Now that President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to address injustices in the country, he may wish to take a dispassionate look at the cases of the 38 military officers dismissed under questionable circumstances, Shola Oyeyipo writes
Looking at issues objectively, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) government does not have credibility problem neither has it really lost its goodwill among the people but the government has left some issues unclarified such that they are moulding public opinion negatively against the leadership.
For instance, it took an analytical slide presentation by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo during a recent pastor’s conference organised by Reverend Yomi Kasali to disabuse the minds of the audience from swelling allegations of sectionalism in federal appointments, festering herdsmen murderous activities being attributed to the fact that the president is their kinsman and all that.
At the end of Osinbajo’s presentation, people were abundantly convinced that some allegations against the administration were unfounded. Were it not clearly spelt out, some of such erroneous tags could stick and stand against the government in later days.
One raging issue that the government cannot feign ignorance of is the perception among southerners that the north is dominating other parts of Nigeria, which is part of why the clamour for restructuring and self-deternibation remained the main debates in the south.
Presently, an issue in the Nigerian Army is further fuelling this divisive tendency. It is the issue of the 38 young military officers sacked under questionable circumstances and with some of them feeling that their predicament is simply as a result of their geopolitical affiliation.
Seven out of the senior army officers are from Rivers State; two each are from Delta and Akwa Ibom states; three are from Edo state and ten others are from the South-astern states and of Igbo extraction. So, twenty-four of the 38 senior army officers in the list are from the south-south and south-east zones m.
Either such sentiments are right or wrong, in matters as this, the federal government should exhibit a desire to uncover the truth about the alleged unjust retirements of these officers.
On June 9, 2017, the Nigerian Army announced retirement of the 38 senior officers for alleged partisanship in the 2015 general elections. Some of them were also alleged to have been involved in the defence contracts scam while some others were alleged to have been undisciplined.
The officers retired compulsorily are nine major-generals, 10 brigadier-generals, seven colonels, 11 lieutenant colonels and one major.
Army spokesman, Colonel Sani Usman, was quoted in a statement as saying “We are quite aware that some mischievous elements are trying to whip up sentiments. This is quite unfortunate because all the affected officers were retired based on ‘service exigencies’ and in line with the Armed Forces Act (AFA), CAP A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.”
The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai corroborated Sani’s position. He said: “‘There is no better time than now to retire the affected military officers. It took us painstaking procedure to ensure we didn’t pick innocent ones. We started with one inquiry from One Division GOC to the other. After that, we subjected it to legal review. After the legal review, we forwarded our recommendations to higher authorities for consideration.”
There is no gainsaying that the Nigerian Army is a professional institution, and that unlike other security bodies. It draws its respect from people based on its highest standards of discipline and conduct but the issue of some of the affected officers raises some questions and suspicions.
In the military, where an officer faces allegations such as those listed above, the affected person(s) would be entitled to appear before a courts martial to state his or her side, but that did not happen – they were not court martialed. That was a denial of fair hearing.
Particularly disturbing are the cases of 18 officers, who were never queried, nor charged with any offence. They are Major General Ijioma, Major General Ejemai, Major General Ilo, Major General Ude, Brigadier General Aghachi, Brigadier General Fibuonuma, Brigadier General L.M Bello, Brigadier General 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 Major Williams.
In fact, four of the affected persons,; Lawson, Agachi, Suleiman and Arigbe were on assignment out of the country and yet they were retired along with others without fair hearing.
Sure they had a good case and in search of justice, the affected officers have not only taken legal actions, they have also collectively approached the Senate to wade into the alleged wrongful retirements. They appeared before the Senate’s Ethics and Privileges Committee on Tuesday October 17, 2017. They have also written letters to President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Chief of Defence Staff General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, to look into their cases for redress.
All hopes for justice seemed lost until the Senate through its Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee put party differences asides and gave the officers a hearing.
Curiously, 18 of the officers were never queried neither did they appear before any panel of inquiry, while none of the 38 was ever charged, tried or found guilty of an offence, so, on what grounds were they laid off?
If in the of corruption that eventually cost him his job, the federal government remarked that Mr. Lawal Babachir was not granted fair hearing by the Senate Committee in line with the constitution and and that as such it would not attend to its report, Buhari, being a retired army officer himself should do the needful. He should look into the matter and clarify the claims of both parties.
First, the president and the appropriate authorities should establish and make public why the officers were not granted fair hearing as enshrined in the constitution, more so because the army was unable to provide any evidence of malfeasance against them at the Senate committee hearing of 17 October and this has cast doubts on the sincerity of the retirement process.
The understanding among the military officers is that the Buratai-led army has misled the president on the issue. This was clearly stated in their most recent open letter to the president.
The question is: how is it that officers, who did not participate in elections, who were not involved in the defence contracts and were not accused of any sundry offences were suddenly removed from their jobs without fair hearing?
A renowned legal practitioner and human rights activist, Abdul Muhammed, said it was best that Buhari, looks into the “unjust” retirement of 38 the officers.
“The record of the Nigeria Army shows that there were no factual basis for punishing these officers and that there has been a complete failure of fair hearing and due process. Many of these officers have no relationship whatsoever with election duties or procurement office as falsely alleged by army leadership. They have never served in procurement capacity throughout their careers in the army or participated in any form of election duties during the 2015 general elections,” Muhammed said.
The head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko, wrote in one of his detailed follow-ups on the matter that his organisation decided to “add its moral voice to demand justice, because if the allegations of wrongful dismissal weren’t investigated and quality redress provided, it would be a total institutionalisation of injustice.”
Renowned lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN is also of the opinion that the affected officers deserved better treatment. In an interview he granted shortly after the offers were retired, he argued that “I do not agree that what we are witnessing is cleansing. As an institution, the military has a duty to discipline its members. All that is required is that in removing anybody from the armed forces, the authorities are required to follow the provisions of the Armed Forces Act and the constitution to the letter.
“However, any of the 38 officers affected, who was never confronted with any allegation of misconduct, has the right to petition the president. I did so in the case of the 3002 military officers and soldiers who were illegally flushed out of the military by the last administration. I got reprieve for them as they have been reinstated. I also protested the illegal conviction of the 70 soldiers who were sentenced to death for demanding for weapons to fight the insurgents.
“Although the death sentences passed on them have been commuted to 10 years imprisonment, I have sent a fresh petition to the president of the republic to pardon them and set them free in view of the revelations that the fund earmarked for the purchase of armament was diverted and stolen by a coterie of retired and serving military officers.
“So, I strongly believe that those who were unjustly treated are entitled to have their cases reviewed.”
In the light of the claims of the officers to be innocent, the fact that they have not been subjected to fair-hearing and sectional sentiment attached to the matter, it will be reassuring if the president objectively looks into the matter with the view to unearth the truth.
The understanding among the military officers is that the Buratai-led army has misled the president on the issue.