Despite declaring that it was an open trial, the Nigerian Army has blocked journalists from covering Maj. Gen. U. M. Mohammed’s court-martial trial for charges that appear to involve fraud and theft.
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, it was 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 said on Monday.
Maj. Gen. Mohammed, until his arrest and secret detention in the past year, was in charge of the Nigerian Army Property Limited (NAPL).
Source had said 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.
It was also 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.
However, a check revealed that he was initially arrested for “terrorism financing” to cover up for the real reason behind his ordeal.
Sources also said 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, it was 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.”
According to a reliable source, 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 the 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.”