Vanguard reports that a Major in the Nigerian Army (names withheld) has narrated how he was arrested, tortured and locked up in a psychiatric hospital for exercising his right to protest an alleged injustice meted out to him.
The Major told Encounter that his ordeal started in 2018 after attending a Senior Course 40 training at the Armed Forces Command Staff College Jaji.
The officer disclosed that despite his exceptional performance at the training, as shown in the examination results, he was victimized and given an unfair cumulative result at the completion of the course prompting him to write a formal protest letter to the army authorities.
According to him, after submitting the protest letter, he was accosted by a General who declared him insane and ordered that he should be sedated and locked up in a psychiatric hospital. He further stated: “I was stripped of my rank, bundled and detained in the guardroom, chained hands and legs for several days before I was eventually carried to the psychiatric hospital where I was chained and sometimes tied to the bed. I was released after I embarked on hunger strike.”
Narrating his ordeal in a petition to the National Assembly dated February 8, 2022, over attempts to retire him despite a pending suit he filed against the military authority over his unfair treatment at a Court Martial set up to look into some allegations against him, the officer said: On return from the psychiatric hospital, despite doctor’s report that I have no mental issues, I was again further tortured by chaining my hands and legs inside guardrooms for several days until I embarked on another hunger strike.
“I was thereafter strangely posted to be tried by a Court Martial despite the revelations during the investigations, where the person involved at the crux of the matter could not swear with a Quran to deny the allegations of the order to mark me down in subjective assessments. The alleged offences preferred against me, which though untrue, do not fall under those to be tried by a Court Martial.
“I attended the Court Martial but upon my request for documents and items to be able to defend and exonerate myself, such as my examination results, personal phone seized, audiotape and others, I, as a Major in the Nigerian Army, without any previous or new capital offence was ordered to again be detained in the guardroom while more charges were added.
The brilliant military lawyers representing me at the court-martial had to withdraw and it is on audio and written records that their reason was the refusal to be part of the injustice and irregularities of the court-martial.
“Thereafter, I was often tied like an animal and carried to the courtroom without providing these facilities just to convict me by all means. The detention continued despite several appeals and requests for an interview to the Army and Defence Headquarters until two law firms simultaneously requested an explanation on the arbitrary detention and I was released after a cumulative period of 415 days in detention.
“I exhausted all administrative procedures having submitted over 20 letters of redress, applications for review, interview and other appeals for intervention to the chains of command, besides other correspondences from lawyers. I was granted an interview once and told to plead guilty at the Court Martial so that my punishment can be reduced but I refused because I know the allegations against me were false.
Before the recent petition, the army officer claimed that he had previously sought the intervention of a committee of the National Assembly for intervention on his case. He said: “I also submitted a letter of appeal to the National Assembly, House Committee on Defence in October 2021 to impress on the Defence Headquarters to exhort the Nigerian Army Headquarters from truncating my life and career for writing a letter of redress.
“Due to the relative sense of safety when the case eventually reached the hearing stage at the court, I reported to 1 Division Kaduna when two letters were sent from the Army Headquarters insisting that I must report to my duty post after being in hiding due to threat to my life. There are videos of such instances where around 25 soldiers in four military vehicles came to the place of detention to bundle me to the court as usual on December 19, 2019.
“This threat to life and sanity was substantiated when on arrival I was detained in the guardroom and subjected to humiliation, torture and was detained in a psychiatric ward for several days until lawyers raised alarm. I was thereafter detained in the Officers’ Mess where I was informed of the directive for me to be investigated on December 29 and 30, 2021.”
Right Enforcement Suit
After exhausting all official avenues to draw attention to his case and get justice, the army officer further said that he had no option but to approach the civil court for the enforcement of his fundamental human right.
Encounter sighted a copy of the suit which he filed before the Federal High Court, Abuja. Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Defence Staff and 25 other senior military officers were listed as defendants in the matter. In 2020, the court made an order directing parties to maintain the status quo until the case is resolved.
The officer said: “A law firm eventually filed a case at the Federal High Court Abuja in August 2020 upon expiration of pre-action notice after they were denied facilities to defend me. Despite the court order to maintain the status quo pending the determination of the case, military personnel continued to take threatening actions towards my life.
“Subsequently, I was invited by the Defence Headquarters to appear for an in-house resolution in May and August 2021 but I was further threatened instead of the purpose of the resolution stated in the letter of invitation. The Defence Headquarters’ representatives in the presence of my lawyers said that I am the person that would suffer the consequences as the system would neither be concerned nor obey court order. With the impasse of the in-house resolution, the matter continued in court.”
While the civil suit was adjourned for hearing, the military officer said he was recently shocked to be shown a letter of his compulsory retirement dated January 7, 2022, from the military authority. According to him, the action of the military is trying to retire him from service despite a pending court-martial and civil suit is in contravention of harmonised terms and conditions of service of officers (2017) and the Armed Forces Act.
Raising the issue in his petition, the officer said: “Sadly, on January 7, 2022, a letter of compulsory retirement dated December 21, 2021 (17 days from the date of signature) was shown to me despite the directive for investigation on December 29, 2021. This letter of compulsory retirement is in disregard of the subsisting court order to maintain the status quo pending the determination of the case and a disregard to the National Assembly where the matter is also pending.
There are counter-affidavits to the matter in court on behalf of the Chief of Defence Staff as the 24th Respondent and that of the Chief of Army Staff as the 3rd and 25th Respondent. These counter-affidavits confirm the full awareness of the authority and as such, the decision to compulsorily retire me during the pendency of the matter also tends to render the pending judgment of the court nugatory.
“Similarly, it is on record that I am for Court Martial and there is no record of posting out or communication of the end of the proceedings. Correspondingly, in line with the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service Officers (Revised 2017) Chapter 1 Paragraph 4 (x) and Armed Forces Act (2004) Section 43 on postponement/of discharge, a person shall not be retired when the person is a subject of proceedings for offences or to be tried by Court Martial.
Giving reasons why he wrote NASS over his compulsory retirement by the army, the officer said: “The most disconcerting issue and the reason to channel this appeal to your esteemed office without waiting for the court, with due respect, is the antecedent of not obeying court orders in similar circumstances. More so, the inapplicable reason given for the compulsory retirement does not allay the recent fear and notion that officers of the Armed Forces of Nigeria are sometimes arbitrarily retired for whatever reason to truncate their lives and careers.
Expressing his pains over the alleged unfair treatment meted out to him, the officer said: “I have dedicated my entire life to the military for over 20 years. I gained admissions for Masters Degree twice but this profession caused me to abandon both admissions. I wonder where I am supposed to start from especially with the content of the letter that shockingly and maliciously states incompetence/indolence as the reason for compulsory retirement.
“I also wonder if it is an offence to seek fairness and justice in Nigeria. My mates were promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 2020 but my life and career have been put on hold for almost 4 years because of seeking redress. If such fierce actions were taken against me for redress on an academic grade, one would imagine what would be tenable for other sensitive issues.”
When contacted, Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema said the army cannot comment on the matter since it is still before the court. He said: “The matter is before the court; hence it is subjudice for us to comment in the media.”