The military career of at least 35 senior army officers came to an abrupt end yesterday after the authorities laid them off for their alleged involvement in the $2.1billion arms procurement deal, and ‘unprofessional’ conduct during the 2015 elections.
The affected officers are said to be in the ranks of Major General, Brigadier General, Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel and a Major.
Their names were not announced, neither was the number of those fired given officially confirmed.
The development may have sparked tension in the force, it was gathered last night.
Army spokesman, Colonel Sani Usman who broke the news of the retirement merely said: “The Nigerian Army wishes to inform the general public that quite a number of senior officers of the Nigerian Army were retired from service yesterday (Friday).
“Those retired were mainly some Major Generals, Brigadier Generals, Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and a Major.
“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, an informed source put the number of the affected officers at over 32.
It was also gathered that a similar purge is likely soon in the Air Force, the Navy and other security agencies.
All the affected army officers were served their retirement letters on Friday before the formal public announcement yesterday.
The decision to keep the names of the affected officers secret is said to be part of the effort to douse the tension generated by the retirement.
A top military source, who is familiar with the situation, said the retirement was predicated on the following reasons:
Involvement in partisan politics during the 2014/15 elections;
Incontrovertible evidence of romance with politicians in gross violation of the code of conduct of the military;
Inordinate ambition to be Chief of Army Staff (COAS) or General Officer Commanding (GOC) leading to lobbying of politicians or being used by politicians;
Outright fraud by some of senior officers including abuse of procurement process;
Involvement in arms deal scandal; and
Gross acts of indiscipline.
The source added: “Before we got to this retirement stage, a Commission of Inquiry was raised by the Nigerian Army. There were many petitions against these officers which the Army Council asked the Commission of Inquiry to look into.
“The commission found all these officers guilty of one infraction or the other.
“The recommendation of the commission was that it was not good for these officers to continue to remain in the system. To retain them is to pollute the service which is a professional calling.
“Overwhelmed by the findings against them, they were given the option of retiring quietly. Some of them retired on their own but some waited to be asked to go.
“If the Army releases the findings of the Commission of Inquiry to the public, Nigerians will be shocked. You should however appreciate that this is not the first time the Army will carry out this type of cleansing. In 1999 when ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power, military officers allegedly implicated in politics and partisanship were retired. This retirement was done in the interest of the system.”
The source dismissed allegation of ethnic bias in the retirement.
“There was no ethnic motive. The retirement affected Northern and Southern officers. The list cuts across ethnic and religious groups. There is no Northern or Southern agenda at all,” he said.
“We know some people will read meanings into the retirement but we have sufficient evidence to back up our decision.
“It is a good development that we are in a democracy. These retired officers can go to court and the evidence against them will be laid bare for the public to know why the Army asked them to go.”
The source also hinted that other services may also retire some of their officers.
The source added: “Other services will carry out a similar exercise. The Army just started the initiative.”
Asked to be specific on the actual figure of those retired, the highly-placed military source said: “They are not up to 50 but they are over 32. We have read about figures being bandied about like 100, 120 and even 100. I don’t think it is up to 50.
“A newspaper even bandied some names which were far off the track.”
When the names of some officers alleged to have affected were read to the source, he shook his head and replied: “I won’t tell you Yes or No. You have to be careful.”
Another source, a Brigadier General, said: “The Army Council was careful in screening the list of those retired. So, those you think were retired are not likely to be there.
“We have many officers who got involved in one thing or the other in line of duty. Such practises fell short of official conduct or expectations.
“In deference to their service to the Army, these officers were individually served their letters of retirement. No signal has been released to Army formations as I speak with you.
“The Army hierarchy has its own style of conducting its activities within certain ethical prism.”
Some officers were reading ethnic bias into the retirement yesterday.
An officer who cannot be named said the retired officers were removed because ‘some northern interests’ perceived them as a threat to their agenda.
“But I tell you that this is very political and wicked. It’s like a payback of what happened to some political officers mostly of northern region,” he said, and claimed that some of the retired officers committed no offence to warrant their lay off.
He charged:”What did they do? Which EFCC or arms panel called them for questioning? In the army there is a provision for dealing with misconduct.
“Orderly room trial or a court martial. Which of the procedures was followed? Was there a fair hearing? Any evidence on their alleged offences? I believe you can investigate and get the answers yourself. Find out.”
Several officers were accused of taking sides during the 2014 governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States in particular.
They were said to have held meetings with senior government officials of the day for the purpose of manipulating the result of the poll in favour of the then ruling PDP.
Captain Sagir Koli, in mind-boggling details, revealed how army officers got entangled in the manipulation process.
He said 1006 soldiers were deployed in Ekiti as part of a Special Task Force for the Ekiti election alone.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State was physically prevented from flying out of Benin to attend a campaign rally for the APC candidate in the Ekiti election, Dr. Kayode Fayemi.
The then governor of Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi was similarly stopped by soldiers at the boundary of Ondo and Ekiti states from Proceeding to Ado Ekiti for the same rally.
The army authorities in October last year set up a Board of Inquiry (BoI) to “investigate among other things alleged malpractices and involvement of its personnel in Ekiti and Osun governorship elections in 2014.”
The BoI, the army added was to “investigate the alleged unethical conduct of some army personnel in Ekiti and Osun States’ Gubernatorial Elections 2014, as well as in any other state of Nigeria where other allegations of misconduct were made during the 2015 general elections.
“As part of its terms of reference, the BoI is to also review the involvement of the Nigerian Army formations/units and their personnel in elections and other duties in aid to civil authority.”
Besides, the army had last year handed over 12 of its officers to the EFCC for further investigation after an internal probe had indicted them for allegedly diverting funds earmarked for arms purchase to fight Boko Haram.
Usman said at the time that the indicted officers comprised three serving Major-Generals, one retired Major-General, three Brigadier-Generals, four Colonels and a Lieutenant Colonel.
The Nation also reliably gathered that some of the affected officers may have attracted the army’s wrath for making ‘positive’ comments in the arms deal files.
It was gathered that investigations by the Presidential Committee investigating Defence Contracts showed that certain officers failed to give dispassionate advice in respect of the arms procurement deals.
Major-General Emmanuel Atewe, Guards Brigade Commander under former President Goodluck Jonathan, was on June 3, 2016 arraigned alongside former Director General of NIMASA, Dr. Patrick Ziadeke Akpobolokemi, Kime Engozu and Josphine Otuaga before Justice Saliu Saidu of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi on an 11 count charge bordering on conspiracy, abuse of office and money laundering.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said they have a case to answer over alleged fraud of N8.5billion.
Former chief of defence staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, his predecessor in office as Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Umar, and National Security Adviser (NSA) in the last dispensation, Colonel Sambo Dasuki are already facing trial for various corruption-related offences.
President Muhammadu Buhari has attributed failure to curb Boko Haram until not to corruption, and blamed those involved for the deaths of an unknown number of civilians and troops in the uprising that has killed more than 20,000 in six years.