The Nigerian Army on Monday responded to a PREMIUM TIMES’ story showing that a man the army said was amongst five militants killed by soldiers in the Niger Delta, was actually pastor who had been kidnapped a few days before.
The Army had distributed the photos of the body of Andrew Anthony, founder of Ambassadors Glory Churches International in Port Harcourt, to the media and said he was amongst those killed when soldiers raided a location in Port Harcourt on August 26.
A spokesperson for the Army, Sani Usman, who been contacted before the report was published, but failed to comment, said the story was an “attempt to portray the Nigerian Army in bad light”.
The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, has however ordered a thorough investigation into the details provided in the report, he said.
Mr. Usman said Mr. Anthony was killed by his captors. He also denied that the Army circulated photographs of Mr. Anthony’s body to the media, and claimed the Army assisted the family in recovering the corpse of the late pastor.
But the statement by Mr. Usman failed to factually disprove details released in this newspaper’s report.
Mr. Anthony’s family said it was “shocked” by the Army’s “amateur lies”.
PREMIUM TIMES’ report was based on the accounts given by security operatives, family of the victim, and other sources informed about the incident.
Mr. Anthony, a father of three children, was arriving at his residence in the evening of August 18 when gunmen swooped on him and drove him to their den in a riverine community about 20 kilometres from Port Harcourt.
He was killed a few days later while negotiation between his family and the kidnappers was still underway.
Police confirmed that Mr. Anthony’s family reported his abduction and the Anti-Kidnapping Unit had commenced rescue operation before he was killed during a military raid.
Yet, Mr. Usman claimed that some “family members confirmed that they never reported the kidnapping of Mr. Andrew to the police. Rather, they were negotiating with the kidnappers on their own without recourse to any security agency before the raid on the militants camp.”
That claim is false. Not only did the Rivers State police spokesman, Omoni Nnamdi, confirm that the kidnap was reported, four policemen attached to the Anti-Kidnapping Unit in Port Harcourt told this newspaper a report was made and police were on the case before Mr. Anthony was killed.
Mr. Anthony’s family said the Army’s rebuttal raised even more questions.
John Anthony, the twin brother of the deceased who was extensively referenced in the original article, said the Army’s explanations did not add up.
“I’m completely shocked,” Mr. Anthony said. “I can’t believe a major government department like the Army could be telling these kinds of amateur lies.”
“Too many questions are left unanswered, including the other militants supposedly killed in the raid. Also, is the Army telling us that someone distributed the statement on their behalf?
“When our family and later PREMIUM TIMES called their attention to the story showing pictures of my brother being labelled a militant, why didn’t the Army disown the statement then and make redress?”
Mr. Anthony said it was not smart for the Army to say it killed other militants even after the officer that led the operation said they only shot at them and were not sure if they were killed or not.
“The person that led the operation already said they only wounded the militants who might have died in the bush. That claim is highly suspect on its own.
“So how smart is the Army’s claim about five militants they supposedly killed? We challenge them to show us the other militants that were killed in the operation rather than dragging such an important institution in the mud,” Mr. Anthony said.
Mr. Usman’s position followed a similar claim after PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported some 83 soldiers were missing after a Boko Haram attack.
He denied the report in October, even when the story was true.
A few days after the report, Mr. Usman released a statement saying scores of soldiers were not missing, creating a fissure with the statement of the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole in the northeast, Lucky Irabor, a Major General, who admitted that scores of soldiers were missing.