By Clement A. Oloyede
The National Industrial Court in Abuja on Wednesday was told the Nigerian Army violated its own rules and laws when it compulsorily retired some of its senior officers in 2016.
Daily Trust recalled that the Army had in June 2016 announced the compulsory retirement of 38 officers on different ranks on the grounds of alleged professional misconduct during the 2015 general elections, as well as involvement in the $2.1 billion arms procurement scandal. The purge affected nine Major Generals, ten Brigadier-Generals, seven Colonels, eleven Lieutenant Colonels and one Major.
Several of the affected officers had subsequently instituted suits individually against the Nigerian Army; the Attorney General of the Federation; Brig. Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali (rtd), the Minister of Defence; Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai and Maj. Gen. Mohammed Garba.
One of the affected officers, Colonel Mohammed Auwal Suleiman (rtd), while challenging the legality of his compulsory retirement told the court that while the reason(s) for the act was said to be based on “disciplinary grounds i.e. serious offences”, by not following the procedures as laid down in the Armed Forces Act (AFA), the said retirement offended the statutory provisions of the act.
Led in evidence by his counsel, Samuel Zibiri (SAN), Suleiman, testifying as his own witness, explained to the court that the disciplinary process for an officer of his cadre in the Nigerian Army according to the rules ought to start with the offence first reported on a chart called ‘Charge Sheet AFB 252’; subsequently trial by a General Court Martial, then trial by Court Martial where the accused is allowed to defend himself to underscore fair-hearing.
He said the record of the proceedings is thereafter compiled and transmitted with the verdict to Army Council, for ratification.
He said instead of following these procedures, the Army took to the media to announce the compulsory retirement, adding that it was false and malicious for the army to claim it “was done to purge the Nigerian Army of corrupt officers indicted by either the Presidential Arms Panel or the Election Petition Panel notwithstanding the fact that I have had no factual involvement at all with either of the two grounds.”
Suleiman, a former defence attaché in the Chad Republic and a recipient of the national honour of Member of the Order of Federal Republic (MFR), urged the court to not only order that the compulsory retirement, which he said amount to dismissal, is unlawful and invalid but to also order his reinstatement.
He also asked the court for compensatory, aggravated and exemplary damages in the sum of N1billion against the 1st, 6th, 7th-9th defendants.
The trial judge, Justice Sanusi Kado who adjourned the case to October 8 for the defence to open their case, had earlier adjourned a sister case instituted by Colonel D.R. Hassan against the Army to the same October 8 for adoption of written addresses.