Soldiers Sue over Illegal Dismissal

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Falana

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Out of 255 soldiers dismissed by the Nigerian Army, 126 of them have taken the military authority to court alleging wrongful dismissal

| By Olu Ojewale | Jul 27, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |

DISMISSED soldiers, numbering 126, who were sacked following the battle to recapture Bazza in Adamawa State from Boko Haram, in October 2014, have taken the Nigerian Army to court for alleged wrongful dismissal.

The 126 plaintiffs were among 255 soldiers sacked on January 13 and 14, 2015, by the Nigerian Army for alleged “disobedience to standing order and failure to perform military duties.”

The soldiers, who said they were sacked through oral communication on January 13 and 14, 2015, filed their suit, before the National Industrial Court sitting in Abu‎ja, on Thursday, July 16. The case is before the President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Babatunde Adejumo.

Femi Falana, SAN and human rights activist, said only 126 out of the 255 sacked soldiers, were being represented by his firm. The soldiers were part of the joint force code-named ‘OP Zaman Lafia,’ pooled together from different divisions and battalion of the Nigerian Army to fight Boko Haram in the North East.

According to the plaintiffs, their dismissal was communicated to them orally at their station by ‎Lt-Col. M. J. Gambo on January 13, and by General B. O. Akinroluoyo, garrison commander, the following day. The Army claimed that the plaintiffs failed to obey Lt-Col. A. A Egbejule, their commanding officer, during a counter-attack by Boko Haram in Bazza, a development which allegedly led to the recapture of the territory by the terrorists.

But Deji Morakinyo, a lawyer in Falana’s law firm, argued in a statement of facts accompanying the suit that the soldiers 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 regrouped and overwhelmed the soldiers with “AA anti-craft guns, APCS, RPGs, GPMGs, and other ‎sophisticated and superior weapons.

“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.”

‎They therefore want the court to order among other prayers, declare their sacking on the basis of failure to perform military duties and disobedience to standing order as “unconstitutional, illegal, irregular and ultra-vires.”

They also want the court to order the Army to pay them their accrued salaries and other entitlements since they were sacked in January, N1m to each of them for breach of fundamental right to fair hearing and freedom from discrimination, as well as N5m as the cost for prosecuting the suit.

But the Army in a preliminary objection filed by Commander A .A. Abu, a counsel, insisted that the plaintiffs were duly sacked and thus asked the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction.

Abu argued: “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 dismissed soldiers were enlisted in the Army in 1979 while others joined the army between then and 2013. They consist of four warrant officers, sergeants, corporal, lance corporal, and private.

The case has been adjourned until October 19, for hearing.

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