Unending cry for justice for dismissed army officers
The dismissal of 38 army officers at the threshold of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has been widely described as ‘unjust’ by watchers. In fact, the death, few months ago, of one of the dismissed officers, who could not cope with the trauma, has heightened the tension among the remaining 37 officers who still seek to know the reasons for their sudden disengagement from service, ODITA SUNDAY reports.
Iconic words on the marble by great Martin Luther King Jnr that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere is playing out conspicuously in the Nigerian army in the case of 38 young senior officers who were disengaged from service and till now, no cogent reason has been offered for the action.
With this feeling of injustice, president Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption and wrongdoings in public service is on trial. On June 9, 2016, a total of 38 promising officers of the Nigerian army were compulsorily retired from the army. The retirement letter cited Paragraph 09.02c(04) of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service for Nigerian Army Officers 2012 (Revised) as the grounds for their retirement.
The paragraph states the reason for their retirement as “on disciplinary grounds i.e. serious offences”.It was for this reason that the officers individually appealed to Mr. president through the Chief of Defence Staff pursuant to paragraph 09.02(e) of the same Harmonized Terms and Conditions of Service for Nigerian Armed Forces Officers 2012 (Revised).
At that time, when the retirement was announced, many public affairs analysts made allegations that the purge affected mainly senior officers of South east and South south regions of Nigeria and only very few hail from some states in the North West or North East of Nigeria.There were allegations that the decision to retire those senior officers was a deliberate purge of mainly officers who are not from the North, an allegation that the army headquarters debunked.
One of the victims of the ‘discriminatory’ retirement (names withheld) lamented that there are both moral and legal burden on the army and the present administration to dispense justice correctly.
“Legally, the army failed to adhere to it’s own established military justice system. Officers were not queried, where they were queried, they were not charged with offences committed. In fact, none of the 38 was ever charged, tried or found guilty of any offence.
“Morally, government and the army have a moral obligation to be fair and just to all Nigerians. Being in the army does not deny the officers their rights to fair hearing as Nigerians as enshrined in Section 36 (1) (2) of the constitution and Section 122 of the Armed Forces Act. Justice Oputa famously said ‘God gave us 2 ears to enable us hear both sides’.
“Eighteen of the officers were never queried and none of the 38 appeared before a court martial. So what incontrovertible evidence does the army have against them that they were not charged to court? Why the long delay in the appeals process? If even one person is innocent and 18 were never even questioned over anything, is that not enough reason to review the entire retirement exercise in the interest of fairness and justice?” he said.He queried further amidst tears: “At the time the Army Chief said all the 38 were granted fair hearing but confirmed reports say otherwise, why can’t the army or MOD clarify? If they were granted fair hearing, when and where were the officers court martialled? Why the long delay in transmitting the appeals to the President? Does the Army have something to hide? If army can recall Major General Sani, from retirement to court martial him and demote him why didn’t they follow due process here?
“What of the effect to the integrity, espirit-de-corp and professionalism of the military? What is wrong in correcting an error or wrong as was done earlier in the case of General Mohammed Sani? Why should another Nigerian truncate someone’s career for unconfirmed slights and perceived insults? Is that not corruption and injustice? “Let us remember that No man is God. ‘Injustice against one Nigerian is an injustice against all Nigerians’To worsen it, they won’t even accuse the officers of any crime first before retiring them. Officers with sterling records are treated unjustly.”
Another victim said: “Is this the kind of Army they want to bequeath Nigerians? An army capable of violating the espirit-de-corps and camaraderie, which glues the professionalism of the institution together. If only one person might be innocent is that not enough reason to reinstate the officers and review the process?
“If the established military justice system was not followed is that not enough reason to review the entire retirement? Or must we refrain from commenting about this injustice because the Defence and army leadership are stubborn and too embarrassed to do the honourable thing and stand on the path of justice, equity and fairness.
“Military officers are supposed to be men of honour and integrity. However, the reputation of the army has continually been eroded by all these various acts of injustice and violations of the human rights of their fellow officers.“We are no longer in the 70s, 80s or 90s when senior officers under the guise of military rule used ‘command impunity’ to get rid of well trained officers who have something meaningful to offer the nation. The fact that they persist with such illegal practices even though they know the courts would reverse the retirements is a disgrace and reveals how much the army has regressed. These unwholesome practices are capable of diminishing any confidence reposed by Nigerians in the integrity of the Army.
“If any of the officers is guilty, why is the army so reluctant to prosecute them in accordance with the rules and regulations via court martial?? It will at least serve as deterrence to others in future.“It is mind boggling to understand why they will lump innocent officers who were clearly not in the various arenas of elections or arms procurement amongst the summary retirements? Enquiries have revealed that most of the officers have no clue as to what alleged offences they committed.
“Why would a supposedly professional army not follow the established due process of query, charge, trial and find an accused officer guilty of an offence? Why not grant the officers fair hearing as enshrined in the constitution? Clearly the Defence and Army leadership has something to hide.”The retired officers alleged that Ali, Olonisakin and Buratai abused their offices with impunity by maliciously punishing innocent officers. They indeed cited series of facts and figures, which sounded very convincing and merits a review.
Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) had demanded that President Muhammadu Buhari takes a second look at the case to douse the tensions generated by the ‘skewed’ retirement process. Rivers State alone has 7 top officers wiped off the Army even when they are claiming innocence.
In a petition dated August 22, 2017 and addressed to President Buhari by the law firm of Abdul Muhammed LP, the officers recalled that at the beginning of Buhari’s administration, two panels were instituted to inquire into allegations of electoral malpractices by Nigerian Army personnel and allegations of corruption associated with arms procurement under the office of National Security Adviser (NSA).
The officers also noted that sometime in June 2016, the Nigeria Army under the leadership of Ali, Olonisakin and Buratai presided over an abrupt sitting of the Army Council that saw to the punishment by compulsory retirement of the 38 senior officers of the Nigerian Army. The petitioners also told President Buhari that after their unjust retirement, some of the officers wrote letters of redress for the president’s matured consideration of their individual cases, through the Chief of Defence Staff as provided by the Harmonized Terms and Conditions of Service (Officers) 2012 but the military authorities deliberately refused to show proof of transmitting the said letters to the president as required by regulations.
Respite may soon come the way of the 38 victims as the Nigerian Senate has begun an investigation into the dismissal of the men, after one of the affected officers, Abdulfatai Mohammed, wrote a petition to the National Assembly.Mohammed’s petition was received by the Senate through Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta, APC) on July 19 this year.
The petition was then referred to the committee on ethics, privileges and public petitions headed by Samuel Anyanwu, (Imo, PDP) for investigation. The first hearing of the committee on the petition has been slated for Wednesday.
At the hearing, the parties, including the Army and the affected officer, would make presentations in connection with the petition, alleging arbitrariness in the manner the officers were removed from service by the military.However, series of investigations revealed that the Army breached its own rule by retiring most of the officers without query or indictment by any panel, thereby raising the question of arbitrariness.
At least thrice, they have petitioned the Presidency. But at no time have any of them been replied.The petition to the Senate is the latest of their efforts at seeking redress.
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