Idada: No ethnicity, tribalism in Nigerian Military
Brigadier-General Idada Ikponmwen is former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, and at a time, head of its legal services. He spoke to ALEMMA-OZIORUVA ALIU on efforts geared at cleansing the military.
The military high Command recently retired some senior officers some of whom were alleged to have participated in electoral fraud; how do you see that?
If a soldier enters the military, he is bound by the present and future rules, which means that, somewhere along the line, the army can say we are changing these rules, and a soldier can’t say ‘I am going away, because a new rule is coming in’. We base this concept on what we call the Doctrine of Compact, which puts him in a position, where he cannot just walk out of the service because a rule has changed.
The Armed Forces are governed by terms of conditions and service, which we call harmonised terms and condition of service for officers and for the soldiers. The Minister of Defence has responded when he said the people that were retired, were retired in line with the terms and conditions of service for the armed forces and as contained in the harmonised terms and conditions of service, and he even challenged anybody, who feels he or she has wrongly been removed to go to court. That was good in my view and that shows confidence in the leadership of the armed forces that they acted in good faith and acted rightly. I know some of those who were sent away by virtue of being involved in some impropriety, which is not the nature of the armed forces.
The other grade I also hear are those, who have been found to have been indicted on account of the way the money that was meant for Boko Haram war was spent. I think we should commend government for that, in fact, some people felt that there should be more to that, not just sending them away, but that the necessary process that ought to follow a man, who was involved in gross misconduct or in an act of embezzlement or stealing, should follow them beyond mere retirement, which strictly speaking is not punishment.
So, I believe that the measure taken against these people was adopted to pave way for smoother exposure of these people to the normal civil criminal process. Some of them are also due for retirement when it was done as it concerns age, length in service and age in ranks, because there are different age limits for certain ranks and there are some examinations that some category of officers are supposed to take and if they fail to go through them, they become liable to be sent away. These are all catered for in the terms of condition of service.
The army, which I grew in, from childhood to adulthood and maturity, never taught me that ethnicity should be part of our rule or be a yardstick in sending people away. The army has never shown any sign that ethnic or religious interest is justifiable in its administration and I don’t see it being justifiable under our laws. All I know is that those people who are affected negatively, some of them are bound to resort to all kind of hues and cry, it is their rights and that is why their right of redress is there. The only way you can prove that you are wrongly removed is to prove that your removal was out of tune with the rules and the terms of conditions of service, the laws of this country and the constitution of the country.
But some of these officers were acting on instruction from their superiors, do you still punish them for that?
I have no prove of what you are saying, you are just speculating. I don’t know who sent them, I don’t know how they got there, but I believe that whoever sent, and whoever was sent went are both wrong. That is manifestly wrong and obeying a manifestly wrong order cannot be a defence for criminal responsibility. That is why I said I don’t think the retirement is wrong for those who were involved in that. What I can tell you clearly is that to my mind and to the best of my knowledge, anybody sending a soldier or an officer to go and participate in the rigging of election is wrong, it is a different matter from going and providing general security so that people will have confidence in what is going, provide outer cordon for the people even though I have never conceded to using soldiers for election.
Won’t this situation demoralise serving soldiers?
I don’t see how it will have negative effect on morale of soldiers. The soldiers themselves know that they are subject to law and that there are terms and conditions of service when you can serve, when you can be disengaged. So, no soldier will be surprised that a soldier who is due for retirement is retired. No soldier will be surprised that a soldier who was in the wrong place at the wrong time is sent away; in fact, it will boost their morale that wrong actions are being punished.