By Hassan Adebayo
There has been another petition to President Muhammadu Buhari by top officers forced out by the Nigerian Army in a display of arbitrariness that is yet to be justified in well over two years.
Nine major generals, 11 brigadier generals, seven colonels and 11 lieutenant colonels, 38 officers in sum, were laid off by the army in that mass sack.
The latest petition, reviewed by this paper, is the third to Mr Buhari – apart from one to his deputy Yemi Osinbajo while running the nation in an acting capacity – since the Tukur Buratai-led Army abruptly ended careers of the 38 officers by way of compulsory retirement in June 2016.
The previous petitions to the president were neither acknowledged nor replied.
“Your Excellency,” began the latest petition dated 3 September 2018 forwarded through lawyer Abdul Mohammed, “for over two years the Army 38 have repeatedly requested the Army leadership to state their offence(s)…the Army leadership has not been able to state the specific offence(s) save to say to punishment to my client came ‘from above’, signifying that (the President) ordered for the punishment…”
“It continued: “Mr President, you have put out a reputation of being a man of justice, dignity and integrity buy you are yet to prove it to all Nigerians in the case of these 38 innocent Army officers. In the past two years, grave injustice has been meted to (them), and in spite of repeated passionate letter(s) of redress to you as their Commander-in-Chief, you have been curiously silent.”
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One of the affected officers, Ojebo Baba-Ochankpa, died while waiting for justice in January last year.
Mr Buhari’s spokesperson, Femi Adesina, declined comment when contacted on Monday.
“If it’s about the army, contact the army spokesperson, please,” said Mr Adesina, who would still not speak for his principal when told the presidency is the ultimate authority for consideration of the affected officers’ appeals and they had repeatedly sent such appeals before the latest just last week.
However, nothing came of the effort to extract comment on this report from the spokesperson for the Army, Texas Chukwu.
Twice, calls to Mr Chukwu dropped (or he hung up) after an initial silence following request for him to speak on the authorities’ refusal to state the affected officers’ offences and the reason they are yet to be reinstated despite a resolution of the National Assembly.
The Senate had, last year, following a probe in the development leading to controversial dismissal, asked the Army to reinstate one of the affected officers, Chidi Ukoha.
The proceedings of the Senate probe committee leading to that legislative resolution were ignored by the invited army chief, Tukur Buratai, drawing the fury of the senators.
Display of arbitrariness
In the June 9, 2016 letters to the affected officers, their compulsory retirement was hinged on “provisions of Paragraph 09.02c (4) of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service for Officers 2012 (Revised)”.
The referenced section – 09.02c (4) – of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service for Officers 2012 (Revised), shows the officers were laid off “on disciplinary grounds i.e. serious offence(s)”.
At the time, emphasizing “service exigencies” and that the “military must remain apolitical and professional at all times”, the Army through its then-spokesperson, Sani Usman, released a statement, disclosing what could have constituted the “serious offences” which warranted the 38 officers to be compulsorily retired.
“It should be recalled that not too long ago some officers were investigated for being partisan during the 2015 general elections,” the statement said.
“Similarly, the investigation by the Presidential Committee investigating Defence Contracts revealed a lot. Some officers have already been arraigned in court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),” it added.
However, our investigations revealed that the Army breached its own rule by disengaging most of the officers without query or indictment by any panel.
The dismissals smacked of high-level arbitrariness, witch-hunting and partisanship by authorities of the Army. For instance, some of the officers laid off were merely suspected of failing to cooperate with the All Progressives Congress to garner votes in the 2015 elections, sources told this reporter.
The Harmonized Terms and Conditions of Service for Officers whose paragraph 09.02c (4) was relied upon to remove the officers, originates from the Armed Forces Act.
The section cited by the Army provides that an officer may be compulsorily retired “on disciplinary grounds i.e. serious offence(s)” without defining what constitutes “serious offences”.
But the principal law – the Armed Forces Act – establishes all actions that constitute offences in the Military.
The Act prescribes steps to be taken in punishing offences, and a review shows no section empowers the Army Council to arbitrarily punish or compulsorily retire officers for any offence.
In fact, the Army Council, in Section 11(a-f) of the Act, has no power to retire any officer on disciplinary ground without compliance with the steps prescribed by law including the establishment of a panel to try the officers, which was not done.
In June, an army lawyer gave what top military officers said was a “ridiculous” reason for the dismissal of one of the officers.
The lawyer, N. Okorie, who works with the Nigerian Army’s legal department said the soldiers were dismissed “for failing to renew their appointments after 18 years.”
She was speaking during the hearing of a suit filed by one of the dismissed officers, D. Hassan, who challenged his dismissal at the National Industrial Court. That reason has not been official given by the army in the cases of the other 37 officers.
Ms Okorie’s reason was promptly faulted by another compulsorily retired colonel at the court, Mohammed Suleiman.
“A regular officer is supposed to serve for 35 years,” Mr Suleiman explained.
Source: PREMIUM TIMES