By Joan Ejembi
A representative of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Yusuf Tukur Buratai, was last week, walked out by the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions from its hearing into a petition on malicious compulsory retirement by Lt. Col. Abdulfatai Mohammed.
This case is part of a petition involving 21 other officers: two Major Generals, five Brigadier Generals, eight Colonels and seven Lieutenant Colonels who were all compulsorily retired in June 2016, allegedly for no justifiable excuse.
Members of the committee were peeved by Buratai decision of sending a Major, to the hearing to represent him, despite his insistence that the letter inviting him to testify before them, must be signed by the Chairman of the Committee, instead of the Clerk as is normal practice.
They therefore refused to take submissions from the representative, Major Daniel Ehicheoya, of the Nigerian Army Directorate of Legal Services. Reacting to the development, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, said Buratai’s decision to shun the committee is an insult.
“I was called two weeks ago that the Chief of Army Staff said I must sign the letter to him personally. So how come he is not here? It is an insult to us. When invitation letters are signed, it is by the Clerk, but he insisted I sign his. We have invited the Air Force Chief, and he came here,” Anyanwu said.
On his part, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (Abia North) noted that the cases of all the petitioners seem to be the same: that there were no justification for their compulsory retirement. “How can they just summarily retire young men, who the country has spent so much money training,” he said.
Presenting his case to the committee, Mohammed, said he was wrongfully retired after 22 years of meritorious service in the Army which included an award of the First Order of Merit at the India Staff College. “I was in my office on June 9, 2016 when I received a call that I have been compulsorily retired,” he said.
He added that while the retirement letter cited a paragraph that deals with disciplinary issues, he did not have any disciplinary issues in his career.
According to him, he had never received any query, nor faced a disciplinary panel, or gotten into an altercation with his superiors.
He said he was posted to Konduga in 2013 at the height of the Boko Haram crises and was part of the pivotal unit that ensured the strategic town did not fall to the hands of the insurgents.
He continued: “The day after I was retired, the NA declared in the media that the affected officers were involved in partisanship in the 2015 general election, that I was involved in election partisanship while on election duty in Edo State.”
Mohammed, who said that he was nowhere in Edo State at the time of the elections, nor was he involved in election duty in any part of the country, insist that: “The NA records show that I was actually fighting to protect this country in the North-east during the elections and I earned two commendations for bravery for risking my life for this country.”
Mohammed accused the leadership of the army of surreptitiously substituting the names of culpable officers with his name and other innocent officers in a gross act of corruption and deliberately misled the president on the matter.
This was as he called for justice not just for himself but to protect fighting men and women who are risking their lives to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria.