Davidson Iriekpen asks the authorities to take a dispassionate look at â€Žthe appeal of 38 military officers forcefully retired by the Nigerian Army in 2016
Over a year has passed since the Nigerian Army compulsorily retired 38 officers from service. The officers, who are seen as some of the countryâ€™s brightest in internal and external security operations, were believed to have been forced out of service without recourse to the rules of disengagement in the Nigerian military.
A cursory look at the list of the 38 officers reveals that 29 are Christians and from the southern part of the country, while the remainders are northerners.
The officers said they were neither queried nor indicted by any panel, but got flushed out for reasons that smack of high-level arbitrariness, persecution and partisanship by the army authorities. The affected offices, in line with armed forces rules, have since written a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari seeking redress.
In their various letters of retirement, the army authorities hinged the reason for retiring the affected officers on â€œprovisions of Paragraph 09.02c (4) of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service for Officers 2012 (Revised).â€ The paragraph shows the officers were laid off â€œon disciplinary grounds i.e. serious offence(s).â€
A few days after the announcement of the retirement, army spokesperson, Brigadier-General Sani Usman, on June 10, released a statement, disclosing what could have constituted the â€œserious offencesâ€ which warranted the compulsory retirement of the 38 officers.
â€œIt should be recalled that not too long ago, some officers were investigated for being partisan during the 2015 general elections. 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),â€ Usman said.
However, contrary to the claim by the army, investigations have since revealed that while only a few of the affected officers were queried, tried and indicted, others simply had their careers abruptly cut short without any trial, indictment or even warnings, an indication that the officers may have been victims of ethnic cleansing, overzealousness, vindictiveness, arbitrary, unfair and capricious applications of military laws in violation of army regulations and the fundamental rights to fair hearing.
Some of the officers have also described the reasons given for their compulsory retirement as untenable because, according to them, the retirement had nothing to do with the so-called â€˜service exigencyâ€™ 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, the officers pointed out that in the AFA, â€œall military officers are entitled to appear before a court martial to defend themselves.
Pointing out that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, had a hidden agenda in ensuring that they were booted out of the service, the officers stressed that in some instances some of them 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.
The retired officers included nine major-generals, 11 brigadier-generals, seven colonels and 11 lieutenant colonels. Out of these numbers, 18 officers were never queried nor charged. Neither did they appear 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.
Specifically, four of the officers: Lawson, Agachi, Suleiman and Arigbe were actually on assignment out of the country, but were also retired without given fair hearing.
The right to fair hearing is better explained in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states that: â€œEveryone is entitled in full equality to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.â€ In the Nigerian Constitution, fair hearing is clearly expressed under Section 36 (2) (a) which “Provides for an opportunity for the persons whose rights and obligations may be affected to make representations to the administering authority before that authority makes the decision affecting that person.â€
Some of the questions begging for answers are: Why did Buratai and Minister of Defence, Brig-General Dan-Ali (rtd), mislead the nation by publicly saying that all the officers were granted fair hearing, when they knew that it was not true? If they really gave the officers fair hearing, can they provide evidence of the days and times these officers appeared before the court martial or even panels of inquiry?
For instance, a public affairs commentator, Ishaq Yusuf, in an article titled: â€˜Injustice, Human Rights and the Nigeria Armyâ€™ while taking on Buratai on his claim that “painstaking procedure was followed to ensure we didnâ€™t pick innocent ones,â€ insisted that â€œwhen 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.â€
He now wondered why â€œunder 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 court martial where they would have been entitled to legal representation to defend the charges or allegations against them. Let us not even mention those that were not queried, charged or tried, theirs is a no case submission.â€
Many analysts are completely surprised as to why the same army under Buratai who reinstated Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, would sack 38 officers without given them fair hearing.
Mohammed, was the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 7 Division in 2014 when his troops mutinied and fired at his vehicle. The soldiers accused him of dereliction of duty and sending them to the battlefield with minimal logistic supports thereby leading to many deaths. Most of those soldiers were court martialled and sentenced to death. Amnesty International equally accused the GOC of ordering the deaths of many Boko Haram prisoners at the Maimalari Barracks and indicted him in its report forwarded to the federal government. He was consequently retired in December 2014 under the Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s administration.
However, the former GOC who is from Kano State, did not appeal his retirement within 30 days as stipulated by the conditions of service which according to defence sources, was already a breach of the appeals process but this was ignored because the army headed by Buratai had an interest to ensure fairness and justice was served.
Mohmmmed instead, waited for the outcome of the general election as well as the removal of the previous service chiefs. After the appointment of Buratai as Chief of Army Staff, he then decided to appeal his retirement in September 2015, a good nine months after and was recalled in January this year.
At the time of his recall, army spokesman stated: â€œAlthough, it is not an aberration for the international human rights body to raise such an observation, however, it did not take into cognisance the circumstances leading to his illegal retirement and the legal procedure that was followed in his reinstatement. The compulsory and premature retirement of Major General Mohammed did not follow due process and was rather arbitrary. 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 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 realisation of these omissions called for a review of the case by the Army Council and his subsequent reinstatement into the service.â€
Analysts are wondering why the same army, under Buratai, which reinstated Mohammed whom it said was never found guilty of any offence, proceeded to retire several officers without given them fair hearing. They stated that this was a clear evidence that the laid down military procedures were not followed in the retirements of the 38 officers, arguing that the same mistakes made when General Mohammed was retired had been made again.
Defence sources revealed that one of the main reasons why the army authorities retired some of the officers was because they refused to cooperate with the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the last general election in some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) strongholds. â€œThis is not fair because they wanted to ensure transparency. It was not because they were loyal to PDP government or sided a political party. They just wanted to ensure that bloodbath was averted at the end of the polls,â€ one of the sources told THISDAY.
Although some of the officers have gone to court to enforce their fundamental human rights, they have also petitioned Buhari, urging him to look into their cases. They argued that it would be grossly unfair that a government headed by Buhari would go about dispensing injustice to Nigerians over unconfirmed, unverified issues or perceived slights, stating that Nigerians voted for the president because they were exhausted and disappointed with the the previous government.
They warned that in the interest of the country, the president should not allow those in power to policitise and ethnicise the military which is most unifying institution in the country.
Analysts are wondering why the same army, under Buratai, which reinstated Mohammed whom it said was never found guilty of any offence, proceeded to retire several officers without given them fair hearing.