Recently, the Nigerian Army carried out a peculiar retirement exercise accompanied by an unusual press statement in which the army spokesman said: "... people should not read this out of context". That portion of his statement triggered some curiosity. This was followed by statements from the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai that all the officers were either involved in electioneering or the defence contracts scandal and most importantly they had been given fair hearing. That meant they were provided an opportunity to defend themselves. A look at the list of the 38 officers revealed that 29 were of southern or Christian extraction while the remainder were northerners. This means roughly three out of every four retired were southerners or Christian, quite interesting!!!!
Further inquiries revealed that the retired officers were not taking the decision to abruptly end their careers lying down. Most of them appealed immediately to the President Muhammadu Buhari, citing Paragraph 09.02.e of the Harmonized Terms and Conditions of Service (officers) 2012 Revised.
The said paragraph allows an officer to appeal his retirement within 30 days to the President and C-in-C, through the Chief of Defence Staff to have his case reviewed. The crucial thing is that it must be appealed within 30 days. Some of the officers went further and approached the courts as well, to stop the retirement process. One of them is Major General Nwokoro Ijioma (retired) who requested the courts to set aside the retirement as illegal as well as pay him damages to the tune of a billion naira!
Tendered documents in court
In another of the cases, documents were tendered in court by the Defence Headquarters stating the offences of twenty-two of the retired officers. The offences range from involvement in partisan elections, fraud, arms procurement and acts of corruption. Others include money laundering, illegal sale of military vehicles and disciplinary issues. A look at the documents which were tendered as proof that the military had forwarded the appeals to Mr. President showed that not all the officers were involved in electioneering or defence contracts. For example, Ijioma was accused of the illegal sale of military vehicles in Sudan. Significantly, it corroborated their claims that they were not investigated for any offence, they did not appear before any panel and were not indicted anywhere.
This is very important because in January this year, the Nigerian Army recalled and reinstated Major General Ahmadu Mohammed (N/7915). General Mohammed was the General Officer Commanding 7 Division in 2014 when his troops mutinied and fired at his vehicle. The soldiers accused him of dereliction of duty and of sending them to the battlefield with minimal logistics support thereby leading to many deaths. Most of those soldiers were Court Martialed and sentenced to death. Amnesty International accused General Mohammed of ordering the deaths of many Boko Haram prisoners at the Maimalari Barracks and indicted him in their report forwarded to the Federal Government.
However, at the time of his recall the Army spokesman stated that "Although, it is not an aberration for the international human rights body to raise such an observation, however, it did not take into cognizance 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.'
A source in defence circles noted that the General who is from Kano State was very clever in that he was retired in December 2014 and did not appeal his retirement immediately, within 30 days as stipulated by the conditions of service. That 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. He rather waited for the outcome of the general elections as well as the removal of the previous Service Chiefs.
Punishing its officers
After the appointment of a more sympathetic Chief of Army Staff in Gen. Buratai, he then decided to appeal his retirement in September 2015, a good nine months after his retirement and was recalled in January this year. The source stated that the army noted that he was not indicted by any panel of inquiry and that the Nigerian Army could not go about punishing its officers who had not committed any offence, which was logical.
The source then wondered why the army under the same Buratai's leadership that supported General Mohammed will now accuse its officers falsely and retire them without even as much as a query. That this was clear evidence that the laid down military procedures were not followed in these retirements and the mistakes made when General Mohammed was retired have been made again. He stated that what makes it worse is that most of the officers affected were innocent and fine gentlemen and that people are aware of that.
Retirement without trial: One of the issues is why will the Nigerian Army under the same leadership of Gen Buratai, which reinstated a General whom it stated was never found guilty of any offence, proceed to retire several officers without trying them.
Why will the Nigerian Army fail to adhere to its own legal procedures? If the Army had noted in January as was masterfully stated by its spokesman that it was "arbitrary" not to adhere to due process when retiring Mr. Mohammed, why will it conduct the same kangaroo process on 38 other officers?
Is the Nigerian Army so unprofessional as to commit the same grave errors in retirements of senior officers within January and June of the same year? A time frame of just six months difference.
So onto the big question, since Buratai as Chief of Army Staff knows the laid down administrative procedures, so eloquently put by his spokesman that an officer must be "... found guilty of an offence to justify his premature retirement". Why then did he proceed to retire so many officers without following the due legal process? Or is it because they are mainly of southern extraction?
He was the same person who recommend the recall of Mr. Mohammed in January and subsequently appointed him Commander of the Infantry Corps in Kaduna. He went further to even state that all the officers were granted fair hearing before their premature retirements. Now evidence is available that some of these officers were not even queried or appeared before a panel of inquiry.
This is a serious matter because the officers as Nigerians are entitled to fair hearing as enshrined in Section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution (As Amended). The next point is why weren't the officers given fair hearing as contained in the Constitution and the Armed Forces Act? In fact, Section 117 of the Act affords officers an opportunity to elect for a court martial instead of a summary trial in writing. While the Act in Part XII clearly prescribes all offences, both minor and serious and in subsequent parts states the military trial procedure.
Now, Mr. Buratai were your officers afforded this opportunity? In your bid to make your Army a highly professional one and envy in the subregion, did you learn from the case of General Mohammed? Did you ensure fairness and justice was served? Because right now, you have not even given the retired officers an opportunity to be found guilty, you have breached your own rules and regulations and gone ahead to award punishment of retirement.
Stickler for righteousness
The next question is for Mr. President. What do you do when you discover that some innocent officers were wrongly retired without committing any offence or being found guilty of any offence? Remember there is precedence in this matter by your government. You have portrayed yourself as a stickler for righteousness, fairness and justice for all Nigerians. So Mr. President, what if you find out that twenty officers were innocent or not found guilty of any offence? What if it was 15 or 10 or even 5 officers that were never charged, tried or found guilty of any offence? What if it was only one officer (as in the case of Gen. Mohammed) who was not given fair hearing? Is that not enough evidence that the due legal process was not followed and that the army had not learnt its lesson. Our investigations have revealed that no less than eighteen officers were not even queried, charged or tried. They did not even face a panel of inquiry. Is that not a clear violation of the extant rules, regulations, as well as Terms and Conditions of Service of the Armed Forces of Nigeria?
Edmund Burke said that "Evil thrives when good men do nothing". Mr. President, there is need to ensure fairness and justice in the Nigerian Army, when will you attend to the appeals of the unjustly retired officers?
Mr. Luke Leyman eyman is a public affairs commentator