As the Nigerian Army concludes activities to mark this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day, Davidson Iriekpen urges the authorities to review the cases of the 38 officers who were compulsorily retired from active duty without due process.

Activities marking this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance day were yesterday concluded with an appeal to the Nigerian Army to treat its officers that are still alive with honour and dignity to spur them to put in their best for the country. Those who spoke with THISDAY said if those who are alive are not treated with dignity, it would definitely affect their morale.
They spoke against the backdrop of the recent compulsory retirement of 38 officers from service. The officers, who many described as the country’s brightest in internal and external security operations, were allegedly 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 revealed that 29 of them are Christians and from southern part of the country, while the remainders are northerners. The officers, according to THISDAY investigation, were neither queried nor indicted by any panel, but got flushed out of the system for reasons that smack of high-level arbitrariness, persecution and partisanship by the army authorities.

In their various letters of retirement, the army authorities hinged the reason for retiring the affected officers on “provisions of Paragraph 09.02c (4) of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service for Officers 2012 (Revised).” The section shows the officers were laid off “on disciplinary grounds i.e. serious offence(s).”

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 “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. 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),” 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 warning, an indication that the officers were not only victims of ethnic cleansing, but also arbitrary, unfair and capricious applications of military laws that violated army regulations and the fundamental rights to fair hearing of the officers as citizens.

Otherwise, many are wondering why the army is reluctant to reinstate the officers despite the intervention of the courts and the National Assembly. For instance, recently, the Senate asked the army authorities to reinstate one of the officers, Col. Chidi Ukoha. After listening to Ukoha’s petition, the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges, realising that the officer was neither queried nor given fair hearing before his dismissal, asked the army to reinstate him. It also cautioned the army authorities against arbitrary disengagement of officers. But despite this, the army has refused to review the cases.

Some of the officers have also described the reasons given for their compulsory retirement as untenable because the action 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 the officers pointed out that in the AFA, all military officers were entitled to appear before a court martial to ascertain their guilt or otherwise when accused or alleged to have committed an offence.

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, 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.

Four of the officers: Lawson, Agachi, Suleiman and Arigbe were actually on assignment out of the country, but were also retired without fair hearing.

The right to fair hearing is better explained in Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states that: “Everyone 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.”

In the Nigerian constitution, fair hearing is clearly expressed under Section 36 (2) (a) which states: “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.”

Some of the questions begging for answer are: Why did Burutai 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 know 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: ‘Injustice, Human Rights and the Nigeria Army’ while taking on Buratai on his claim that “painstaking procedure was followed to ensure we didn’t pick innocent ones,” 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 his 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.”

Many analysts are completely surprised as to why the same army under Buratai who reinstated Major General Ahmadu Mohammed, would sack 38 officers without hearing from them.

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 Jonathan’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: “Although, 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.”

Analysts are wondering why the same army under Buratai which reinstated Mohammed whom it stated was never found guilty of any offence, proceeded to retiring several officers without trying them. They stated that this was 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 have 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. “This 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,” one the sources told THISDAY.

Although some of the officers have gone to court to enforce their fundamental human rights, they have also petitioned President Muhammadu 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 insensitivity of the previous government to the plight of Nigerians.

They urged the president not allow those in power to policitise the military which is the most unifying institution in the country.

Quote

Four of the officers: Lawson, Agachi, Suleiman and Arigbe were actually on assignment out of the country, but were also retired without fair hearing