERS and BROADCAST INDUSTRIES have done with BRIADCASTERS ORGANISATION OF NIGERIA and the PRINT MEDIA OMBUDSMAN that is headed by erstwhile MD of The Guardian newspaper of Nigeria Mr. Emeka Izeze. We applaud the newspapers for this bold step. We are aware that online publishers have an organisation or may be two organisations. But ONLINE PUBLISHERS should be categorised under PRINT and should therefore be regulated by this NATIONAL NEWSPAPERS OMBUDSMAN headed by Emeka Izeze. SaharaReporters did what they called exclusive on a certain matter before a military court. The story is below.But before you read the story or some parts of the story, the story was actually written to try to rubbish the reputation of the former Army Chief Lt.Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai. Remember, Buratai has had many brushes over professional ethics and substandard reportage against SaharaReporters. This online medium has done a lot of good stories and some of their stories have straighten democratic culture in Nigeria. But their claim that they are citizen journalists doesn’t hold water because SaharaReporters is a big organisation that is structurally governed and staffed. So they are under legal obligation in Nigeria to respect mediablaws around the thematic areas of OBJECTIVITY, WIRSHIP OF TRURH, BALANCE AND PROFESSIONALISM. The idea that once you as a corporate organisation has an issue with someone and the person threatens you with litigation you then go haywire with all kinds of forged and fake news is TOTALLY UNETHICAL . The belongs one if them but we will not bore you down with the fuller details but just give you the gist. THE SUMMARY is that SAHARAREPORTERS alleged that a major General who is undergoing court marshal alleged that his former boss the former Army chief asked him to pay Saudi Arabia some money so he obtains citizenship. This is fake because our findings show that Saudi Arabia is rich so doesn’t need oursiders to pay them to buy citizenship. Byratai has no Saudi Arabia citizenship and why did SaharaReporters go to press with such a falsehood without verification? This is UNETHICAL AND UNPROFESSIONAL. SaharaReporters did the first story but the Army corrected them but they went ahead to write this second story to continue in their stream of attacks.
May 15, 2023…
Mohammed is a former ally of the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai (retd.).
The Nigerian Army has prevented journalists from covering the trial of Maj. Gen. U. M. Mohammed by court-martial over allegations bordering on fraud and stealing despite claiming that it was an open trial.
Mohammed is a former ally of the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai (retd.).
On Friday, SaharaReporters reported that the Nigerian Army was secretly detaining Mohammed after exposing how he laundered funds for Buratai.
This comes despite claims made by the Army headquarters on Sunday through Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, Director of Army Public Relations, that the trial is “held in the open” and “not shrouded in secrecy”.
“Court Martials, like all other criminal trials, are held in the open. The trial of Major General UM Mohammed is taking place at the Army Headquarters Command Officers’ Mess, Asokoro Abuja and is not shrouded in secrecy as being wrongly insinuated.
“The trial has been open, and the Defence has presented adequate representation in court. The accused senior officer’s family members, friends, and associates attend and observe the Court proceedings to date without hindrance,” the Army headquarters said in its statement.
However, SaharaReporters learnt on Monday that despite its promise of having an open trial, the Army prevented journalists from covering the court-martial.
“Despite the promise of an open trial for Major General Mohammed undergoing court-martial, Nigerian Army prevented journalists from covering the proceedings.
“Due to SaharaReporters’ expose on the matter, the journalists who turned up for coverage were told to go and get clearance from the Nigerian Army Directorate of Information.
“This negates the press release by the Army to journalists claiming that the trial is open to the public and the media,” a source told SaharaReporters on Monday.
SaharaReporters had reported that Maj. Gen. Mohammed, until his arrest and secret detention in the past year, was in charge of the Nigerian Army Property Limited (NAPL).
Sources had told SaharaReporters that Mohammed was being punished at the behest of Buratai with whom he was involved in illegalities and shady dealings, carried out on the orders of the former Army chief while he was in office.
As the officer in charge of NAPL, Mohammed controlled army properties across the country.
SaharaReporters had reported that while being court-martialled, Mohammed, who had been arrested and held in secret detention since January 2022, confessed that Buratai asked him to pay $730,000 to obtain Saudi Arabia citizenship for him (Buratai) in order to evade justice for the atrocities committed by the army while he was the chief of staff.
Meanwhile, the court-martial has been going on secretly since September 2022.
Checks by SaharaReporters revealed that he was initially arrested for “terrorism financing” to cover up for the real reason behind his ordeal.
Sources also told SaharaReporters that Mohammed told the special court that on the orders of Buratai, he also released funds for trips for the wives of the former Army chief and some military activities like the movement of people when Buhari opened the Nigerian Army University in Biu, Borno State.
It was learnt that Buratai also instructed Mohammed to pay huge sums of money to some Muslim clerics “praying for Buratai’s administration” as Chief of Army Staff at the time.
One of the sources said, “For instance, the last one he gave evidence and this is in evidence in court that about $700,000 was used. He (Buratai) instructed him to process Saudi Arabia residence permit for him.
“And he was also told to release money to fund the trips of his wives and also fund some military activities like the movement of people when Buhari opened some things in Biu – the Army University and some military activities. That was where he was directing that funds should be released.
“He also gave evidence of how several thousands of dollars he was ordered to release to some mallams (Islamic clerics) whom he said were praying for his administration. They were the ones that will censor any activities that he was going to undertake.
“For instance, the appointment of some persons or posting of some military officers; those ones whose names will be submitted to the mallams to determine in the spirit whether they would be loyal or not. So those things were funded in hundreds of thousands of dollars, he gave this in evidence.
“And then besides several international trips, he would ask the man to give out money. This involved several Generals, even some who were sitting as members of the panel. They also benefited from some of the foreign trips. They were paid hundreds of thousands in estacodes.”
On why Mohammed didn’t say no to certain things as the MD of NAPL, one of the sources said, “If only you know how the military operates; that would amount to insubordination.
“If your boss asks you to do something and then you say no, that is insubordination and that was the reason why he used NAPL to fund personal and official activities in the military.”
Another source said, “In one, Mohammed told us how over N26 million was released to build piggery. What they were doing was directing him to release money. Mind you, they would call him while he was still serving as the MD of NAPL and a military officer.
“You know, in the military, orders are given orally and you do not disobey it. He (Buratai) would call him and ask him to release a certain amount of money. So that is how he was giving instructions and money was being released.”
Last Friday, SaharaReporters reported that Mohammed was ill and had spent one week in the intensive care unit of the NAOWA clinic in Abuja.
According to sources, the Army authorities had restricted public access and any form of visitation to the general.
It was learnt that Mohammed who hails from Niger state is senior to the current Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Faruk Yahaya, having been part of 36 Regular Course of the Nigerian Army.
Sources revealed that normally General Mohammed ought to have retired two years ago, adding that because of the intention of the army authorities to punish him, “the army authorities refused to retire him, instead kept him in detention.”
“He was arrested in January 2022 and detained at the Nigerian Army military police guardroom in Abuja.”
Sources also told SaharaReporters that Mohammed had agreed to expose Buratai when the late Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru became the Chief of Army Staff.
Unfortunately, before he could “spill the beans, Attahiru died under tragic circumstances in a plane crash in Kaduna,” one of the sources said. “The plane was a twin-engine aircraft which was not suitable for his rank.”
But while being court-martialled, one of the sources said Mohammed had “already revealed to the army that since 2019, Buratai has used his position to buy properties for politicians including the First Lady, Aisha Buhari and also used the NAPL to fund President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2019 presidential campaign”.
Confirming SaharaReporters’ report, Nwachukwu said, “It is factual that Maj Gen UM Mohammed ought to have proceeded on retirement, however, provisions of the Armed Forces Act (specifically Section 169) permits the retention in service of such a personnel, who has pending disciplinary case(s) to allow extant legal processes.
“Furthermore, it is also a fact that members of the Special Court Martial trying Maj Gen Mohammed are all junior to him. This is permissible in special circumstances, as the Armed Forces Act provides for this contingency in Section 133(7), where the Convening Officer is required to obtain the consent of an appropriate superior to appoint any such officers as members of the court.”
Journalism has continued to face challenges due to many disruptions that pose threats to the survival of traditional media. Apart from breaching media ethics, a lot of other factors have hampered objective journalism practice in the country.The Fourth Estate of the realm is expectedly a socially responsible and development-oriented media that adopts a conflict-sensitive reporting approach, as it’s driven by professionalism and ethical standards.
A free press is essential for an enduring democratic culture and peaceful society, but most often than not, there are some forms of pressure and threats capable of hampering its practice. Among the factors are poor or no conditions of service, as it’s been argued that the journalists in Nigeria are the worst paid in the world, and in some organisations, they are not paid at all.
With this, the journalist is not able to ply his trade in an environment of truth as his loyalty is certainly not to the media house he represents but to the people in the field whose generosity enables him to survive economically. There is no way such a reporter will take the types of risks necessary for journalistic integrity when he knows that doing so would compromise his sources of income.
It has been argued that most of the media houses in the country are not representatives of any real business other than the shorter-term political ends of the proprietors. It is for this reason that the cemetery of media enterprise is littered with the graves of dead newspaper houses, many of which were left to perish after serving their short-term purposes.
This is what the Army said offucially: “The Nigerian Army says the former Group Managing Director (GMD), Nigeria Army Property Limited (NAPL), Maj.-Gen. UM Mohammed, is being court martialed following his indictment over sharp practices while in office.
The Director, Army Public Relations, Brig.-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, gave the clarifications in a statement in Abuja on Sunday.
“The general is being tried having been indicted by a military police investigation and recommendation for trial.
“Therefore, the media report on the ongoing Court Martial process of Maj.-Gen. Mohammed, is ill-conceived and campaign of calumny.
“Indeed, Maj.-Gen. Muhammed is facing army court-martial over alleged offences of theft of various sums of money belonging to NAPL and forgery,” he said.
According to him, “it is expedient to clear the air on the despicably false report and calculated attempt to cast aspersion on the ongoing court martial”.
He said the trial had already progressed to an advanced stage, adding that the prosecution had put forward the evidence against the general and closed its case.
Nwachukwu disclosed that the accused has opened his defence and testifying as First Defence Witness (DW1).
“For the avoidance of doubts, without being sub-judicial, the former GMD NAPL is facing trial in relation to alleged offences of theft of various sums of money belonging to NAPL and forgery.
“These are all acts declared as offences punishable under the provisions of various extant penal laws in Nigeria.
“To set the records straight, upon investigation and indictment of the accused senior officer by military police investigations, the Army Headquarters convened a Special Court Martial.
“This is to try the senior officer as a procedure to legally recover the sums of money he allegedly fraudulently acquired from the coffers of NAPL during his tenure as GMD.
“The details of the outcome of the court martial will be provided at the end of the court martial proceedings.
“It is instructive to point out, that trials are lawfully provided in the Armed Forces Act (AFA) as one of the disciplinary tools in the armed forces,” he said.
Nwachukwu said the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court had in multiple instances validated the procedures, findings, and sentences of court-martial.
He added that the court martials like all other criminal trials were held in the open.
According to him, the trial of Maj.-Gen. Mohammed is taking place at the Army Headquarters Command Officers’ Mess, Asokoro Abuja and not shrouded in secrecy as being insinuated.
“The trial has been opened and the Defence has presented adequate representation in court.
“The accused senior officer’s family members, friends, and associates attend and observe the court proceedings till date, without hindrance.
“It is factual that Maj.-Gen. Mohammed ought to have proceeded on retirement, however, provisions of the Armed Forces Act (specifically Section 169) permits the retention in service of such a personnel, who has pending disciplinary case(s) to allow extant legal processes.
“Furthermore, it is also a fact that members of the Special Court Martial trying Maj.-Gen. Mohammed are all junior to him.
“This is permissible in special circumstances, as the Armed Forces Act provides for this contingency in Section 133(7), where the Convening Officer is required to obtain the consent of an appropriate superior to appoint any such officers as members of the court.
“The requisite consent was obtained before convening the Special Court Martial trying the accused senior officer,” he added.
The Army spokesman said that the general was being defended by a legal team comprising two Senior Advocates and six lawyers, including a retired military officer.
He said that Mohammed was currently being detained at a military location purposely-built for such detention, where the rights and wellbeing of such detainees were given prime consideration.
According to him, at the onset of the trial, Maj.-Gen. Mohammed requested to be granted bail inter-alia on health grounds, the court declined the bail application taking cognisance of the humongous amount of monies allegedly stolen in the indictment, which could encourage the accused senior officer to abscond.
He said the court, however, granted visitation rights to some family members, including his two wives, son, daughter, and brother as requested by the accused officer.
These persons, according to him, have been visiting him regularly at the detention facility.
On the issue of the accused senior officer’s health, Nwachukwu said that Maj.-Gen. Mohammed’s state of health was being examined daily to determine his fitness to stand trial before the commencement of proceedings for the day.
He said the holding facility where he was being detained was serviced by the Army Command and NAOWA Hospital, adding that the medical facilities were open to the accused officer whenever required.
“It is crucial to state clearly, that it is inappropriate and amounts to unlawful interference with the administration of justice to peddle inaccurate reports and comments on a matter currently under judicial adjudication (sub-judice).
“All the statements reported to have been made about certain persons and funds disbursement were made in the course of the trial by a witness in the defence of his case.
“We shall therefore not comment on those statements to maintain the sanctity of the trial and its outcome.
“We enjoin media professionals to practice responsible journalism and refrain from subjective, inaccurate, and inappropriate reporting of matters currently sub-judice,” Nwachukwu said. (NAN)
Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko
National Coordinator of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA)
Text of a press conference by HURIWA dated on 16t may 2023.