Published On: Thu, Sep 7th, 2017

The matter of 38 Army officers, by Emmanuel Onwubiko

Emmanuel-Onwubiko

I’m compelled for the second time in less than two years to write on this vexed issue of the alleged wrongful dismissal of 38 senior military officers of the Nigeria Army because of newly emerged information which goes to show that most of them were, indeed, not afforded a right to fair hearing.

Over a year and half ago when the Army through its public relations department published a release indicating the retirement of these soldiers, we were regaled with a cacophony of sensational allegations that the dismissed officers were caught committing a range of offences during the 2015 elections and for playing one role or the other in the monumental heist that allegedly occurred in the office of the then National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki. Dasuki is facing a barrage of court cases accusing him of diverting over $2 billion of money meant for purchases of weapons that would have been deployed in combating the armed Boko Haram terrorists.

When the retirements were announced at that time, many public affairs analysts alleged that the purge affected mainly senior officers of South East of Nigeria and some others from the South South, while only very few hail from some states in the North West or North East of Nigeria. The Chief of Army Staff is Kanuri of North East of Nigeria whilst the Minister of Defence is from Zamfara in the North West of Nigeria.

There were, therefore, allegations that the decision to retire those senior officers was a deliberate purge of mainly Igbo officers. The Public Relations Department of the Army was predisposed to supply on demand the official reasons for the action. At that time, there wasn’t any other narrative available to writers so the official angle that trended necessitated an earlier media intervention I did, which some media houses published.

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The immediate reason for this second article is to clear the cobweb of doubts which my first piece raised over a year and a half ago, particularly due to its publication in Daily Sun last week, even when I did not send it in for publication.

The publication of the first copy I did on this same matter over a year and half ago is coming against the backdrop of emerging facts which have established legally sustainable grounds to ask the President of Nigeria to take a good look at the allegations of wrongful dismissal raised by these 38 Army officers, most of whom were never invited to appear before the internal panels that probed allegations of alleged misconducts of military officers during elections in 2015 or the panel that investigated the alleged arms budget diversion. Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has therefore decided to add our moral voice to demand justice because if the allegations of wrongful dismissal aren’t investigated and quality redress provided, it would be a total institutionalisation of injustice. Augustine of Hippo had argued that any government that is averse to honesty and justice is at best a bunch of criminals.

When I penned the first material on the gale of military retrenchments, I did not have the privilege of getting the other side of the matter since only the official channels of the military were available and those affected military officers weren’t accessible or willing to speak to independent media or civil rights activists like us. The first article basically quoted official accounts copiously since I could not get the other side.

From available materials and from findings made available by the affected thirty-eight senior Army officers, they described their circumstances for exiting as wrongful dismissal from the Nigerian Army and accused the Minister of Defence, Brig-General Mansur Dan Ali (rtd), Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin, and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Yusuf Buratai, of victimisation of innocent senior officers.

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Through their lawyers, these military officers successfully fought their alleged illegal dismissal through the legal platform of National Industrial Court. The officers, as law abiding officers, have also approached the President, urging him to review the circumstances surrounding their unjust removal from the only professional career that they have known virtually all their entire adult life.

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 sound very convincing and merit a review. This is the reason I’m disturbed that someone can bring up an old piece I penned down when there was only one source of information. What does that person circulating my stale article aim to achieve? The truth should, indeed, prevail and this is the reason my group and I are demanding that President Muhammadu Buhari takes a second look at this case to douse the tensions generated by the skewed retirement process that adversely affected the Igbo speaking nationality. Even Rivers State has seven top officers wiped off the map of the Army even when they are claiming innocence.

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In a petition dated August 22, 2017 and addressed to President Buhari by the law firm of Abdul Muhammed LP, which this writer has, the officers recalled that at the beginning of this 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 the troika 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 mature consideration of their individual cases, through the Chief of Defence Staff as provided by the Harmonised 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.

Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and writes from Abuja. He blogs@ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com, www.huriwa@blogspot.com.

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