Citing lack of proof, a summary military trial of the Nigerian Air Force has acquitted Ibrahim SA, an aircraftman, who allegedly slapped Avwebo Otoide, a Port Harcourt-based doctor, in May.
Instead, Bass MO, a flight sergeant, who headed the patrol team when Mrs Otoide was reportedly assaulted, was given a punishment of “reprimand” during the summary trial that was held on Friday.
“The personnel who were found culpable in line with the extant law were tried and were awarded punishment of reprimand, in line with the armed forces law,” the force’s publicist, Ibikunle Daramola, said Wednesday.
The River State branch of the Nigerian Medical Association also posted the information on their Twitter account.
Both Messrs Bass and Ibrahim were “charged for conduct prejudicial to good order and service discipline” after some personnel of the force assaulted Mrs Otoide during the statewide COVID-19 lockdown in May.
Mrs Otoide told this newspaper at the time that she was en route to work as an essential worker when the soldiers disembarked from their vehicle, stopped and wrestled her, slapped her, smashed her phone in the process before detaining her in an isolation centre.
Her show of an identity card as a senior registrar at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital could not save her from the harassment, she said.
After the encounter, Mrs Otoide petitioned the Nigerian Air Force through the River State branch of the Nigerian Medical Association.
Following public outrage, Mr Daramola decried the incident, promising that the force would investigate it and punish the accused as due.
In the summary trial that was held last week, being the head of the team, Mr Bass was punished with a reprimand, the official said.
On the other hand, he said the case of assault levelled against Mr Ibrahim could not be proven as there was no witness to that effect.
At least three military personnel told this newspaper “reprimand” as a punishment could have a multiplier effect on the personnel concerned, being a regimented service.
What this means for Mr Bass is that he has not been exonerated of the wrongdoing because it would be filed which might delay future entitlements due for him, a lieutenant who pleaded anonymity, said.
Recalling how the trial went, Mrs Otoide said she was present when Mr Bass gave his testimony but was not when Mr Ibrahim spoke.
“The head of base services was the judge, jury and executioner and when he gave his judgement he called in only Bass MO, giving Ibrahim a pass,” she said.
Mrs Otoide said she was told this was because since she had no evidence, “did not identify him by name, and have no witness, he cannot be convicted.”
She added that the head of base service ordered Mr Bass to take responsibility for repairs of her smashed phone since he was responsible for the damage.
“The Bass who damaged my phone is to take responsibility for the cost of repairs and be reprimanded as he was the team leader and obviously something happened under his watch that he claims he is unaware of,” Mrs Otoide said.
“I asked if a reprimand was ideal punish for a slap, he said ‘in the military such things are weightier than in civilian affairs, and that a reprimand and a letter of displeasure may cost you a promotion.'”
“He also appealed to the NMA to plead with me to drop this matter, saying they don’t want to have to discharge any of the young men from duty as they may become problems to society, therefore everyone’s problem.
“They assured them that a response to their petition and an apology will come from the Airforce headquarters.”
However, an official report is yet to be sent, she said.
But Mrs Otoide fears that “with just a reprimand” the soldiers might not give up on slapping civilians they deem rude.
For her, any punishment in the shape of “some days in real detention to a demotion” would have sufficed.
“I would have felt some concern if the men were remorseful or even apologised,” she added.
“But they denied everything and got a slap on the wrist, meaning they can do it again.”
For this, she said she is not pressing further charges.
“I am not pushing (further). I believe the apology from NAF should end things once it is issued.”