The Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), which is a coalition of over 150 anti-corruption organizations across Nigeria, has expressed concerns over the deafening silence and inaction of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to a petition it sent to it on the human rights violation of 38 senior officers of the Nigerian Army, unlawfully retired over a year ago.
In a follow-up petition sent by CSNAC to NHRC, and signed by its chairman, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju, the network urged the NHRC to immediately call for a public hearing to shed more light on the matter with a view to investigate and construe these allegations in the best interest of justice.
According to the coalition, the right to a fair hearing is a universally acclaimed right, and is duly enshrined in the Nigeria Constitution. But, this right has been infringed upon in this case, adding that, “It's over a year, since these 38 retired officers were unjustly punished and all efforts at seeking redress in line with the Nigerian Army’s own modus operandi have all so far been frustrated by the leadership of the Military.”
Taking the cue of its petition from a ThisDay Newspaper report of June 20, 2016, where the news revealed that the Nigeria Army Council under the leadership of the Minister of Defense, Rtd Major General Mansur Dan Ali, Chief of Defense Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Yusuf Buratai conveyed a sudden sitting of the Army Council, where they superintended over, and announced the wrongful dismissal by way of compulsory retirement of 38 Senior Officers of the Nigerian Army, the network said the list has nine Major Generals, 10 Brigadier Generals, seven Colonels, 11 Lieutenant Colonels and one Major.
“In this report, we were made aware that none of these thirty-eight senior officers were at any point investigated for the infraction, indicted, tried by a court martial or found guilty/convicted of any disciplinary offense or criminal breaches whatsoever in line with Armed Forces extant rules and regulations. These 38 Senior Army Officers have expressed their profound shock upon learning about their unjust, unlawful and baseless compulsory retirement in the media.
“We are reliably informed that two separate panels were set up, one to examine allegations of electoral malpractices by Nigerian Army personnel and the other to investigate allegations of corruption associated with arms procurement under the office of National Security Adviser.
“The report further revealed that, 18 out of the 38 Senior Army Officers were never invited to appear before any of the two panels. 8 out of the 38 Senior Army officers appeared as witnesses before the first panel that examined allegations of electoral malpractices by Nigerian Army personnel, while 11 out of the 38 Senior Army Officers also appeared as witnesses before the second panel that investigated allegations of corruption associated with arms procurement under the office of National Security Adviser. It is important to emphasis that, 26 out of these officers went to the panels as witnesses and not as persons of interest with respect to these investigations.”
CSNAC averred further that: “Media reports about Army records have severally revealed that some of these unjustly retired officers were in the frontline of North Eastern operations during the election as against the allegations that they participated in election duties. Several others in that same list were on Army posting outside the shores of Nigeria during the period of General elections. As well as during the time the two panels were sitting in Kaduna and Abuja.
“The right to fair hearing is a universally acclaimed right, and is duly enshrined in the Nigeria Constitution. But, this right has been infringed upon. Despite, an order of mandamus made by the National Industrial Court directed specifically to the Chief of Defense Staff, and requiring Gen. Olonisakin to (as a matter of his duty) transmit the affected officer’s administrative appeal for redress to Mr. President and to show proof of doing same to the Court Registrar, the Chief of Defense Staff has continued to defy the order duly made by a court of competent jurisdiction in a flagrant show of impunity and disrespect for the rule of law. This clearly shows bad faith and the fact that they, the leadership of the Nigeria Army, have something to hide.”
It also lamented that, “It is regrettable to note that the above issue has led to the untimely death of one of the 38 officers, the late Col Baba-Ochankpa. This brave officer died broken hearted. It is very unfortunate that the leadership of the Nigerian Army rather than motivate and inspire our gallant men and women who are serving their fatherland in the most dangerous yet noble ways, chose to exhibit such crass injustice and abuse of powers.”
Calling the NHRC’s attitude to the question, the petition noted that, “As saddening and disheartening as issues surrounding this gross rights violation is, what is even more perturbing for us is to continue refusal of your Commission to act on this matter even though a petition has been duly submitted. All it takes for injustice and anarchy to reign in any society is for very critical institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission to decide to look the other way or throw its hands helplessly in the air when issues of gross rights violation such as this are taking place.
“The assumption is that your Commission appears to be intimidated by the involvement of the top echelon of the Nigerian Army. If this is the case, it is most unfortunate and sends ominous signals for the stability of our polity. The National Human Rights Commission is crucial in deepening our democracy and ensuring that the military submit herself to civil authorities. Your Commission should be, and be perceived to be fearless, tenacious and fiercely forthright in the discharge of its mandate.
“Though the National Assembly has justifiably decided to wade into the matter, we wish to reiterate that your Commission has the mandate to deal with issues like this without fear or favor. The National Human Rights Commission is obligated under national and international statutes to protect human rights of all persons at all times.”
Expressing its demands, CSNAC said, “It is on the basis that we call on the National Human Rights Commission to immediately call for public hearing to shed more light on this matter with a view to investigate and construe these allegations in the best interest of justice. We demand that those who are found to be complicit in this matter be recommended to face punishment to the fullest extent of the law. Consequent upon the above, your Commission should recommend the immediate re-instatement of these 38 senior officers into the Nigerian Army.”