Three months after some officers of the Nigerian Airforce accosted a Port Harcourt-based doctor during the state-wide COVID-19 lockdown, justice is yet to be served.
Avwebo Otoide told this newspaper in May she was en route to work as an essential worker when a Hilux van and a luxury bus, both light blue, of the Nigerian Airforce, closed in on her.
As she turned to look, an officer disembarked from the Hilux van, brandishing his gun, and specifically pointed the barrel at her face.
“Stop there,” she recalled the officer ordering her. “I stopped and looked at him. I told him ‘you don’t need to point your weapon at me, just ask me who I am.’”
“Who are you?” she was asked, to which she said she was a medical doctor, pulling out her ID card. What followed was a heavy slap on her left cheek, Mrs Otoide told PREMIUM TIMES after the incident.
“I was dazed for a moment. I heard him say ‘Are you the first doctor?’”
In the course of the exchanges, her phone was also smashed, and she would later be detained at an isolation centre along Yakubu Gowon Stadium in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, a punishment meted out on defaulters of the state’s lockdown directive.
But this happened May 18, a Monday, at about 5:10 p.m. along Ohiamini-Psychiatric Road, off Rumuola, Port Harcourt, the senior registrar at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, said.
At the time, Rivers State daily curfew was between 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
After the encounter, Mrs Otoide petitioned the Nigerian Air Force through the state branch of the Nigerian Medical Association.
Following public outrage, the Nigerian Air Force publicist, Ibikunle Daramola, decried the incident, saying the force had identified the accused “airmen”, and “appropriate disciplinary action will be taken to the extent of their culpability.”
About five weeks later, the air commodore identified the culpable personnel as “FS Bass MO and ACM Ibrahim SA.”
He said they have been “charged for conduct prejudicial to good order & service discipline will be tried summarily in accordance with Armed Forces Act CAP A20, as amended.”
Under section 104(1) of the act, if convicted by a court-martial, both men are liable to not more than “two years imprisonment or any less punishment provided by this act.”
Mr Daramola added that the initial non-appearance of Mrs Otoide before the board of inquiry set up to look into the petition “delayed the BOI, which did not conclude work until 18 June.”
It’s been over two months since the said conclusion, but no one has been brought to book.
Meanwhile, Mrs Otoide told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday that the Air Force has made advances to fix her phone even though a judgement has not been passed. She declined the request.
“They asked (me) to bring my phone for them to repair. I asked them to officially respond to my petition before they begin (to) address things haphazardly. That was June 29th,” she said over the phone.
She shared an audio of her phone conversation with an official who said he was from Air Force base and the chairman investigating the matter.
PREMIUM TIMES could not, however, independently verify the audio.
Mr Daramola said on Sunday that after the panel concluded its findings, the accused officers were scheduled for trial and Mrs Otoide was invited but she did not show up.
“The trial of the 2 personnel was subsequently fixed for 1 July 2020; however, Dr Otoide has failed to turn up for the trial which the Unit has continued to reschedule to accommodate her availability,” Mr Daramola said.
But Mrs Otoide said she has never been invited. She said the last she heard from anyone was when an official identified simply as Yurkursi LF called asking to repair her phone.
Told this, Mr Daramola stood by what he earlier said. He assured that the trial would be held this week and the case closed this week.
About an hour later, Mrs Otoide called to inform this reporter she was called by an official named Bimbo Elumade and invited for the hearing later in the week.
“Your calls are so effective, someone just called to invite me to testify at the court-martial hearing this week,” the doctor said. “Tentatively Friday, he says he would send an official notice tomorrow.”