Major Bello Magaji did not plan a coup and so did not fall into the category of convicted coupists pardoned last week by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Council of State had ratified a proposal by the President to grant presidential pardon to eight Nigerians, including Magaji.
Pardoned alongside him were former Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters in the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo, the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua; a former Chief of General Staff under General Sani Abacha’s regime, General Oladipo Diya and a former Minister of Works, the late Major-General Abdul Kareem Adisa.
Others are a former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Mohammed Lima Biu; a former Managing Director of Bank of the North, Shettima Bulamma, and Major Seun Fadipe.
Yar’Adua, Diya, Fadipe and Adisa were pardoned for their alleged role in the phantom coup of 1995 and 1997, while Bulamma and others got pardoned for economic crimes.
But the offence for which Magaji was court-martialed and convicted was that he was defiling young boys in the barracks, having anal sex with them. And now, he has got pardoned, thereby having his sins wiped off the books.
Magaji, a commissioned officer in the Nigeria Army, was arraigned before the General Court Martial on 6 February, 1997 on a charge of sodomy, contrary to Section 81(1) (a) of the Armed Forces Decree 1993. The particulars of the offence are that he sometime in 1996 had carnal knowledge of four boys. He pleaded not guilty to the charge but was convicted.
The ex-major lost at the Appeal Court and ultimately at the Supreme Court, which on 7 March, 2008 dismissed his case as lacking in merit. The Major’s statement of defence and the testimonies of his victims are as interesting as they are shocking. As noted by the Supreme Court, the case brought to the fore, the need for parents to take very keen interest in the movements of their kids.
One of the victims, Emmanuel, as first prosecution witness, said in his evidence in-chief at pages 23 and 24 of the court record, and was quoted in very large parts by the Supreme Court:
“When I went inside, I saw Joseph with Oga Magaji. Then Oga asked me my name, and then I told him my Joseph (sic) said yes. So, he asked Joseph if he knew me and Joseph said yes. So, he said I should go inside and sit down. Then, when we went inside, I saw Mohammed and he said it has been long he was inside; he overslept. Then, I asked Joseph the time they came there. Joseph said it has been long, that Mohammed took a bottle of Gulder, that’s why he went asleep. By then, Sam came in, brought a bottle of small stout and gave me to drink, but I said I didn’t want to drink because I was not used to it, but he said if I don’t drink it, I wouldn’t work for Oga, he will not accept me. Then, he opened the small stout for me. I took a little out of it and it was bitter, I couldn’t take it, so I gave it to Joseph, who took the rest.
“After five minutes my eyes were turning me, Joseph said me and Mohammed should go inside the bedroom to take a bath so that our eyes will stop turning us, we accepted, took our bath and when we wanted to put our clothes on, Joseph brought out one army singlet, shirt and nicker, and a night gown and he said we should put them on we asked him why. He said we could not go home that patrol will hold us, that we had to sleep till the following day so we accepted and put them on. Then he showed us the guest room that we should go inside that that is where we were going to sleep. All of us went inside the guest room, suddenly, Joseph went outside saying he was going to collect something from the sitting room. When he went out, just immediately he went out then Major Magaji came inside the room. When he came inside, because I and Mohammed were sleeping on the bed he sat on the bed and asked us what we were discussing, we said nothing. It was then he removed his singlet and removed Mohammed’s own and started romancing Mohammed’s body and used my hand and put it on his tommy and said that I should be romancing his tommy, After that, he off his knickers and off Mohammed’s knickers and he sexed Mohammed through the anus. Then, Mohammed shouted that this wasn’t what Joseph told him that he was coming to do there. Then, Oga stood up and Mohammed went out. Before Mohammed went out, he told Mohammed to bring a white container. When Mohammed brought the container the container was filled with cream, so he used the cream to rob our pains; I and Mohammed and then Mohammed went out then Oga wanted to use me too. He turned me upside down and used his penis and put it into my anus then, I shouted that I can’t take it that is not what Joseph told me too then he said I should go out.”
Joseph, in his evidence in-chief, said at page 28 of the court record:
“There was a day; it was on a Friday evening. I was standing in my area, then Oscar called me and said that I should go and take bathe that he will take me to somewhere. I thought that it was joking matter because I use to fear that boy before, but I took my bathe. After taking my bathe, he gave me transport fare to go to camp 1, at the offers’ mess. He said he was coming to meet me there. He told me that he was taking me there to go and do a contract of ridges not knowing that he was taking me there to go and do another thing. When we entered Maj. Magaji’s house, they gave me small stout to drink. I said no that I have not tried it before. They said I should try it that it is only a bottle of small stout. When I drank it, it was bitter so I told them I can’t finish it but they urged me to finish it. After I finished drinking, my eyes started turning me. Then the officer told me to go into his bedroom and lie down so that my eyes will steady. I went inside and lay on the bed. In the night the offr came into the room and started romancing my body so I was thinking within me, “ah, this man is a senior officer, how can he be doing a thing like this” but I was afraid to speak out so he told me to lie down on the floor and turn my back, then I refused I told him I can’t do that, so he brought a container of cream and said I should be rubbing the cream on his penis. After some time, I told him I had to be going because it was getting late in the night. He said I shouldn’t worry that I should go and bath. After my bath he gave me N1500.00k and said I should give Oscar N500.00k for bringing me. Then when I came out I gave Oscar N500.00k and it remained N1000.00k. Out of the N1000.00k Oscar collected N100.00k and it remained N900.00k. From the N900.00k, I bought things paid small small credit I was owing and bought school uniform for myself.”
Court records have the Major as telling the court martial that:
“… I had some passes with them short of sexual intercourse … they massaged me. I have to state that on the day in question, the massage they did to me included my private parts and I had romances with them. We were naked.”
In the lead judgment of the Supreme Court, Justice Niki Tobi said:
“By his conduct, the appellant re-ordered God’s creation. Has he got the power to do that? No. No human being, whether in the military or not, has the power to re-order God’s creation. After all, we are not talking of fighting a war. By his conduct, the appellant has brought shame to himself. Although a bit of the dent is on the Army, I am not prepared to hold that Force guilty of the conduct of the appellant. The Army did not ask him to commit this heinous and atrocious offence. He is a terrible criminal. And he is alone, clearly alone.
“This case clearly brings to the open, the problem of poverty in our society; not just poverty, but abject poverty. It is in evidence that the victims were hired by money. Parents should try as much as they can to provide for the needs of their children. And when I say this, I am not unaware or oblivious of the fact that some children are not satisfied even if their parents supply all their needs because of their insatiable growing and glowing gluttony for more and more, like Oliver Twist of literary fame.”
The Supreme Court in 2008 affirmed the Major’s conviction and sentence by the Court Martial but his prayers were answered last week by the Council of State. He was pardoned.