The National Industrial Court (NIC) in Abuja has been requested by a lawyer acting on behalf of Colonel Danladi Ribah Hassan to commit three high-ranking officials of the federal government to prison for contempt of court following their refusal to reinstate Colonel Hassan into the Nigerian Army as ordered by the court and affirmed in a final decision of Court of Appeal.
The committal application in suit number NINC/ABJ/51M/2023 requests the court to commit the Minister for Defence, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to prison for refusing to comply with the final judgment in case number NICN/316/2017, which required them to reinstate Hassan into service and to pay his entitlements from 2016.
The individuals to be committed to prison upon the order of the court are the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi (rtd), Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Dr. Ibrahim Abubakar Kana and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Faruk Yahaya.
Magashi and Kana are respectively the Chairman and Secretary of the Nigerian Army Council.
The Nigerian Army Council is the final executive body for the Nigerian Army.
On January 8, 2019, the court in a judgment, ordered that Colonel Hassan be reinstated into the Nigerian Army and all his entitlements and benefits paid from 2016 when he was wrongfully dismissed from the Nigerian Army.
Colonel Hassan is one of those senior officers referred to in the press as the ‘Army 38’. The 38 officers were forced out of service in 2016 by the then Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai (rtd).
Many of the officers have fought to secure justice since 2016.
Buratai was Chief of Army Staff for the first six years of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, and he was accused of various acts of abuse of office, including the sack of the Army 38 without factual or legal basis.
The initial requests of Army 38 officers, including Colonel Hassan, to President Buhari for justice against Lt. General Buratai were ignored by the President.
Later on, decisions by the National Assembly for the reinstatement of the officers were ignored by the federal government.
The court decisions for the reinstatement of Colonel Hassan, as well as for some of the affected officers, were also disobeyed.
The Senate heard a petition by one of the Army 38 officers, Colonel Chidi Ukoha, and determined that his removal from the Nigerian Army was unjust.
The Senate in plenary directed the federal government to reverse the unjust dismissal. The Army leadership ignored the Senate’s letter with reference number NASS/NA/106/Vol.9/098 dated November 23, 2017.
In a similar vein, the House of Representatives determined upon a public petition that Colonel Osita Nwankwo, also of Army 38, was also unjustly treated by the Nigerian Army. The decision of the House of Representatives for reinstatement contained in a letter dated March 15, 2018, with reference number: NASS/CAN/105/Vol.24/65, was ignored by the Army leadership
Colonel Hassan is not the only member of Army 38 to win a judgment from the court for reinstatement.
Other successful officers include Major General Ijioma Nwokoro Ijioma, Colonel Mohammed Suleiman, Lt. D. B. Dazang, Lt. Col T. E. Arigbe, Col Abdulfatai Mohammed, and Lt. Col Abubakar S. Mohammed.
The Army leadership refused to comply with any order for reinstatement from the National Industrial Court in respect of any of the senior officers that obtained a final decision for reinstatement from the court of competent jurisdiction.
In the case of Colonel Hassan, the Nigerian Army appealed against the decision of the National Industrial Court but lost at the appeal. The appeal of the Army in case number CA/ABJ/299/2019 was delivered on December 31, 2021.
The Court of Appeal is the final arbiter in employment cases and the Nigerian Army cannot make a further appeal to the Supreme Court, or any other court in respect of the case involving Colonel Hassan.
However, despite the final decision of the Court of Appeal the Chief of Army Staff has refused to comply with the orders of the court for reinstatement and payment of back pay and entitlements.
The Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Army Council, the Chief of Army Staff, and the Attorney General of the Federation participated fully in the case and the court overruled all the defences put forth on behalf of the Nigerian Army.
Colonel Hassan also further petitioned the National Assembly to prevail on Army leadership to obey the orders of both the National Industrial Court and the Court of Appeal.
In a snotty response to the National Assembly, the Chief of Army Staff maintained that the Nigerian Army intended not to obey the orders of courts.
In the letter signed by Major General M. U. Wambai on behalf of the Chief of Army Staff with reference number HQ DLS/G1/300/56 dated October 7, 2022, the Chief of Army Staff argued that ‘it is the position of the NA that the appellate court did not appreciate the peculiarity of the military service while passing its judgment when it ordered for the reinstatement of the petitioner into the NA.’
The Chief of Army Staff, in the referenced letter then concluded that they did not intend to reinstate or pay arrears of salaries and emoluments which has led to the committal application.
The committal application is to be heard by Justice O. A. Obaseki-Osaghae, sitting in court number 2 of the National Industrial Court in Abuja and a date for the hearing is yet to be communicated to the parties.
Representation: Abdulateef Muhammed of Abdul Muhammed Law Practice for Colonel Danladi Ribah Hassan; and O. M. Atoyebi (SAN) of O. M. Atoyebi, SAN & Partners for Nigerian Army, Nigerian Army Council, Chief of Army Staff, Armed Forces Council, Chief of Defence Staff, Attorney General of the Federation, Brig-Gen Mansur Mohammed Dan-Alli (rtd), Lt Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai and Maj Gen Mohammed Hong.