By Evelyn Okakwu
The National Industrial Court in Abuja has dismissed a motion filed by the Nigerian government challenging the competence of a matter brought before it by a retired military officer.
A list of respondents, including service chiefs and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had approached the industrial court, challenging the competence of a motioned filed by an applicant affected by the June 2016 retirement of some military officials.
A decision of the court, provided to PREMIUM TIMES, however indicated that the motion brought by the government officials was dismissed as it was deemed ‘lacking in merit’.
The court’s ruling was delivered in April but obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Monday.
The June 2016 compulsory retirement
Following the compulsory retirement of about 37 high ranking officials of the Nigerian military, including army generals, for alleged misconduct in June 2016, one the affected officers, Mohammed Suleiman approached the industrial court to challenge the decision of the Nigerian Army.
According to the statement announcing the said retirement; the affected officers were sacked following a decision of the army council, for alleged electoral and contract-related fraud.
The retired officers were forced out of service under controversial circumstances.
Most of them did not face any panel or probe as stipulated by law.
They were also neither indicted nor queried for any offence, according to PREMIUM TIMES’ investigations.
Reacting to the compulsory retirement, Mr Suleiman, a retired colonel, wrote a letter to the president, Muhammadu Buhari, which was channelled through the office of the Chief of Defence staff and received on August 8, 2016.
When a response to the aforementioned letter failed to come after 30 days; as provided for, by paragraph 09.02(e) of the Harmonized Terms and Conditions of Service for Officers, Mr Suleiman approached the Industrial Court to demand the nullification of his retirement.
However, in another reaction, the defendants in the suit applied to the same court, presided by Justice Sanusi Kado, challenging the competence of Mr Suleiman’s suit and requesting the court to dismiss same.
The defendants in Mr Suleiman’s suit are: the Nigerian army, its council, Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai, Chief of Defence Staff Gabriel Olonisakin, Defence Minister Mansur Dan-Ali, Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami and a major general, Muhammed Garba.
According to the motion, the defendants contended that Mr Suleiman’s claims should only have come, after certain other administrative steps which they alleged, were not concluded.
They submitted that the law requires the claimant to do more than he did before approaching the court.
They also argued that based on section 178 (1) and (3) of the Armed Forces act, the claimant did not exhaust the procedure provided for an aggrieved army officer seeking to ventilate his grievances.
The defendants also submitted that the failure of the claimant to first approach his commanding officer, as well as the council, rendered his claims administratively defective.
They urged the court to hold that the failure of Mr Suleiman to employ internal administrative measures for addressing his grievances, were fatal to the success of his claims.
“It is the submission of counsel that since the claimant/applicant did not satisfy the requirements of the law in first exhausting the internal mechanism for the resolution of his grievances, this suit is incompetent and this court lacks the jurisdiction to try it,” the defendants had said in their motion.
Responding to the motion, Mr Suleiman argued that his letter to the President was the only internal pre-condition for filing his suit.
He contended that the said letter was addressed to the president, because only the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces had the capacity to reinstate his appointment.
Having failed to receive a response to his letter, therefore, Mr Suleiman argued that he was left with no alternative but to seek redress in court.
Delivering the court’s decision on the matter, the judge cited a previous decision of the court of appeal which dealt with a similar matter.
“In compliance with the principle of stare decisis; I have no choice than to follow and apply the above quoted court of appeal decision to the fact of this case which are similar.
“Applying the principle of law enunciated in the quoted court of appeal to the facts of this case; I hold that the letter of 23rd day of June, 2016 written by the claimant to the president, Commander-in Chief of the armed forces seeking for redress regarding his compulsory retirement vide letter, dated 9th June, has substantially complied with condition precedent set out in section 178 of the armed forced act. In these circumstances, he cannot be denied access to this court, based on none-fulfilment of condition precedent.
“In view of the fore-going; this application fails and is hereby dismissed,” the judge ruled.
Several other applications have been filed at the Industrial Court, following the same retirement. But a previous decision of the court, on a similar application by one of the retired staff, was not obeyed by the Chief of Defence Staff.
The Chief of Army Staff, Mr Buratai also failed to appear before the Senate when he was called to brief the upper chambers on the controversial retirement.