The National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) sitting in Lagos has declared as wrongful, unconstitutional, illegal, null and void the compulsory retirement of Lt. Col. Thomas Edirin Arigbe.
Col. Arigbe was one of the 38 Army officers compulsorily retired from the service in 2016 in a controversial circumstances.
Justice P. A Bassi, in his jugment on Thursday, ordered the Nigerian Army to reinstate the senior officer with all his entitlements paid up to date of reinstatement immediately.
The court also awarded N300, 000 cost as legal fee against the defendant.
The judge held that Nigerian Army compulsorily retired the claimant without fair hearing, adding that it (Nigerian Army) had failed to place anything before the court to prove any wrong commited by the officer to warrant the compulsory retirement.
The Nigerian Army had on June 9, 2016 sent 38 officers on a compulsory retirement without any form of trial or general court-martial with most of them unaware of their offences.
Arigbe had instituted the suit number NICN/LA/711/2016 through his counsel, Mrs. Funmi Falana to challenge his termination by the Nigerian Army.
Arigbe prayed the court to set aside the compulsory retirement from the Army on June 9, 2016.
In his statement of claim dated November 17, 2016, Arigbe had begged the court to order the Nigerian Army to reinstate and pay him all the arrears of his salaries and allowances from June 9, 2016 to date.
He equally asked the court to order his promotion to the next rank he would have attained before his retirement.
Giving a brief background of his travail, Arigbe stated that he was commissioned into Nigerian Army as 2nd Lieutenant on September 19, 1998.
He averred that before his compulsory retirement in 2016, he had served meritoriously and displayed sterling performance which earned him enormous commendations, postings and promotions.
He contended that by dint of hard work, he was promoted to Lieutenant in April 1999, Captain in August 2011, Major in August 2006 and Lieutenant Colonel in August and was due for promotion to the next rank in August 2016 before he was maliciously compulsory retired in 2016.
Lt. Col. Arigbe said the Nigerian Army sent him to United Kingdom from 2010-2011 to study for a master’s degree in communication engineering and that he completed the course in flying colours.
He averred that upon his return, he was posted to the North-east in Damaturu where he served as second-in-command at 241 Battalion and Chief of Staff Operation Restore Order III.
He said he was thereafter posted to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan as military assistant to the force commander.
According to him, due to his outstanding and exemplary discharge of his duties and responsibilities, he was nominated to represent the Armed Forces College at the combined joint European Exercise in April/May 2014.
He claimed that he was appointed as the Staff Officer Grade One, (Training and Exercises), a position exclusively reserved for honest, diligent, disciplined and hardworking officers in the Department of Land Warfare (Army Faculty) at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji.
He noted that it was the outstanding performance that spurred his posting on June 18, 2015 as an instructor as part of the Directing Staff Exchange Programme for a two-year duty tour with effect from September 2015 to September 2017 with the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Teshie.
He said surprisingly on June 10, 2016, he received an e-mail conveying a letter dated June 9, 2016, from the Army stating that he had been compulsorily retired from service on disciplinary grounds, adding that prior to his compulsory retirement, he had never been accused of any offence directly or indirectly.
He said he was not queried, charged, tried or found guilty of any offence.
He said worried by his sudden disengagement without prior notice of infraction through a query or a board of inquiry and an opportunity to defend himself in line with the law of the service, via a letter dated June 16, 2016, he appealed to the President Muhammadu Buhari through the army for redress.
He said by a letter dated August 8, 2016 and received August 18, 2016, the Army responded to his appeal stating that it was receiving attention which never came till he when to court and has not come till date.
He stated that it was through national newspapers and the internet that the Nigerian Army said he was compulsorily retired on disciplinary partisanship in the 2015 general election and involvement in the Defence contract scam.
He contended that the Nigerian Army never gave him fair hearing before compulsorily retiring him, adding that he was portrayed in bad light in the eyes of public when he did not commit any offence nor tried for any alleged offences whether real or imagined.
He concluded that the Nigerian Army’s unfounded claim against him has made it impossible for private security outfits to consider him for employment, thereby making his life miserable at a very young age of 41.
In their response, the Nigerian Army stated that the suit was filed out time, citing Section 2a of the Public Officers Protection Act.
Also citing Section 96 of the Sheriffs Act, it argued the suit was filed at a wrong location, contending that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.
The Force said the claimant did comply with Section 178(3) of the Armed Forces Act which states that an aggrieved officer must exhaust administrative procedures first in seeking redress before going to court.
While resolving most of the issues raised by the Nigerian Army in favour of the claimant, Justice Bassi held that the claimant is the proper person to have instituted the case and that case is not statute barred.
The court also resolved the issue of National Industrial Cour jurisdiction raised by the defendant in favour of the claimant, saying it is the proper court file the suit.
The judge, while ordering the Nigerian Army to obey the order of court, also warned that the defendant should not be harassed or intimidated by the defendant.