By Godwin Ojoshimite – Lafia
The Judicial Commission of Enquiry set up to probe the May 7, 2013 massacre of security men in Alakio, Nasarawa state has given a damning indictment of the Ombatse group which it described as an evil cult that engages in killing innocent citizens.
However, the indictment is not contained in any report or white paper but in an affidavit filed before a Nasarawa State High court in response to a suit filed by the group’s counsel Zachary Zamani Alumaga.
In the suit filed by Alumaga on behalf of the group, he sought for reliefs for the safeguard of its fundamental human rights and an injunction to stop the commission of enquiry from submitting its report and the state government from receiving the report and releasing a white paper on it.
In a detailed counter affidavit filed by the commission, through its secretary, Abubakar Sadiq Ishaq, who is the permanent secretary Cabinet Affairs in the Office of the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, the probe panel accused the Ombatse group of perpetrating evil which has held the state to ransom.
Abubakar who declared that he was working under the authority of the commission’s chairman and other members said that it received a total of 22 memoranda and found the Ombatse group culpable of the offences levelled against it.
The secretary stated further that from the 22 memoranda it received, it was “revealed that the ombatse group proscribed by the state government is opposite of what the applicant (Allumuga) claimed the group represents as deposed in paragraph 5,6,7,8,9,10,12,13 and 14 of the said supporting affidavit of the Ombatse.”
Continuing, he said that “the memoranda received from various communities and persons that were attacked by Ombatse group showed that the ombatse group is an ethnic militia that engages in killing, maiming, looting and dangerous acts that are inimical to good government, peace, and security of Nasarawa state.”
The commission’s secretary stated that despite the proscription of the group, it continued to unleash terror, mayhem, killing and destruction of lives and properties in the state.
He described the suit filed by Ombatse as useless as, according to him, the group cannot “demonstrate any wrong done to, to be done, or likely to be done to the applicant by the commission to necessitate the action filed against the commission”.
In a second counter affidavit filed by the permanent secretary of the state planning commission Suleiman Muhammed , in support of Al – Makura, the governor countered the claim made by Alumaga that the group is out to promote peace and cleanse the ills of the society, saying the an “ethnic militia that engages in killing, maiming,looting, and doing other dangerous acts that are inimical to the good government, peace and security of the state.”
Responding to the allegation raised by group’s lawyer that Governor Al-makura’s representative was at one of its gathering after its proscription, the permanent secretary said he represented the governor at the occasion because they were informed that the group was ready to turn a new leaf.
His affidavit reads in part:
“On the 2nd of February 2013, i was with the Governor of Nasarawa State whereof he informed me and i verily believe him to be true that the Ombatse group had realized that what they have been doing threatening the peace and security of the state in particular blocking of public high ways and molesting passersby and innocent Nigerians on 17th of November 2012 was illegal, unlawful and regrettable and that they were now remorseful and want to turn over a new leaf and to be reintegrated into the society”.
“That the members of Ombatse group through their leaders have invited him tto visit them and receive them and integrate them into society. That he was preparing to go there and receive them since the Ombatse group has turned over a new leaf according to them. That the governor could not make the journey due to other pressing state matters whereof i was directed by His Excellency to represent him and receive them. That i was given phone number of the person to call to direct me to the venue of the place prepared to receive the Governor of Nasarawa State. That i was directed , i got to the venue , i met chairs and canopies well arranged to receive the governor and not any prayer ground as falsely depose by the applicant.
“That on getting to the venue i was introduced to the gathering and their spokesperson said that they were happy that the governor was willing to receive them back into the society to be reintegrated as useful persons and citizens. That i responded by welcoming their ideals of renouncing the conduct that is inimical to peace, and development and that he governor is happy with the ideas of repenting from their evil ways and it was due to that, that he sent me to represent them. That after all said and done, they made two requests that day to the effect that they needed the hospital in Nasarawa Eggon to be fenced and that i should plead with the governor to intervene for the release of some of their members that were arrested by security operatives,” he said.
In another counter affidavit to Alumaga’s claims, the law firm of J.S Okutepa SAN, also representing the governor, Al – Makura urged the judge to dismiss the application filed by Ombatse legal adviser seeking for redress of the abuse of their fundamental human right.
He declared that the Ombatse group “has woefully failed to make out a case under the Fundamental Human Right Enforcement Procedure Rules, or any other law for that matter to be entitled to any of the reliefs sought”.
Okutepa noted that “the ombatse group on whose behalf the claim is brought is neither a registered association nor a human being, nor known to law and is therefore devoid of any jurist personality to bring an action or authorize the filing of an action either in its name or in the name of any of its members”.
He posited that the court cannot speculate on Ombatse’s membership as they are undisclosed, unknown and consequently non-existent.
“The question to be asked is whether a non-existent person can authorize an act? It is not a doubt that this action is purportedly filed by Zachary Zamani Alumuga for himself and on behalf of the group. There is nothing to show that the Ombatse group is a legal person, capable of suing and being sued, he posited.
Okutepa however, admitted that legislative process may not have been followed in the law that proscribed Ombatse but added it doesn’t amount to the abuse of fundamental human right.
“Even if there was a failure to follow due process, which is not conceded, such failure we submit does not grant a cause of action under a fundamental human right enforcement procedure. It is not a fundamental right question to fail to follow a process in making law”, he declared.
The counsel to the governor also said that the Ombatse group lack substantial evidence to seek relief from court.
“The case of the applicant will be bereft of evidence upon which this court can grant the relief sought by the applicant. It is the duty of any party seeking declaratory reliefs to furnish sufficient evidence as those reliefs cannot be granted for mere asking,” he said.
Reacting to the submissions of the commission and the governor, Alumaga said their response to affidavit has pre-emptied the report of the commission.
“It is very unfortunate that the commission’s report has been pre-emptied. The terms of reference of the commission is saying go and find out the involvement of ombatse members. Go and find out how involved they are. And the commission is saying that Ombatse is engaged in killing, destruction, maiming and arson. That is what the secretary of the commission deposed to in his counter affidavit and found as a fact. And he said he has the authority and consent of the chairman and members of the commission to depose to the affidavit.
“In his disposition, he said he knows that ombatse group in spite of the ban is still going on and its activities are to kill, to maim, to destroy and to cause arson. If the commission is of that position, that is their disposition. And that was what they were asked to find out. The only aspect of the commission’s report remaining now is who and who are members of Ombatse that’s all”, he stated
The legal adviser also disclosed that the rationale behind his suing the governor and commission to court was the injustice perpetrated by the commission’s chairman during the proceedings, giving an instance of how the commission’s chairman shielded the governor over the N1million gift he gave to the sect.
He added that the conduct of the chairman and members of the commission made him to lost confidence in the report of the commission.
Allumuga also debunked Governor Al-makura’s claim that the presence of his representative at Alagoni hills on February 2, 2013 was to reintegrate the group back to the society saying the governor’s representative was at the prayer ground to promise them logistics that would aid their activities.
He added that a video clip would be produced in due time to substantiate his claims. On the issue raised by Okutepa that Ombatse group is not a registered group and thus cannot sue or be sued, Alumuga said he would remain silent for the court to determine its status..
In the suit, the Ombatse group opposed their proscription saying the Nasarawa State Notice No.4 of 2012 made by the governor of the state is illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional.
According to Alumaga, the rationale for their assertion is because neither he, the counsel, nor any member was invited to be heard before the proscription was pronounced.
He declared that by virtue of Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, the Ombatse group has the right and freedom to assemble freely and to associate with others.
The legal adviser is asking for an order of the court nullifying the proscription the group and giving them liberty to operate without restrictions. He also prayed the court to restrain the governor and the commission of inquiry from interfering with their liberty, rights and privileges of the Ombatse group.
Alumaga also sought for an injunction to restrain the attorney general of the state and Nasarawa State government from receiving and implementing report of the of the commission because the commission was set up on a faulty law.
An award of Five hundred million naira was also requested by the group for breach of their fundamental human right.