In January 2015, the Nigerian Army sacked 255 soldiers for alleged disobedience to standing order and their failures to perform their duties. Now, 126 of the soldiers have sued the army.
Represented by Femi Falana chambers, the suit by the soldiers is already before the president of the National Industrial Court, NIC, sitting in Abuja.
The plaintiffs who were part of the troops that fought to reclaim Bazza in Adamawa State from the grip of Boko Haram insurgents in October 2014, are insisting that their dismissal was unconstitutional, illegal, irregular and ultra-vires.
According to reports by The Vanguard:
Most of the affected soldiers were enlisted in the Army in 1979, while others joined the army between then and 2013.
The suit was lodged on their behalf by a Lagos-based human right lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN.
The plaintiffs consist of four Warrant Officers, and others in the ranks of Sergeants, Corporal, Lance Corporal, and Private.
Some of the plaintiffs that endorsed the suit were Warrant Officers Akanny Welcome, Davou Nta, Ibrahim Usman and Adediran Ogunmuyiwa.
They told the court that they were part of the joint force code-named ‘OP Zaman Lafia,’ which they said was pooled together from different Divisions and Batallion of the Nigerian Army to fight Boko Haram insurgents in the North East part of the country.
The plaintiffs said their dismissal was communicated to them orally at their station by Lt-Col. M. J. Gambo on January 13, 2015, and by the Garrison Commander, Gen. B.O Akinroluoyo, the following day.
The Army authorities had maintained that
it was the refusal of the plaintiffs to obey their Commanding Officer, Lt-Col. A. A Egbejule, during a counter-attack by Boko Haram elements in Bazza, Adamawa State, that led to the recapture of the territory by the terrorists.
However, refuting the allegation by the Army, the plaintiffs through a statement of fact they attached in support of the suit, said they were not accorded fair hearing before they were summarily dismissed.
In the statement which was deposed to by a lawyer in Falana’s chamber, Deji Morakinyo, the sacked soldiers said they were denied “inviolable opportunity to be heard and make representation in defence and to state their respective cases.”
Morakinyo said the soldiers had only retreated on the order by their Commanding Officer for “tactical withdrawal” after the terrorists re-grouped and overwhelmed the soldiers with AA anti-craft guns, APCS, RPGs, GPMGs, and other sophisticated and superior weapons.
According to him, “the claimants particularly aver that due to the insurgents’ counter-attack, and the re-capture of Bazza from the personnel of the defendant (the Nigerian Army), their Commanding Officer, Lt.-Col. A.A Egbejule, in line with military tradition, ordered tactical withdrawal by the Joint Force so as to re-strategise.
“The claimants further and particularly aver that consistent with military tradition, the Joint Force had to comply with the superior order of their Commanding Officer, hence they withdrew as ordered by their Commanding Officer.”
Consequently, they are praying the court to among other things, declare their sacking on the basis of failure to perform military duties and disobedience to standing order as “unconstitutional, illegal, irregular and ultra-vires.”
As well as to order the Army to pay them their accrued salaries and other entitlements since they were sacked in January, N1 million to each of them for breach of fundamental right to fair hearing and freedom from discrimination, likewise the sum of N5 million to cover the litigation cost.
Meanwhile, the NIC has slated October 19 to commence hearing on the matter, even as the Army has through its lawyer, Commander A. A. Agu, raised preliminary objection against the suit.
In its notice of preliminary objection, the Nigerian Army maintained that the plaintiffs were duly sacked.
It has therefore asked the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that it lacks the jurisdiction to meddle in such matter as was brought before it by the plaintiffs.
It said: “The claimants were summarily
tried, convicted and dismissed from service, thus this honourable court lacks requisite jurisdiction to hear and entertain the suit as constituted and conceived.”
“This honourable court cannot sit on appeal on the summary trial of the claimant pursuant to sections 155, 125 and 179 of the Armed Forces Act”, the Army argued.