A former Nigerian Army spokesman has cast the country’s preeminent defence institution as a murderous, corrupt and overly criminal organisation before a Canadian asylum court in Ottawa.
But Said Agborere Hammed maintained he did not take part in the crimes against humanity committed by his former employer and he was in fact under duress when he issued statements on behalf of the military that suppressed or significantly watered down atrocities perpetrated against the Nigerian civilian population.
Mr Hammed, who sought asylum in the North American country during his hearing at the Refugee Protection Division (RPD), said although he doubted the accuracy of some press releases where his name appeared as the signatory, he had no influence over them.
He sought asylum in Canada alongside his spouse and their three children because family members allegedly persecuted them for his conversion to Christianity. According to him, the persecution occurred between November 15, 1998, and January 24, 2012.
Mr Hammed, a retired major, said he fled with his family after a fatwa was issued to have him killed in Nigeria.
Court documents seen by Peoples Gazette stated that Mr Hammed, at the hearing, asserted that “he was working under duress or under authority as a public relations officer and his espoused fear of prosecution should he leave the Army.”
“His evidence was corroborated by the documentary evidence concerning the environment of fear, injustice, duress and the lack of due process in the Nigerian military,” the document said.
Documentary evidence also showed that the Nigerian Army “committed crimes against humanity on numerous occasions” while Mr Hammed was in service, but the RPD said his claims of innocence were found truthful.
The RPD concluded that even though Mr Hammed was a spokesperson for the Nigerian Army, his “duties did not demonstrate a significant contribution to the Army’s crimes” because he was under a superior officer, and he could not leave for fear of persecution.
Mr Hammed could also have been declared a deserter and charged with crimes had he fled after witnessing widespread extrajudicial executions, rights abuses and corruption in the military, immigration officials said.
A spokesman for the Nigerian Army did not respond to The Gazette’s request seeking comments about Mr Hammed’s disclosures to Canadian authorities.
The development marked yet another prong in the Canadian judiciary’s decisions about Nigerian former security agents seeking asylum. Previously, The Gazette had reported cases of two police officers, Olushola Popoola and Charles Ukoniwe, who were denied asylum because of their ties to the Nigeria Police Force, a body with matching criminal tendencies as the Nigerian military.
Canada’s Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration had requested a judicial review of the March 6, 2019, decision by the RPD to allow Mr Hammed to remain in Canada with his family.
The minister asserted that Mr Hammed was “complicit in crimes and issued pro-army press statements which minimised the Army’s transgressions.” This, according to the minister, contributed “significantly to the impunity enjoyed by the Nigerian Army in committing its crimes.”
Mr Hammed said the ministry’s evidence was “not inconsistent” with his position or the RPD’s finding that he was merely conveying information he received from his principals in the military and that “he was not in the field to verify the information.”
He added, “The crimes committed by the Nigerian Army were widely reported in the international media, and the content of those articles differed from that provided by the Army’s public relations group.”
In his January 27, 2020, ruling, Richard Bell, a Canadian federal court judge in Ottawa, Ontario, dismissed the minister’s application for judicial review.
“I find the minister’s argument that the RPD failed to properly consider whether Mr Hammed significantly contributed to the crimes against humanity committed by the Nigerian Army to have no merit,” Mr Bell said.
Once a shining light for the restoration of peace in war-torn African countries, the Nigerian Army has seen its glory erode significantly after becoming highly politicised and constantly linked to widespread killings and destruction, as well as near-daily cases of gruesome human rights abuses.
Since 1999, the Nigerian Army had coordinated the massacre of civilians in Zaki Biam, Odi, Obigbo, Zaria, and amongst others. Last October in Lekki, Lagos, Nigerian soldiers intervened in a civilian protest with heavy gunfire, killing at least nine people and wounding dozens in an act condemned across the world.
Hardly have any military chiefs ever been brought to justice for taking part in the murder of citizens they had sworn to protect.