By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — No fewer than 25 Generals, who were affected by the appointment of their juniors as service chiefs last Tuesday by President Muhammadu Buhari have been given six weeks to voluntarily retire from the Nigerian Armed Forces.
The immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Kenneth Minimah, disclosed this yesterday while handing over to his successor, Major General Tukur Buratai at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja.
By army tradition, the affected Generals cannot serve under a junior officer to them and must mandatorily go home.
It was a moment of stock-taking and sober reflection as Lt. Gen. Minimah, handed over the mantle of leadership to Maj. Gen. Buratai.
In his speech, Minimah, who said that some very senior unnamed officers have been given notices of retirement, urged those affected by the development to take the notifications for retirement in good faith.
He joked that while the affected officers were given six weeks’ notice to proceed on retirement, the retirements of the former service chiefs were simply relayed to them on the radio.
While Minimah used the occasion to “showcase his achievements” while in office, Buratai, conscious of the arduous task that lies ahead of him, maintained a calm mien, listening to his predecessor with rapt attention reeling out his accomplishments.
Army was able to reclaim all Nigerian territories
In spite of the mounting ravages of the Boko Haram insurgents, Minimah boasted that the Army under his control was able to reclaim all Nigerian territories taken by the sect and reduce them to petty thieves and a band of criminals.
Minimah also said that the army under his watch was able to push Boko Haram to a point that it remains a ‘certain defeat’ by the Nigerian army.
He stated that because of the measures he put into place as the CoAS, the Nigerian Army had been built into a strong fighting force that can stands its own anywhere.
He said: “Today, I am leaving behind an Army that can hold its own against any adversary without batting an eyelid. It is an Army that has vowed never again to concede any inch of Nigeria to terrorists. It is a legacy I am leaving behind and I implore you to sustain it.
“As I hand over today, I am happy to inform you that the Boko Haram terrorists’ insurgency is at a certain defeat.
“During my tenure, we were able to reclaim all territories earlier lost to the terrorists, sufficiently degrade their potency and reduced them to a band of criminals and petty thieves.
“Success did not come cheap. It came with the sweat and blood of all of us. In the face of unusual events, we had to take unusual actions. Some may adjudge us as being too strict especially in dealing with cases of cowardice and indiscipline in the field.
“But, we had to do what we must to arrest the drift towards chaos that the army was heading. I am happy that the result in the field today justifies our actions.”
Minimah, however, explained that he had to take some drastic measures to save the Army from collapse and anarchy, apparently referring to the court-martialling of many officers and men taking part in the ongoing war against terrorists for indiscipline, cowardice and mutiny.
He said he was able to boost the morale of officers and men under his leadership and free military institutions and facilities earlier seized by terrorists in the Northeast.
Buratai harps on discipline, professionalism
Receiving the mantle of leadership from Minimah, the new COAS, Buratai, assured Nigerians that priority would be given to the maintenance of strict discipline and professionalism during his tenure.
Buratai said: “Your tenure as COAS has brought discipline into the army. Discipline must be maintained. The highest standard of discipline must be maintained.”
He pledged his loyalty to the President and asked officers and men of the military to be loyal to constituted authorities in the country.
Shortly after the handing over ceremony, Buratai headed to the North-East for his first encounter with troops as the Chief of Army Staff.
Meanwhile, the new Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas and his Air Force counterparts, Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar, would take over leadership of their respective services on Tuesday.
The former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, had earlier handed to his successor, Maj. Gen. Abayomi Olonishakin.
126 sacked soldiers drag Army to court
Meanwhile, 126 out of 255 soldiers who were sacked by the Nigerian Army on January 13 and 14, 2015, for alleged disobedience to standing order and failure to perform military duties, have gone before the National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting in Abuja to seek redress.
The plaintiffs who were part of the troops that fought to reclaim Bazza in Adamawa State from the grip of Boko Haram insurgents in October 2014, are insisting that their dismissal was unconstitutional, illegal, irregular and ultra-vires.
In their suit with number NICN/ABJ/92/2015, which is already before the President of the NIC, Justice Babatunde Adejumo, the plaintiffs decried that the Nigerian Army terminated their appointment through oral communication.
Most of the affected soldiers were enlisted in the Army in 1979, while others joined the army between then and 2013.
The suit was lodged on their behalf by a Lagos-based human right lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN.
The plaintiffs consist of four Warrant Officers, and others in the ranks of Sergeants, Corporal, Lance Corporal, and Private.
Some of the plaintiffs that endorsed the suit were Warrant Officers Akanny Welcome, Davou Nta, Ibrahim Usman and Adediran Ogunmuyiwa.
They told the court that they were part of the joint force code-named ‘OP Zaman Lafia,’ which they said was pooled together from different Divisions and Batallion of the Nigerian Army to fight Boko Haram insurgents in the North East part of the country.
The plaintiffs said their dismissal was communicated to them orally at their station by Lt-Col. M. J. Gambo on January 13, 2015, and by the Garrison Commander, Gen. B.O Akinroluoyo, the following day.
The Army authorities had maintained that it was the refusal of the plaintiffs to obey their Commanding Officer, Lt-Col. A. A Egbejule, during a counter-attack by Boko Haram elements in Bazza, Adamawa State, that led to the recapture of the territory by the terrorists.
However, refuting the allegation by the Army, the plaintiffs through a statement of fact they attached in support of the suit, said they were not accorded fair hearing before they were summarily dismissed.
In the statement which was deposed to by a lawyer in Falana’s chamber, Deji Morakinyo, the sacked soldiers said they were denied “inviolable opportunity to be heard and make representation in defence and to state their respective cases.”
Morakinyo said the soldiers had only retreated on the order by their Commanding Officer for “tactical withdrawal” after the terrorists re-grouped and overwhelmed the soldiers with AA anti-craft guns, APCS, RPGs, GPMGs, and other sophisticated and superior weapons.
According to him, “the claimants particularly aver that due to the insurgents’ counter-attack, and the re-capture of Bazza from the personnel of the defendant (the Nigerian Army), their Commanding Officer, Lt.-Col. A.A Egbejule, in line with military tradition, ordered tactical withdrawal by the Joint Force so as to re-strategise.
“The claimants further and particularly aver that consistent with military tradition, the Joint Force had to comply with the superior order of their Commanding Officer, hence they withdrew as ordered by their Commanding Officer.”
Consequently, they are praying the court to among other things, declare their sacking on the basis of failure to perform military duties and disobedience to standing order as “unconstitutional, illegal, irregular and ultra-vires.”
As well as to order the Army to pay them their accrued salaries and other entitlements since they were sacked in January, N1 million to each of them for breach of fundamental right to fair hearing and freedom from discrimination, likewise the sum of N5 million to cover the litigation cost.
Meanwhile, the NIC has slated October 19 to commence hearing on the matter, even as the Army has through its lawyer, Commander A. A. Agu, raised preliminary objection against the suit.
In its notice of preliminary objection, the Nigerian Army maintained that the plaintiffs were duly sacked.
It has therefore asked the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it lacks the jurisdiction to meddle in such matter as was brought before it by the plaintiffs.
It said: “The claimants were summarily tried, convicted and dismissed from service, thus this honourable court lacks requisite jurisdiction to hear and entertain the suit as constituted and conceived.”
“This honourable court cannot sit on appeal on the summary trial of the claimant pursuant to sections 155, 125 and 179 of the Armed Forces Act”, the Army argued.