The Law Will Certainly Have Its Long Way – Felix Odunlami v Nig Navy, 11 Years On

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Dele Igbinedion Esq

 

Late Peter Ede

I was in Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, Lagos. Trust me, it is really not a nice place to be. Metal gates clanging open and close continously, Doors shutting in people’s faces, Barricades, Peep Holes, Stern looking Prison Guards, searches, regulations and all. Its a place you want to avoid, unless you absolutely, absolutely, have to be there.

So, whilst at Kirikiri Prisons, I thought long, deep and wide. You know, those kind of profound thoughts that refuse to go away, years after. Thoughts like, How on earth did I get here? Or assuming something, anything, goes wrong here, how will I get out? Or what precipitate actions brought so and so here?

Anyway, it was not only Kirikiri Prisons that I had such thoughts. I had exactly the same kind of soul searching thoughts in Sapele Road and Oko Prisons Benin City, Yola Prison Adamawa State, Kuje Prison Abuja, and even in Wandsworth and various other Prisons in the United Kingdom. Whatever the Prison, the same kindred of thoughts, kind of surfaces-with or without any invitation.

So, Yes, I have been to all those prisons, and more. Though I did not go there as an inmate, but in the line of my duties as a Lawyer. I say this because I can already imagine the vile thoughts of some of you whose major preoccupation is always to imagine the worst of others in every situation. So, I repeat it that I didnt go to the Prisons as an in mate, but as a Lawyer visiting people, clients or non clients.

So, that’s how I got to Kirikiri Prisons to meet with an inmate who is currently serving a Life Sentence for Manslaughter. He is (or was, until he was dismissed) a Lieutenant in the Nigeria Navy. A ‘big’ man, by all standards. He earned well, and, with several men were at his beck and call, he lived with the vaunted pompousity of the average military man in Nigeria.

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But, the former Naval Lieutenant has been living in Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison for 11 years, and he will remain in Prison – unless he dies or the President of Nigeria, (exercises powers conferred on him by the Nigeria Constitution) and commutes the Life Sentence to either a reduced term or a total pardon.

But how did a Naval Officer end up in a maximun security facility? The answer is that the former Lieutenant’s ill fated journey to Kirikiri started on 25th July 2006. The man was serving on board the NNS beechcroft, from where he was posted as the Officer in charge of Anti Pollution in the Lagos State Ministry of Environment, Alausa, Ikeja. On the aforesaid day, the Lieutenant was driving a Mercedes Benz car when Peter Ede, an Okada rider, hit the car while maneuvering through gridlock traffic.

Thereafter, the Naval Officer alighted from his car to inspect the damage, which turned out to be a peripheral scratch. As soon as Peter saw the man in Naval uniform, he knelt down and begged for forgiveness. In response, the Naval Officer brought out his service pistol, put the barrel inside Peter’s mouth, and shot him. Peter died instantly.

Following the ensuing uproar and publicity of the killing, the Lieutenant was tried by a Naval General Court Martial, convicted for manslaughter and sentenced to Life imprisonment. He later appealed to the Court of Appeal, Lagos Judicial Division: FELIX OLANREWAJU ODUNLAMI V. THE NIGERIAN NAVY CITATION: (2011) LPELR-4684(CA) On 31st January 2011, the Three (3) Justices of the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal as lacking in merit and affirmed the Court Martial’s Judgment and Sentence.

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Then the Lieutenant moved the battle for his freedom to the Supreme Court of Nigeria. But on the 7th June 2013, Seven Justices of the Apex Court unanimously dismissed the appeal and affirmed the decisions of the Lower Appeal Court and the Naval Court Martial. Interested legal scholars can read the Judgment in Lt. Felix Olanrewaju Odunlami v. The Nigeria Navy CITATION: (2011) LPELR-4684(CA).

So, 11 years on and counting, the former Naval Lieutenant has sufficient time to contemplate and realise that the power and glory of being a Nigerian Military Officer is temporary and degradable and removeable.

I believe that the former Lieutenant can testify that, in appropriate circumstances, the law will harshly and decisively punish any Soldier, Policeman, Naval Officer or Rank and File, who kills any Nigerian citizen unlawfully.

Hence, though impunity may have its short day, but the law will certainly have its long way!

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