By Sani Tureta
An article titled ‘Injustice, Human Rights and the Nigerian Army’ was widely circulated over the social media this week. This must read article written by Ishaq Yusuf painted a sad and disturbing picture of the injustices meted out to 38 senior Nigerian Army officers who were summarily retired without being accused of any offence or granted the opportunity of fair hearing via a court martial. On reading the very detailed article, I noted that not only did the Nigerian Army breach its extant rules and procedures; it carried out a complete volte-face when carrying out the retirements. The army had in January 2016, recalled a Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, because in its own words, “…The senior officer was never charged, tried, let alone found guilty of any offence that justified his premature retirement. The action was therefore a clear violation of the extant rules, regulations as well as Terms and Conditions of Service of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. This obvious violation prompted the senior officer to seek redress using the appropriate legal means. Consequently, the realization of these omissions called for a review of the case by the Army Council and his subsequent reinstatement into the Service”.
What is most astonishing is that none of the 38 officers was found guilty of any offence that justified their premature retirements. The question is: When and where were all the officers charged, tried and found guilty? If they were not, is that not an obvious violation of their human rights and the constitution? Did Buratai as Army Chief and Dan-Ali as Minister of Defence approve the retirements without hearing from the officers? If this is true, it smacks of unprofessionalism and gross misconduct. Also, why the long delay in the appeals process? In the case of Gen Mohammed despite Amnesty International’s cries and U.S. travel ban on him, the Army Council called for a review of the case and recommended his subsequent reinstatement into the Army within 3 months.
It has been over a year and their appeals have not been heard by the President or Acting President, it makes you wonder if incompetence is at play. It would be very disgraceful for the Nigerian Army if the retirements are reversed by the courts and it is confirmed that even just one of the retired officers is innocent and was never queried, charged, tried or found guilty of any offence. This is because Gen Buratai said he gave an opportunity for all the officers to be questioned in line with the army’s administrative procedures. This will therefore assign grave doubts to the credibility of the retirements and would be a sad confirmation of the observations of human rights bodies. We should have utmost regard and respect for our laws, rules and regulations. The arbitrariness and impunity of the past should not be perpetrated any longer in the Nigerian Army. It is distasteful and no longer fashionable.
This kind of injustice last occurred during the dark days of Abacha, already the US and UK are refusing Visas to senior officers, soon it may extend to refusal of courses or sale of equipment. It is because of these types of violations that lead to our army’s efforts being unrecognized. How can a serving senior army officer be retired without being found guilty of an offence? Some were never even accused of anything. I leave you with the words of Ishaq, “Mr President sir, the officers and their families cry out for justice, the soul of late Baba-Ochankpa and his family cry out for justice. Why don’t we use our military laws and constitution more as a shield for the innocent rather than a sword of impunity? I believe that Mr President and the acting President both possess the courage to be just and the vision to be merciful. The continued delay in resolving the appeals erodes confidence in the military justice system as well as in this government’s resolve to provide justice to all Nigerians.” Why don’t we use our military laws and constitution more as a shield for the innocent rather than a sword of impunity?