Purge of 38 Army officers
Last month the Army Council announced the retirement from service of thirty eight senior army officers. This was the single biggest sweeping out of military officers since 1999 when, on assumption of office, President Olusegun Obasanjo retired dozens of what he called “politically exposed” officers, those who held political appointments under the military regimes. The recently retired Army officers include nine Major Generals, ten Brigadier-Generals, seven Colonels, eleven Lieutenant Colonels and one Major. Among them were two General Officers Commanding (GOCs) and several Defence Attaches who were posted abroad at the twilight of Lt. General Kenneth Minimah’s tenure as Chief Army Staff. They were expected to stay in their countries of assignment for a minimum of two and a maximum of three years.
This gale of retirement has already generated mixed feelings. Acting Director of Army Public Relations Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman defended it saying, “Their retirement was based on Service exigencies. It should be recalled that not too long ago, some officers were investigated for being partisan during the 2015 general elections. Similarly, the investigation by the Presidential Committee investigating Defence Contracts revealed a lot. Some officers have already been arraigned in court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. People should therefore not read this out of context. The military must remain apolitical and professional at all times. We must applaud and support this laudable and bold initiative by the government.”
However, some of the affected officers alleged witch-hunt, saying the Army Council did not give them a fair hearing. One of them said, “There was nothing like fair hearing before we were sacked. I was driving when an insider broke the shocking story to me. It was two days after I heard of the sacking that I got my letter, which did not precisely state the actual crime I committed.” Still others alleged that they were retired because they were close to and loyal to former service chiefs.
A document obtained by Daily Trust showed that the officers were compulsorily retired based on provisions of Chapter 9, Section 09.02 (a) of the Conditions of Service of the Army, which states that, “An officer may, at any time, be removed from the service, be called upon to retire or resign his commission on disciplinary grounds.” We believe there is nothing wrong in ensuring that professionalism is deeply entrenched in the Nigeria Army and other military services. Thousands of people lost their lives to Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East and other parts of Nigeria, partly due to acts of commission and omission by both the military and civilian authorities, especially when monies meant for procurement of arms were unconscionably diverted to private pockets.
Therefore, those found wanting must be made to face the music to so as to serve as a deterrent to others. However, the constitutional provision for fair hearing is absolute. No matter the gravity of the offence one is suspected to have committed, he or she must be given the opportunity to defend himself or herself. Even though both Army Chief Lt General Tukur Buratai and Defence Minister Brig-Gen Mansur Dan-Ali said at different fora that the retired officers had the opportunity to defend themselves, many of them deny this. We urge the affected officers to explore the provision of Section 09.02 (e) which states that, “An officer called upon to retire, resign or relinquish his commission shall, if he so desires, appeal to Mr President, the Commander-in-Chief, through the Chief of Defence Staff within 30 days to have his case considered” to seek redress if they feel their retirement was not in order.
Nigerians cannot be happy with the abrupt retirement of senior military officers whenever there is a change of government. The country expended a fortune to train them both at home and abroad. Their expertise should not be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. The opposite of professionalism will be achieved if soldiers are thrown out for opaque political reasons.