John Alechenu, Friday Olokor, Femi Makinde, Ade Adesomoju and Ramon Oladimeji
Some prominent Nigerians on Sunday demanded that if the Chief Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, failed to resign from his position following the revelation that he bought two houses in Dubai, worth $1.5m, he should be sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Those who called for the Army chief’s resignation or sacking are human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN); another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome; and Second Republic House of Representatives member, Dr. Junaid Mohammed.
Others are the Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, and the National Publicity Secretary of the National Advance Party, Mr. Tosin Odeyemi.
Ozekhome specifically demanded that Buratai should be tried before he would be allowed to resign.
The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, said people who were found guilty of stealing public funds, should not just be fired or allowed to resign but should be made to return such money.
Odumakin, who said it was not in the culture of Nigerians to resign for wrong-doing, however, believed that the posture of the Buhari administration on the allegation against Buratai cast a serious doubt on the anti-corruption war of the administration.
But a SAN, Mr. Yusuf Ali, and the Executive Director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumumi, believed that the allegation against Buratai should be thoroughly investigated before he would be asked to resign or be sacked.
Falana said in a statement that despite Buratai’s commendable feat of leading the Nigerian Army to defeat Boko Haram in the North-East, the war on corruption was also a must-win for the Buhari administration.
The lawyer described as a “cock and bull story” the explanation by the Nigerian Army authorities that Buratai paid for the properties in instalments through his personal savings.
He regretted that the name of the Nigerian Army had been “illegally” used to defend Buratai in the unfolding scam.
While he condemned the involvement of the Nigerian Army in defending Buratai, he said no one had yet to explain to Nigerians how an army General could manage to save $1.5m.
He added, “In view of the ban on the opening and operation of foreign accounts by public officers, the Code of Conduct Bureau should be involved in the investigation.
“If the Chief of Army Staff does not deem it fit to resign forthwith, President Buhari should not hesitate to remove him in the interest of national morality.”
Falana commended the Buhari administration for putting on trial military officers, allegedly involved in the diversion of the sum of $15bn, meant for the procurement of arms.
He said the alleged diversion led to the killing of about 25,000 Nigerians by the Boko Haram sect while two million others, including children, had been displaced.
‘‘How an army General managed to save $1.5m has not been disclosed to Nigerians. Since the General was in charge of procurement for the Nigerian Army at the material time, the cock and bull story of the military high command has been called names,” the SAN stated.
Mohammed called on Buratai to honourably resign or be fired by Buhari.
Speaking with one of our correspondents on Sunday, the Second Republic lawmaker noted that some of Buratai’s predecessors from other parts of the country were currently facing trial over their roles in helping themselves to funds meant for the procurement of arms.
The medical practitioner argued that it defied logic that Buratai, who was in charge of procurement when these men held sway, had not been asked to give account of his stewardship.
Mohammed added, “The fact that he was a long serving Director of Procurement at Defence Headquarters when some of the nastiest procurements were made, not only for the Army but for the Armed Forces, makes it incumbent on him to vacate his seat.
“The manner of his leaving will require tact, which this administration has never demonstrated from day one, but I believe that the options are clear: One which is my suggestion is for Buratai to retire to go and leave his life quietly in Buratai, his village, or elsewhere, he has tried in the fight against insurgents.
“If Buratai does not want to go that way honourably, he should be compulsorily retired or sacked outright by the Commander-in-Chief.
“Nobody with any sense of decency or justice can leave Buratai in service.”
In his reaction, Ozekhome, believed Buratai should not be removed without trial.
He said the government should make the Chief of Army Staff to undergo trial while still serving as a military officer to prove that its anti-corruption war was not targeted at profiled opponents.
Ozekhome said, “I will rather urge that he be first tried through our criminal justice system trial, which is accusatorial and not inquisitorial. When found guilty, he can then be dismissed or court-martialled.
“Let the government for once prove us wrong that its so called anti-corruption war is not targeted at profiled opponents by putting him through trial as a serving military officer. Just for once, I want to be proved wrong.”
Odumakin stated that the position of the COAS had become “untenable” against the backdrop of the illogical defence of Buratai by military authorities.
The Afenifere spokesman added, “His position has become untenable with that expose and very weak, feeble and sloppy defence. It is preposterous to ask the Federal Government that cleared him, to now fire him. And resignation is not in the dictionary of Nigerian officials but he obviously is a blight on the anti-corruption war.”
In his reaction, Cardinal Onaiyekan said a proven allegation of corruption against the Army chief would seriously pollute the anti-graft war of the present administration if not addressed.
The cleric stated, “Let me say that the allegation of stealing public funds does not hide; it will come out eventually. And like anybody else, he will face the music; whether he should be punished now or retired should not be the issue.
“I am not one of those who believe that when somebody has stolen a lot of money, you simply retire or sack the person. That is not what it should be; if it is stealing, he should be made to return the money. It is not a question of sacking somebody and you feel that is the punishment.
“What I am saying is that if there is a case of misuse of public funds, he should be treated that way. But like I told you, I don’t have the full picture of what is involved, apart from what I read in the newspapers. Personally, I will want to give the benefit of doubt to the government that it knows what it is doing.”
In the same vein, Odeyemi, who spoke in an interview with one of our correspondents in Osogbo on Sunday, said Buhari should order a thorough probe to ascertain where Buratai got such huge amount of money to buy the properties.
The NAP spokesperson alleged that Buhari had refused to investigate those in his cabinet for corruption but had been chasing others especially those from other political parties.,
“I believe Gen. Buratai should resign immediately. Where did he get such money to buy the properties in question? How much has he earned since he joined the Army? Does he have another business?
“He should first resign and a proper investigation should be conducted to ascertain the truth. Thank God he is already at the pinnacle of his career. If he is found guilty, then he should be prosecuted. But he should be honoured and probably elevated if he is found to be guiltless.”
Expressing a different view, however, Ali said the call for Buratai’s resignation or sacking was premature when the allegations had yet to be substantiated.
Ali added he was not aware of any law in Nigeria which prohibits a public official from owning foreign properties except the properties were acquired with stolen public funds.
The SAN said, “In the first place, is it an offence for him to have properties outside of Nigeria? What I know our law prohibits is for a public official to have foreign accounts. I am not aware of any law that prohibits a public official from having properties outside of Nigeria.
“So, except those who are calling for his sacking could establish that it was public money that he wrongly took; but then, that would also have to go through the court and not by argument and newspaper attacks. So, for me, I think the call is a bit premature.”
Mumumi, said the position of SERAP was for the allegation against Buratai to first be thoroughly investigated by the anti-graft agencies, after which necessary actions could follow.
The SERAP boss added, “Our position is let the anti-graft agencies – the EFCC and the ICPC – conduct a thorough investigation into the matter and let their findings be made public. If you dismiss everybody based on allegations, that will be too dangerous if eventually the person is found not guilty.”
The Catholics Archbishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Father Matthew Hassan Kukah, declined comment.
“No comment. Thank You,” he told one of our correspondents without giving any reason.