17 June 2017

Nigeria: Exclusive - How Nigerian Army Fired Top Anti-Boko Haram Fighter Without Indictment, Query

Photo: Premium Times
Nigerian soldiers

One of the 38 Nigerian soldiers sacked by the army in 2016 was a decorated anti-Boko Haram warrior, who once helped thwart a planned attack on the Aso Rock presidential villa, PREMIUM TIMES can report.

Mohammed Suleiman, a former colonel, infiltrated the terrorist group's ranks and helped in arresting some of its key members, his official record says.

He was later fired without a query or an indictment.

In his letter of appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari, in June 2016, Mr. Suleiman asked for justice.

"Your Excellency Sir, I want to state that I was not in any way involved in the stated issues," he wrote. "I have not committed any offence as I was not invited to any board of inquiry for investigation nor charged or court martialled for any offence. I hereby appeal for my case to be reconsidered on the basis of wrongful retirement."

He sent the letter two weeks after being advised by the Department of Military Secretary to go for his compulsory retirement letter that abruptly ended his career in the Nigerian Army.

He was one of 38 officers forced out of service at the time. A June 9, 2016 letter to the affected officers hinged their compulsory retirement on "provisions of Paragraph 09.02c (4) of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service for Officers 2012 (Revised)".

The referenced section shows the officers were laid off "on disciplinary grounds i.e. serious offence(s)".

Emphasising "service exigencies" and that the "military must remain apolitical and professional at all times", Army spokesperson, Sani Usman, on June 10, 2016 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," the statement said.

"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)," Mr. Usman said.

However, PREMIUM TIMES investigation revealed most of the affected officers were neither queried nor indicted by any panel before they were compulsorily dismissed, thereby, raising question of arbitrariness.

Our investigation showed only a few of the affected officers were queried, tried and indicted. Mr. Suleiman was neither accused of partisanship nor arms procurement fraud.

Even before Boko Haram gained international notoriety for extreme violence, Nigeria, starting in 2009, had relied on officers like Mr. Suleiman in dealing with the sect, his service record shows.

When terrorists were covertly building base in Bauchi, he was responsible for "discovering, penetrating and profiling" the group. In 2009, he led the joint army/police team that cleared and arrested "377 terrorists with scores killed with no casualty to own troops."

He would then go on to initiate the creation of a Civilian Joint Task Force and control their activities in Borno State, before collaborating with the formation in the 3 Division to have Civilian JTF in Adamawa State.

His record revealed there was a suspected attempt by Boko Haram to attack the Aso Rock Villa, but Mr. Suleiman "discovered and penetrated" the cell tasked to carry out that terror action.

Subsequently, the key planner of the planned attack said to be a police sergeant, identified as Babagana, was arrested.

Mr. Suleiman was also key to the "arrest of and appropriate provision of information on the first successfully prosecuted Boko Haram pioneer spokesman, Umar Sanda Kodunga, who is about completing his 3 year jail term."

Chad's arrest and execution of Bana Fannaye, who was helping Boko Haram with arms supply, counted much to his credit and was said to be one of the successful operations that followed intelligence shared with neighbouring countries.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mr. Suleiman's deployments for assignments outside the country were repeatedly cancelled as he was key to Nigeria's counter-terrorism operations in the North East.

For instance, he was deployed to the United Nations Mission in Darfur as Deputy Chief of Operations and then to the Nigerian Embassy in Washington as Deputy Defence Adviser in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

But on both occasions, the deployments were cancelled because of his North East involvement. In another case, he was recalled from Command and Staff College, Jaji, as directing staff, to help track "a globally and United States declared wanted terrorist, Adam Kambar.

In 2012, Mr. Suleiman made the list of national honourees, becoming a Member of the Federal Republic, MFR, in recognition his participation in several peacekeeping and internal security operations.

His efforts nonetheless, he was forced out of service without a query or indictment for any offence.

"Aside operational risks and several ambushes leading to gunshot on my left leg, I escaped 3 assassination attempts (one in Bauchi and twice in Maiduguri and several improvised explosive device attacks, including 2 being suicides.

"In the last six years, I was mainly assigned tasks and restricted to duties on counter-terrorism and Boko Haram operations, making me a high value and well sought target by terrorists," he told Mr. Buhari in his June 23 letter, seeking redress.

Nigerian armed forces law affords officers who feel wrongly dismissed the window to appeal for redress by petitioning the president through the Chief of Defence Staff within 30 days.

Out of the 38 dismissed officers, only 22, amongst them Mr. Suleiman, explored this window. PREMIUM TIMES confirmed their appeals were delivered to the president in July last year.

Barely one year after, they are still waiting for justice, or at least a response from the Commander-in-Chief. One of them, Ojebo Baba-Ochankpa, died while awaiting justice on January 31, 2017.

While conveying the appeal to Mr. Buhari, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin, vaguely mentioned "disciplinary ground" as being responsible for Mr. Suleiman's dismissal.

The defence chief did not say what the officer's offence was. But Mr. Suleiman told the President he had never been accused of any wrongdoing.

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