By Joseph Ushigiale
President Muhammadu Buhari has been urged to constitute an impartial panel to review the cases of the 38 serving military officers compulsorily retired by the Army High Command for their alleged partisanship in the 2015 general election as well as involvement in defence contracts scam on the grounds that some of them were not only unfairly treated but that the exercise failed to follow due process.
In an article titled: ‘Injustice, Human Rights and the Nigeria Army,’ signed by Ishaq Yusuf, a public affairs commentator, he described the reasons given for their compulsory retirement as untenable because the retirement had nothing to do with the so-called ‘service exigency’ and clearly contravened the Armed Forces Act (AFA), CAP A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 on which their compulsory retirement was grounded.
Citing instances where the AFA was contravened, Yusuf pointed out that in the AFA, “all military officers are entitled to appear before a court martial to ascertain their guilt or otherwise when accused or alleged to have committed an offence. However, he said in the instant case, as a clear abuse of the rules, no court martial was convened in respect of these officers.
“Investigation shows that nine officers that is; Maj. Gen. M.Y Ibrahim, Maj. Gen. S.D Aliyu, Maj. Gen. F.O Alli, Maj. Gen. L.I Wiwa, Maj. Gen. E.L Atewe, Brig. Gen. Mormoni-Bashir, Brig. Gen. D.M Onoyiveta, Brig. Gen A.L Onibasa and Brig. Gen D Abdusalam appeared before the arms contract panel.
“While another 11, Brig. Gen A.S.H Saad, Brig. Gen Koko Essien, Col F.D Kayode, Col D.R Hassan, Col. T.T Minimah, Lt. Col T.O Oladuntoye, Lt. Col. C.O Amadi, Lt. Col O.A Baba-Ochankpa (late), Lt. Col Egemole, Lt. Col. K.O Adimoha and Lt. Col A.S Mohamed attended the Maj. Gen. Oyebade then GOC 1 Division‘s Board of Inquiry on Election Partisanship as witnesses,” they stated.
Pointing out his strong conviction that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, had a hidden agenda in ensuring that the 38 officers were booted out of the service, Yusuf stressed that in some instances, some of the compulsorily retired officers were out of the country at the time some of the infringements were allegedly committed, while others had neither been queried nor ever received any summons before a civil or military tribunal or inquiry.
According to him, “there were 18 officers, who were never queried, charged or appeared for investigation. They include Maj. Gen. Ijioma, Maj. Gen. Ejemai, Maj. Gen Ilo, Maj. Gen. Ude, Brig. Gen. Aghachi, Brig. Gen Fibuonuma, Brig. Gen L.M Bello, Brig Gen. I.M Lawson, Col F.E Ekpeyong, Col. O.U Nwankwo, Col. M.A Suileman, Col. C.K Ukoha, Lt. Col A Mohammed, Lt. Col G.C Nyekwu, Lt. Col D.B Dazang, Lt. Col T.E Arigbe, Lt. Col Enemchukwu and Maj. Williams.
“Out of them, four (Lawson, Agachi, Suleiman and Arigbe) were actually on assignment out of the country, but were also retired without fair hearing. The affected officers therefore appealing to President Buhari, through the Chief of Defence Staff, General AG Olonisakin, against their wrongful retirement from the army, seeking for redress,” they stated.
Challenging Buratai on his claim that “painstaking procedure to ensure we didn’t pick innocent ones,” Yusuf insisted that “when Buratai was appointed as Chief of Army Staff in July 2015 at the start of a two year tenure, one of the first things he did was to review disciplinary cases in the army, especially of soldiers in the defunct Operation Zaman Lafiya, North-east Operations. He halted the various courts martial and constituted a committee to review the cases. At the end of the review, it was announced that the Nigerian Army has pardoned and reinstated a total of 3,032 soldiers out of the 5,000 that appeared before the committee.”
He now wondered why “under his watch, none of the 38 senior officers was made to appear before a court martial to determine their guilt or otherwise. It is admitted that several officers appeared before one inquiry or the other but they were not granted an opportunity for fair hearing via a courts martial where they would have been entitled to legal representation and access to any charges or allegations against them. Let us not even mention those that were not queried, charged or tried, theirs is a no case submission.”
Citing the position of an established legal luminary, Femi Falana to buttress his position, the aggrieved officers quoted him to have posited that “Despite the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution, compliance with the minimum human rights standard in the administration of military justice in Nigeria has remained a mirage. It is obvious that the reason for reversal of the majority of cases decided by courts-martial by the appellate courts is the breach of the fundamental rights of convicted soldiers to fair hearing”.
Lamenting the slow pace of response of the presidency to the appeals made by the officers which are still pending before the presidency, despite the intervention “in a letter dated July 5, 2016, by the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Abayomi Olonisakin who officially intimated Mr. President that, some of the retired officers, have petitioned His Excellency, for the review of their various cases;” he expressed surprise that no response have so far being received from the presidency.
“This is in stark contrast with the prompt attention given by the President to an earlier appeal by Maj. Gen. A Mohammed against his wrongful retirement. Mr. Mohammed, who is from Katsina, was retired in January 2015, for inability to be deployed. He did not appeal his retirement within the mandatory 30 days as prescribed by military law but until a whole 9 months later and by January 2016, he was reinstated to military service,” he pointed out.