The Nigerian Army has been accused of murdering a kidnapped Nigerian pastor and labelling him a militant to cover the crime.
This was revealed in an investigative report by online news platform, Premium Times. According to the report, the pastor identified as Mr. Andrew Anthony who is the founder of Ambassadors Glory Churches International, founded in 2007, was killed in late August when soldiers raided a hideout of militants in Rivers State ahead of the formal launch of “Operation Crocodile Smile”.
After killing him, the soldiers were said to have labelled him as a senior militant in the restive Niger Delta. But, it has been revealed that the late pastor had been kidnapped some days ago before he was killed by the army.
According to Premium Times, the soldiers who went for the operation knew Mr. Anthony was a kidnap victim, yet the Army, in its official statement, circulated his photograph to the media as one of five top militants killed in the area.
He had earlier been abducted by gunmen outside his home at Ada George Road in Port Harcourt on August 18, this newspaper confirmed after weeks of examining the case. Following his death, the family contacted the online news platform to investigate the matter.
"Our findings refute the Army’s claim, and shed light on the complexities of militant activities in the oil-rich region.
Mr. Anthony was returning to his residence after a church programme when he was attacked by gunmen, his family said." says the report.
While the family members were negotiating with the kidnappers with the help of the police, they were shocked to discover that the pastor was no more alive as he has been killed by a joint military operation in the Niger Delta.
A brief report of the story by Premium Times reads:
"Ms. Obi had stumbled on a story published by PREMIUM TIMES, based on a press statement distributed by the Nigerian Army. The statement and the accompanying photograph were sourced from the News Agency of Nigeria.
“The Nigerian Army says at least five suspected members of the Niger Delta militants group were killed in Rivers State and a large cache of arms recovered by troops involved in ‘Exercise Crocodile Smile’, which commenced on Saturday,” the opening paragraph of the August 27 story said. The report was published at 7:34 p.m.
Direct quotes from the Army statement, which was signed by its spokesman, Sani Usman, read:
“The 133 Special Forces Battalion of Nigerian Army troops have carried out a precursor operation to Exercise CROCODILE SMILE aimed at getting rid of all forms of criminal activities in the Niger Delta geo-political region of Nigeria.
“In the course of the operation, five militants that attacked the troops were killed in action, while numerous others were injured and 23 suspects were arrested,” Mr. Usman, a colonel, said.
While the statement did not mention the names of militants killed in the operation, Ms. Obi immediately recognised Mr. Anthony’s body, published alongside the statement, as one of the militants.
“I knew him very well and was aware that the family had been looking for him since he was kidnapped,” Ms. Obi told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr. Anthony, a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja, said he printed the story on August 29 before driving to the Nigerian Army 2nd Brigade Headquarters at Bori Camp, Port Harcourt.
Upon arrival at Bori Camp, he sought an audience with the public relations officer there, but he was told the PRO was not in the office. He requested to see the commandant but was also rebuffed, he recalled to PREMIUM TIMES.
After waiting for about an hour with little progress, he contacted a friend, a senior military official, to assist.
“He was the one who then put me through to the commandant at the Air Force Base along Aba Road, Port Harcourt,” Mr. Anthony said.
“When I got there, a female flying officer met me at the entrance and took me straight to see the commandant. I narrated my story and showed him the news printout; he was shocked.”
It was at the base that Mr. Anthony learnt for the first time that the operation was jointly carried out by the Army and the Air Force.
“He told me it was a joint operation by the Army and the Air Force,” he said.
The Air Force official followed him back to Bori Camp.
“Immediately, he said we should go to Bori Camp. An Army commandant said the soldiers that carried out the operation were not around, but we said we’ll wait.
Hours later, he was introduced to an officer who reportedly led the operation, who politely introduced himself and began chatting with Mr. Anthony.
PREMIUM TIMES has listened to an audio recording of that conversation Mr. Anthony said he obtained discreetly, and has withheld sensitive details, including the name of the officer.
“He told me that when they got a tip from the SSS that kidnappers were holding people hostage in the Ogbogoro bush, they worked out an operation to drive them out,” the victim’s brother said.
In the recording, the officer could be heard giving detailed narration of the operation.
“On getting to that camp, they were making noise in that camp. You understand? Your brother, they tied him with his hands to the back and tied his eyes. They kept him under a tent, he was lying down when we got there,” he said.
Although the Army officially said its troops killed five militants, and published Mr. Anthony’s photo as one of them, the officer said the man was killed by the kidnappers, not by soldiers."
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