- Orders immediate reinstatement
Davidson Iriekpen and Akinwale Akintunde
The National Industrial Court (NIC), sitting in Lagos, thursday ordered the Nigerian Army to immediately reinstate Lt. Col. Thomas Arigbe, who was compulsorily retired in 2016.
In his judgment, Justice Paul Bassi declared his retirement from service as wrongful, unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
He ordered the Army to give the officer all his rights and privileges, including all his entitlements from when he was forcibly retired to date.
The judge held that the Nigerian Army compulsorily retired the claimant without fair hearing, adding that it (Nigerian Army) failed to place anything before the court to prove any wrong committed by the officer to warrant the compulsory retirement.
The court also awarded a cost of N300,000 against the defendant.
Arigbe was among the 38 senior Army officers compulsorily retired in 2016 in controversial circumstances.
They all complained that their compulsory retirement was without any form of fair hearing, including trial or general court-martial for them to know their offences.
Before yesterday’s judgment, the same court sitting in Abuja had ordered the Army to reinstate three of the officers.
Arigbe had instituted the suit marked NICN/LA/711/2016 through his counsel, Mrs. Funmi Falana, to challenge the action of the Nigerian Army, praying the court to set aside his retirement.
In his statement of claim dated November 17, 2016, he had asked the court to order the Army to reinstate and pay him all the arrears of his salaries and allowances from June 9, 2016 to date.
He equally asked the court to order his promotion to the rank he would have attained before his retirement.
Giving a brief background of his travail, Arigbe state that during his military service, the Army sent him to the United Kingdom from 2010-2011 to study for a Master’s degree in Communication Engineering and that he completed the course in flying colours, and that upon his return he was posted to the North-east in Damaturu where he served as second-in-command at 241 Battalion and Chief of Staff Operation Restore Order III.
He said he was thereafter posted to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan as military assistant to the force commander.
According to him, due to his outstanding and exemplary discharge of his duties and responsibilities, he was nominated to represent the Armed Forces College at the combined joint European Exercise in April/May 2014 and was appointed as the Staff Officer Grade One, (Training and Exercises), a position exclusively reserved for honest, diligent, disciplined and hardworking officers in the Department of Land Warfare (Army Faculty) at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji.
He noted that it was the outstanding performance that spurred his posting on June 18, 2015 as an instructor as part of the Directing Staff Exchange Programme for a two-year duty tour with effect from September 2015 to September 2017 with the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Teshie.
He said surprisingly on June 10, 2016, he received an e-mail conveying a letter dated June 9, 2016, from the Army stating that he had been compulsorily retired from service on disciplinary grounds, adding that prior to his compulsory retirement, he had never been accused of any offence directly or indirectly.
He contended that he was neither queried, charged, tried nor found guilty of any offence.
He said worried by his sudden disengagement without prior notice of infraction through a query or a board of inquiry and an opportunity to defend himself in line with the law of the service, via a letter dated June 16, 2016, he appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari through the army for redress and that by a letter dated August 8, 2016 and received August 18, 2016, the Army responded to his appeal stating that it was receiving attention, which never came till he went to court.
He stated that it was through national newspapers and the internet that the Army said he was compulsorily retired over alleged disciplinary partisanship in the 2015 general election and involvement in a defence contract scam.
He contended that the Army never gave him fair hearing before compulsorily retiring him, adding that he was portrayed in bad light in the eyes of the public when he did not commit any offence nor tried for any alleged offences whether real or imagined.
The Army had responded that the suit was filed out of time, citing Section 2a of the Public Officers Protection Act.
Also citing Section 96 of the Sheriffs Act, it argued that the suit was filed at a wrong location, contending that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.
It said the claimant did not comply with Section 178(3) of the Armed Forces Act, which states that an aggrieved officer must exhaust administrative procedures first in seeking redress before going to court.
While resolving most of the issues raised by the Nigerian Army in favour of the claimant, Justice Bassi held that the claimant is the proper person to have instituted the case and that the case is not statute-barred.
The court also resolved the issue of National Industrial Court jurisdiction raised by the defendant in favour of the claimant, saying it is the proper court that he filed the suit.
While calling on the Nigerian Army to obey the order of court, the judge also warned the defendant not to harass or intimidate the claimant.