It is a matter of public record that at the beginning of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, two panels were instituted by the Nigerian Army and/or Office of National Security Adviser respectively, to inquire into (1) allegations of electoral malpractices by Nigerian Army personnel and (2) allegations of corruption associated with arms procurement under the office of National Security Adviser. Furthermore on Thursday June 9, 2016 the Nigeria Army Council under the leadership of the troika of the Minister of Defence, Mr Mansur Dan Ali, Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Yusuf Buratai presided over an abrupt sitting of the Army Counciland they saw to the punishment by compulsory retirement of 38 senior officers of the Nigerian Army.
We all acknowledge that Nigeria owes a debt of gratitude to the fighting men and women of our armed forces, such that we must definitely show our concern that these 38 senior army officers, who have all put their very lives at risk protecting Nigeria, should be treated in such an unfair and shabby manner.
In the list of 38 Senior Army Officers are nine Maj-Generals, 10 Brig-Generals, 7 Colonels, 11 Lieut-Colonels and one Major. None of the 38 senior officers that were compulsorily retired was ever charged, tried by a court martial or found guilty of any offence in line with Armed Forces extant rules and regulations, before they all heard of their retirement in the media. They were never investigated for any infraction, they were never indicted, they were never tried and they were never convicted of any disciplinary or criminal breaches whatsoever.
Eighteen out of the 38 senior army officers that were punished did not appear before any one of the two panels that were set up or any other inquiry or investigation for that matter. That is to say, they never appeared before: (1) the panel that examined allegations of electoral malpractices by Nigerian Army personnel or, (2) the panel that investigated allegations of corruption associated with arms procurement under the Office of National Security Adviser.
Eight of the 38 senior army officers were called as witnesses before the panel that examined allegations of electoral malpractices by Nigerian Army personnel. Eleven Senior Army officers were called as witnesses before the second the panel that investigated allegations of corruption associated with arms procurement under the office of National Security Adviser. It is important to note that these officers went before the panels as witness and not as persons of interest with respect to these investigations.
Seven out of the senior army officers are from Rivers State, two each are from Delta and Akwa Ibom states; three are from Edo State, and 10 others are from the South-eastern states (and of Igbo descent). In order words, 24 of the 38 senior army officers in the list are from the South-south and South-east zones (63 per cent).
The record of the Nigeria Army shows that there were no factual basis for punishing these officers, and that there has been a complete failure of fair hearing and due process. Many of these officers have no relationship whatsoever with election duties or procurement office as falsely alleged by Army leadership. They have never served in procurement capacity throughout their careers in the Army or participated in any form of election duties during the 2015 General Elections.
None of the 38 senior army officers was allowed to enjoy the benefits of their rights and privileges, which are clearly protected under and by virtue of the provisions of Chapter IV of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
As per the statement contained in the press release, paragraph 2(e), the wrongful dismissal of the officers in the circumstances has resulted in the most serious breach of the provision of section 217(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recorded in recent history. For example, the complete failure of due process means that the removal of the Rivers State officers from the Nigerian Army on arbitrary grounds constitutes the single most important and dangerous depletion of the population of Rivers State indigenes in the officer corps of the Nigerian Army ever recorded in this country.
For ease of reference, I should state that section 217(3) of the Constitution provides for the protection of federal character as follows:
“The composition of the officer corps and other ranks of the Armed Forces of the Federation shall reflect the federal character of Nigeria.”
I have the duty to point out that in the case of the 38 senior army officers, the present leadership of the Nigerian Army acted maliciously, by surreptitiously substituting the names of culpable officers with innocent ones in a gross act of corruption and went ahead to deliberately mislead the President and Commander-in-Chief, as well as the entire nation, on the matter. The action of the troika in the matter of the 38 officers was based on pure vendetta and pursuit of opaque objectives, such as attempt to coerce officers to commit crimes in future election, as motivated by the desire to further personal ambitions and interests without any consideration whatsoever for overall national interest and the security of Nigeria.
I must point out that Army Record shows that in the respective case of all the officers, there was either no factual basis for the punishment and/or there was complete lack of established process leading to their dismissals.
I have a duty to point out to the world that the report with respect to Arms Procurement was completed and published in December 2016, which was six months after these 38 senior officers had been punished by the Army Council, based on involvement in Arms Procurement saga. The panel on Arms Procurement never indicted any of these 38 officers, and some of the serving officers that were recommended for further investigation are still serving in the Army and have continued to enjoy their promotion and privileges
This Army leadership reinstated a Maj-General on the ground that due process was not followed in punishing the said officer and, yet, this same Army leadership has now seen to the punishment of 38 senior Army Officers in breach of due process. Very curious indeed that the Army leadership was able to do the right thing by insisting on due process in January 2016 for Maj-Gen A Mohammed, and yet same Army leadership is unable and unwilling to follow due process in June 2016, in respect of the 38 senior Army officers.
It is a sad commentary on how this country treats her men and women in uniform that justice and fairness has been withheld from these wrongfully and shabbily treated 38 senior Army officers in a period of more than 12 months after their unlawful dismissal, and voices that should speak out on this matter of grave national security have remained silent.
When the Commander-in-Chief had requested the Army leadership to inquire into weighty issues of allegations of misconduct about service personnel, the duty (at a minimum) of the troika of Defence Minister Mansur Dan Alli, Gen Abayomi Olonisakin and Chief of Army Staff, Yusuf Buratai, should be to execute the noble intentions of the President, and not to sabotage the President’s instruction by seeing to the punishment of innocent officers, while leaving the culpable ones to walk free. Properly construed, the actions of the Army Leadership in the circumstances is clearly designed and effective to ridicule the Change Agenda of the All Progressives Congress (APC) government and to fritter away the hard-earned reputation of Mr President, for probity, justice and fairness.
In the circumstance, the President is urged to authorise the immediate reinstatement of the 38 retired Senior Army Officers into the Nigerian Army, pending an urgent and impartial investigation into all the allegations in this petition. We submit that careful review of the facts and circumstances of this petition speak to the necessity of the institution of disciplinary procedures against those high officials that were involved in the illegal and or sham retirement exercise.
•Muhammed Esq., Principal, Abdul Muhammed LP, Legal Practitioner, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, delivered this at HURIWA Forum in Abuja on August 28, 2017.