The National Industrial Court has finally assigned the cases between Army officers and the Nigerian military to judges, months after the military authorities refused to enter appearance to defend their action.
The army officers were unjustly dismissed from service without query or indictment.
The assignment to judges, authoritatively confirmed by PREMIUM TIMES, followed our report of November 22 on the failure of the military to file for defence before the court and the consequent accusations of deliberately shunning the court and frustrating the applicants’ push for justice.
Under the procedures and rules of Nigeria’s industrial court, respondents are obligated to file defence within 14 days of receiving originating processes. In this particular case, court records revealed, military authorities, including the Defence Minister, Chief of Army Staff and the Chief of Defence Staff, were served on August 15, over three months ago.
One of the affected officers, Abdulfatai Mohammed, had on October 18, over two months after he approached the court for redress, filed a fresh motion seeking accelerated hearing, relying on Order 8 rule 5(1) of the Court, because “clearly the intention of the defendants is to delay the hearing of this case by dilatory tactics.”
“Where a defendant or respondent fails to file a Memorandum of Appearance within the stipulated time, or fails to file appropriate processes in defence of the action within the prescribed time, and fails to file a declaration of intention not to defend an action, the court may proceed and hear the matter and give judgement,” the referenced court rule states.
Over a month after the fresh application – and more than three months after the original suit was filed – the NIC has now assigned Mr. Mohammed’s case and those of other affected officers who approached the court.
Others whose cases have been assigned to different judges are Abubakar Mohammed, D.B. Dazang, O. Nwankwo, T. Minimah and M.A. Suleiman, with hearing fixed to commence on January 16 and 17.
“No Response from President Buhari after Five Months”
Apart from approaching the industrial court for redress, 22 of the 38 officers compulsorily retired in June also relied on the Paragraph 09.02(e) of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service for Officers to petition President Muhammadu Buhari, asking for reinstatement.
The Armed Forces rules provide that such petition be forwarded to the President through the Chief of Defence Staff within the thirty days prescribed by the rules.
But about five months after the 22 officers turned in their appeals to the President through the Chief of Defence Staff, there has not been any response, leaving them uncertain of their fates.
As some of them suspected the Chief of Defence Staff may not have transmitted their appeals to the President, they approached the National Industrial Court, seeking mandamus that the military authorities be compelled to show evidence of delivery to the President.
Although PREMIUM TIMES saw a July letter by the Chief of Defence Staff conveying the appeals of the 22 officers to the President, Mr. Mohammed, one of the affected officers, insisted it was not enough evidence of transmission and asked the military for a received copy.
As the president keeps mum and the Army continues to ignore the court, the officers will now turn their attention to the industrial court where hearing continues on January 16 and 17. The matter is to heard by three judges including Babatunde Adejumo, who is the president of the court, and Rakiya Hastruup.