Air Force officer detained for 196 days, court-martialed thrice cries for justice
When Group Captain John J. Ijudigal, then Deputy Director of Sports of the Nigerian Air Force Headquarters, sourced for funds to ensure that the Nigerian Air Force Football Club (NAF FC)’s participation at the Nigerian national league of 2014/25, he had no premonition that his patriotic act will lead to his endless persecution.
Instead of commendations, Ijudigal was instead queried, removed from his position, detained for 196 days, denied permit to attend his father’s funeral, and court martial thrice, according to Daily Trust on Sunday’s analysis of official documents.
Group Captain Ijudigal was the Deputy Director (DD) Sports at the NAF Headquarters, between 2011 and 2016. His duties were to run the Nigerian Air Force Football Club (NAF FC) which participates in the Nigeria National League.
The league which commences between January to March, also involves that the NAF FC would have to go into camp to screen both service and civilian players during the pre-season training in October.
Official documents available to Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that before the commencement of the 2014/2015 season, the past Chief of Air Staff (CAS) approved N23, 315,700 to NAF FC for the 2014/2015 league season in December 2014.
According to NAF official records, the funds were released in quarters, in 2015, N5,828,925 was released for the first and second quarters, totaling N11,657,850:00.
But the DD Sports had to source for funds because in spite of the approval, no funds were released before the pre-season training kicked off in October 2014. The funds were released in February 2015.
“These funds were to buy balls, provide first aid materials, fuelling and servicing of the bus, medicals for the team, refreshments, logistics and pay civilian personnel during this period,” Ijudigal stated in documents made available to Daily Trust on Sunday.
After the two releases of N5,828,925 each, as the third release was about to be made in July 2015, there was a change in service leadership and the incumbent Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar took over.
The CAS stopped all pending approvals by the past CAS and asked that they be represented to him, which made the then Chief of Administration(COA) AVM Mamu to request for the third quarter NAF FC funds, for which the new CAS approved N5million.
According to Ijudigal in the statements, the CAS directed that the NAF FC funds be paid to AVM Mamu, instead of the 106 HQ NAF Camp, which was the routine.
Thereafter, the Director of Air Police summoned the DD Sports Ijudigal and asked why the request for the NAF FC funds for the third quarter was made.
The air police director informed Ijudigal that he would investigate the matter since there was no need for the release of funds since the time for the release had passed.
When AVM Mamu heard of the development, he sent for the Director of Air Police, Air Commodore CD Dola, the Director of Administration, Air Commodore Oladega, and the DD Sports Ijudigal and told them that the funds were with him and asked them not to raise any issues concerning the third quarter NAF FC funds.
In 2016, AVM Mamu was changed as the COA, the DD sports was asked to be investigated by CAS.
Ijudigal according to the documents, off the records, accounted for N11,450,000 without any supporting materials, but despite that he was slated for a “Summary of Evidence,” an action taken preparatory to a court martial.
During the proceeding, Ijudigal said he was able to account for more than what was released for the two quarters. “I spent N11, 908,500 as against the N11, 656,000 that was released,” the embattled officer said in one of the official records. Official records showed that during the trial, the prosecution said that there was insufficient evidence to go on trial, and if one must be convened all materials must be assembled. But this wasn’t done
He was asked again by the CAS to organize some inter unit sports competition.
The event was a tug of war pull between airwomen, and a football match for airmen, but no funding was allocated for the event, so the officer had to look for the funds.
But when Ijudigal requested for a refund for this event, he was instead queried by Air Commodore Oladega on the orders of AVM Jekennu, relieved of his appointment and posted to the106 HQ Nigerian Air Force Camp for jurisdiction.
Ijudigal stated that a board of Inquiry, based on the investigation by Dola, was supposed to be conducted but instead a Summary of Evidence took place.
The commander of the 106 HQ Nigerian Air Force Camp, Air Commodore K. Aliyu passed the summary of evidence report to HQ Nigerian Air Force the next day as against the standard procedure of treating it as prescribed by the Manual of Air Force Law, according to Ijudigal.
Subsequently, Group Captain Ijudigal was posted to the Training Command in Kaduna for another jurisdiction even though the term “posting for jurisdiction” isn’t in any of the service books.
Official documents revealed further that while in Kaduna, Ijudigal was placed on arrest for 75 days and wasn’t taken on the nominal roll, meaning he wasn’t posted to any unit despite his rank as a senior officer.
Ijudigal wrote to Command to be taken on the nominal roll but he received no reply, but rather the same unit which refused to take him on strength, went ahead to set up two court martials to try the officer.
During this process, Ijudigal was first housed at the Officers Mess and later had to pay for his stay at the mess because there was no accommodation for him.
All officers of training command are accommodated at Dala Road, but Ijudigal was placed at the Base at the Transit Quarters, which isn’t where training command officers were accommodated.
The officer said in one of the documents reviewed that while he was in training command, all regulations as regards trial as reflected in the Manual of Air Force law were disregarded.
“One of such was that a court martial ought to be assembled before the 75 days but this wasn’t done,” he said.
The first court martial assembled for Ijudigal’s trial was presided by Air Commodore Etukudo, while the second one had Air Commodore Jemitola as president.
Official records showed that during the trial, the prosecution said that there was insufficient evidence to go on trial, and if one must be convened all materials must be assembled. But this wasn’t done.
“Instead a directive came out that all trials should be completed not later than 15 June, 2016 but nothing was done on my issue,” the officer said.
During this period, Ijudigal’s father, retired Justice John Jilantikiri, died, and he applied for compassionate pass to attend the burial. But the Air Officer Commanding, AVM NA Balogun, instead directed that Ijudigal be placed on a six-hourly reporting period which lasted for 123 days.
Findings revealed that Air Commodore Dola who started the investigation, was to also later come in as a witness, and in the course of investigation said that CAS had ordered him to seize Ijudigal’s Mercedes Benz C300 which he said were part of recovery efforts.
Official documents show that Group Captain Ijudigal was on arrest for over 196 days under the leadership of AVM Balogun.
The Directorate of Legal Services sent a signal on the stoppage of posting for jurisdiction but this was disregarded for Ijudigal and he was on such a posting for nine months.
Later in July 2017, the Chief of Administration AVM Lawal Alao sent a letter to HQ TC informing them that Ijudigal’s posting was in error and he should be returned to Abuja.
“Just before I returned to Abuja, I wrote a Letter for Redress to CAS, but I never got any response or audience to that effect,” he lamented.
Though Ijudigal’s return to Abuja was through an RTU signal, which meant a return to unit, he was deployed to the Base Gym, to serve under the supervision of a Master Warrant Officer, who additionally reports to the CO BSW, who is a wing commander.
Shortly after his return to Abuja, another signal for his court martial to be headed by Air Commodore Salami, was again convened.
This brings the total court martial to three, from October, 2015 to February, 2018. This is coming even though the two earlier court martials in Kaduna have not been wound down.
“The NAF headquarters never bothered to find out what happened to the third quarter release, which is the source of the ordeal,” Ijudigal said in one of the records.
The charge at the Kaduna court martial was on a eight counts, and Ijudigal was directed to refund N7,788,130 by Air Commodore Dola.
The charges, however, have now been changed to four counts, and for total misapplication of N4, 100,000 for the Abuja court martial.
Though a summary of evidence ought to be done for the fresh four counts, it was not done.
The prosecution at HQ TC and another report by Wing Commander Folashade Gbadebo in Abuja pointed out the flaws and added that auditors and supply experts for another investigation be used to verify it, it was disregarded.
When Daily Trust on Sunday contacted the Director of Public Relations and Information, Nigerian Air Force, Air Vice Marshal Olatokunbo Adesanya, he said the he couldn’t comment on the matter since the matter is in court.
In a WhatsApp message, AVM Adesanya said, “The said senior officer has been charged and is undergoing trial. As you are aware, since the matter is sub-judice, one cannot make comments on it until the judicial process is over. Thanks for contacting me to clarify.”
When our reporter pressed him to provide what new charges Group Captain Ijudigal was being tried for, the NAF spokesperson refused to comment.
Reacting, a law lecturer, Anthony Agbonlahor said the Court Martial must comply with the provisions of the Armed Forces Act.
He said the officer is not currently in detention over the allegation against him, he should assemble all the evidence which he had sought to be used in the case, including the invoices, receipts and letters from the dealers to be tendered in his defence.
“If he feels that his rights are by any means being trampled upon, he has the right to go to any court. He is a citizen of Nigeria,” he said.
In the same vein, human rights lawyer, Hamid Ajibola Jimoh adviced the officer to institute a civil suit against the Nigerian Air Force for malicious prosecution, having been court martialed thrice without being found wanting.
Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar