Falana: Military has duty to discipline members
Femi Falana is a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In this interview with ABIODUN FANORO, he spoke on the ongoing cleansing in the military.
What is your dispassionate view on the ongoing cleansing in the military?
I do not agree that what we are witnessing is cleansing. As an institution, the military has a duty to discipline its members. All that is required is that in removing anybody from the armed forces, the authorities are required to follow the provisions of the Armed Forces Act and the Constitution to the letter. However, any of the 38 officers affected, who was never confronted with any allegation of misconduct, has the right to petition the President. I did so in the case of the 3002 military officers and soldiers who were illegally flushed out of the military by the last administration. I got reprieve for them as they have been reinstated. I also protested the illegal conviction of the 70 soldiers who were sentenced to death for demanding for weapons to fight the insurgents. Although the death sentences passed on them have been commuted to 10 years imprisonment, I have sent a fresh petition to the President of the republic to pardon them and set them free in view of the revelations that the fund earmarked for the purchase of armament was diverted and stolen by a coterie of retired and serving military officers.
So, I strongly believe that those who were unjustly treated are entitled to have their cases reviewed. In the case of Brigadier-General Enitan Ransome-Kuti, who was dismissed and jailed by a court- martial, we petitioned the Army Council and the President. The authorities have since set aside the order of imprisonment, reinstated him, but reduced his rank. But in view of the fresh evidence at our disposal that a former Chief of Defence allowed Baga to fall in order to make blood money, we have asked the authorities to further review his case.
Couldn’t this action be misconstrued as witch hunting?
There is no disciplined army in any organised society that will overlook the shameful conduct of the military officers who were involved in the violent manipulation of the last Ekiti State governorship election. A situation whereby a serving Brigadier-General allowed himself to be used by political thugs and rascals to rig an election is completely absurd. It was so terrible that a captain recorded how Mr. Ayo Fayose, a governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) handed down illegal orders to General Momoh. It was so embarrassing that all the dramatis personae denied their involvement in the criminal subversion of the electoral process until they were confronted with the recordings of Captain Sagil. The army set up a panel to investigate the allegations and gave all the officers who were implicated in the electoral malfeasance the opportunity to react to the allegations made against them. To that extent, you cannot talk of any witch hunt in the case of the manipulation of the Ekiti/Osun governorship elections by armed troops. Section 2 of the Constitution stipulates that no one or group of people can remove any government in Nigeria except by constitutional means. By using the military to effect a change of government, a coup was successfully staged by General Momoh-led army, which led to the emergence of Mr. Fayose as the governor of Ekiti state. All the soldiers implicated in the coup and their civilian collaborators are liable to be charged with treason.
But most of those sacked were said to be loyal to former President Goodluck Jonathan, their C-In-C, when has it become a crime to be loyal to the C-In-C?
The armed forces have a code of conduct and rules of engagement in line with the service law. Under no condition can a military officer allow himself to be converted to a political thug by the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. So no military officer can carry out a criminal act and defend himself by saying that he was carrying out the order of the C-in-C or his commanding officer.
Even if it was true that they exercised political bias, they were probably only carrying out instructions or order from their superior or the C-In-C; should they be punished for being obedient?
No doubt, it was an era of impunity. But there were military officers who resigned and left the service instead of disgracing the institution and their family names. Apart from Captain Sagil who went on exile to protest the criminality, which he witnessed during the Ekiti gubernatorial election, I know a rear admiral who resigned when he was invited to share from a monthly loot of over a billion naira. Some of those who partook of the loot are currently standing trial. Are you saying that the officers who engaged in such criminal tendencies and brought shame and dishonour to the armed forces should be given a pat on the back because they claimed to be obeying the alleged orders of the C-in-C?
Won’t the purge be misconstrued as a revenge considering that the military under GEJ was behind the certificate saga intended to rubbish Buhari before the election?
What has the certificate saga got to do with the criminal diversion of $15 billion, which occurred from 20007-2015? The military officers who allowed the rag tag army of the Boko Haram sect to bomb and kill 25,000 civilians and soldiers, because of corruption ought to have been charged with mutiny under sections 45 and 52 of the Armed Forces Act. The offence of mutiny attracts the death penalty. The suspects are lucky that the Buhari regime has charged them before civilian judges in the Federal High Court. They should not carry their luck too far by engaging in any campaign of calumny against the government for treating them with kid gloves, as it were. No serious minded person can sustain the allegation of revenge as long as the evidence of corruption is overwhelmingly skewed against the indicted military officers.
Can Nigeria afford dispensing with the services of these soldiers in view of the many threat to the stability and unity of the country from many fronts today?
The removal of 38 military officers cannot constitute a threat to political stability or the security of the nation once due process has been followed. The greatest threat to the unity of Nigeria is corruption, poverty, youth unemployment and illiteracy. The young people who have taken up arms against the State are not talking of restructuring. Having been frustrated due to unemployment and illiteracy they want Nigeria balkanised. The military ruled Nigeria for 28 years and compounded the crisis. The military solution cannot solve the crisis of underdevelopment in the country. So the issue of discipline in the armed forces has nothing to do with political stability. In fact, it is a regular phenomenon. Did President Olusegun not remove all serving military officers who had held political appointment under the defunct military regimes? Was he not accused of removing northern officers who constituted the majority of those who were removed?
Looking at the way the anti-corruption war is being prosecuted and the way the military cleansing is being carried out, isn’t the president displaying highhandedness?
Section 15 of the Constitution has imposed a duty on the State to fight corruption. In the case of the Attorney-General of Ondo State vs Attorney General of the Federation, the Supreme Court held that the three tiers of government, that is, Federal, state and local governments are required to fight corruption. But today, only the federal government is fighting corruption. Even the Federal Government is merely scratching the surface of the monster. You cannot seriously combat the menace of corruption without attacking the neocolonial and peripheral capitalist system operated by the government.
The drafters of the Constitution knew that corruption couldn’t be tacked under a capitalist economy. Hence it is provided in section16 of the Constitution that the government shall prevent the concentration of the commonwealth in the hands of a few people or a group. So a government that has allowed the status quo to remain cannot be accused of being high handed. In some countries those who are convicted for corruption are executed or sentenced to life imprisonment. But in Nigeria corrupt people are allowed to hire senior lawyers to frustrate their trial, hire hungry people to carry placards around the court premises and hire the media to repeatedly accuse the government of engaging in political persecution of political opponents.