HOUSING FUND FRAUD: WE CAN TRY YOU, ARMY TELLS EX-GENERAL
A Court Martial session in Kaduna has insisted that it has the powers and the jurisdiction to try former Managing Director, Army Post Service Homes (Savings and Loans) Limited, (PSHL), Brigadier General Felix Mohammed (retd) for alleged fraud and misappropriation of funds.
The seven-member panel sitting at the One Division Officers Mess of the Nigerian Army also held that it has the jurisdiction to also try the PSHL Project Manager, Col. Greg Udegbe who was also dragged before the Court Martial for trial over similar offence.
The ruling was sequel to separate preliminary objections raised by both Mohammed and Udegbe, through their counsel challenging the powers and jurisdiction of the Court Martial to try them for the alleged offences. The duo was arraigned on an 11-count charge of alleged misappropriation of funds belonging to the PSHL. The trial opened about two weeks ago.
Mohammed's counsel, retired Navy Commander Adagoji Abu had submitted that the military court convened by the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Lt. General AbdulRahman Dambazzau did not have the powers to arraign or try the former PSHL boss for the alleged offences because, according to him, the accused was no longer in military service, following his voluntary retirement from the Nigerian Army in September 2009.
He further argued that the COAS acted ultra vires when he recalled the accused officer to the Army without the approval of the authorizing authority, which he said was the Army Council for the purpose of trying the retired General for the alleged offences.
Mohammed's counsel, Abu, had equally expressed surprise that his client could be brought in for the trial fully dressed in military uniform before the General Court Martial (GCM), for arraignment, insisting that the Army Council had on June 9, 2009 approved the voluntary retirement of the applicant with effect from September 30, 2009, which he noted was the date his client finally disengaged from the Nigerian Army.
Abu had also argued that the convening order for the commencement of Mohammed's trial dated April 6, 2010 was issued six clear months after his client retired from the Nigerian Army. And because his client was no longer in service, he could not be subjected to military service laws.
Mohammed's counsel, therefore, argued that by virtue of the provision of Section 1301 and 1629 of the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, the applicant was 'no longer triable under service laws.'
He had further argued that since the powers of the GCM derived from the Armed Forces Act, the court lacked the 'requisite jurisdiction' to try the applicant.
The accused counsel had, therefore, stated that issuance of the convening order for the GCM to commence the trial of the applicant by the COAS was 'illegal, wrongful, malicious, vexatious, unconstitutional and amount to the abuse of the authority and powers of the president and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.'
Citing Section 25 of the Armed Forces Act 2004, he further argued that only the president of the country had the powers to recall retired personnel for reserve service through the National Assembly and that all retired officers and not a single individual could be recalled for such reserve service.
Abu also stated that a case on the jurisdiction of the GCM was already before a Federal High Court in Abuja and that the COAS, the attorney general of the federation and the chief of defence staff had already entered a defence in the matter. Mohammed's counsel had urged the court to dismiss and strike out the charges against the applicant.