By Abdul Lauya
In 2012, Air Chief Marshal OO Petinrin, the then Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), midwifed the 2012 edition of the Manual of Financial Administration for the Armed Forces of Nigeria (MAFA, 2012). The document provided for among other things, the payment of security debarment allowance to personnel of the Nigerian Armed Forces as obtained in other civilized climes.
Security Debarment Allowance as contained on page 98 of the document, is an allowance payable to retired members of the Armed Forces to debar them from using acquired special military skills against the state. It is calculated as 10 percent of annual salary (at the time of retirement), multiplied by number of years served.
Debarment allowance is a global practice inherited from our colonial masters and other advanced democracies. But for whatever reason, our past Senior Officers inevitably omitted to include it in the Nigerian Armed Forces Terms and Conditions of Service until now.
Though it was initiated during President Jonathan administration in 2012, approval was granted by President Buhari’s regime in 2018. Before then, in 2017, NAN had reported that the veterans’ community had dragged the Nigerian Government to the National Industrial Court, Abuja seeking for an order to compel it to gazette and begin the implementation of the document.
But when implementation begun in First Quarter of 2020, only personnel that retired between November, 2017 and March, 2020 when approval was granted were captured, excluding majority that retired earlier than 2017 (including the architect of the document, Air Chief Marshal Petinrin who retired in 2013).
Since the saga came to limelight in April, 2020, a couple of veterans have granted interviews to broadcast outlets alerting Nigerians of Goodwill on the alleged Injustice, seeking their sympathy and intervention. Others have penned down their opinions on the issue in print and online media, all in a bid to enlist the support and understanding of national and international community.
Also, retired Generals and Coalition of Concerned Veterans (CCV), umbrella body of veterans pressure group in the country, had written the military hierarchy, asking it to listen to voice of reason and stick with the spirit and intent of the document, to avoid defence sector Industrial disharmony.
To every discerning mind, the security debarment issue is an unambiguous and straight jacket matter that does not require any legal interpretation.
Page 98 of MAFA, 2012 is clear on beneficiaries of the allowance. It stated that security debarment allowance is payable by each service to retired military personnel to debar them from using skills acquired during military service against the state. It did not preclude any segment or specify conditions nor qualifications for entitlement.
When a generic policy (as in this case) that borders on reward in retirement, especially one with grave security implications comes to force, it is applied across-the-board for obvious reasons.
To start with, what is the purpose of the security debarment allowance? “To debar military retirees from using skills acquired in service against the state.” This means that the allowance exist to provide legal backing in case a veteran uses acquired skills negatively against the Nigerian state. In most advanced countries, this has provided alibi for prosecution of veterans when acquired skills are misused.
If the debarment allowance is paid selectively in favour of veterans Who retired when the document was assented to as being currently implemented, it is akin to giving a blank cheque to non-beneficiaries to exercise discretion in application of acquired military skills, with attendant security implications.
With the rising wave of violent extremism, insurgency, violent agitations for self determination/resource control, herders’/farmers’ clashes, kidnappings, banditry; ex-servicemen are ready tools in the hands of enemies of the state. Most of the daring (behind- the- scene) criminal collaborators against the Nigerian state across the country are disgruntled retired military personnel, who either feel shortchanged while in active service or retirement. Debarment allowance will therefore provide a legal backing for prosecution of such veterans that deploy acquired special military training/skills against the Nigerian state.
According to Wikipedia, ‘A veteran is any person who served honourably in the military on active service”. As heroes, veterans are appreciated in a way that reflects a fitting gratitude for service rendered and sacrifices shouldered. They are heroes Who signed under the pain of death to defend fatherland. They served and fight for our freedom. Integrity, service, courage, duty, honour, commitment, country and sacrifice are words associated with veterans. This is what makes them special universally.
This explains why in the United States and other civilized climes, veterans enjoy special discounts on all goods and services in appreciation of there selfless sacrifices to nation. Most groceries stores, airlines, hospitality industry etc run all-year military appreciation/discounts on services for veterans with retired military ID cards.
On the contrary, there is no known subsidy or social investment program in place for retired members of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Even the so-called National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) cannot cater for diabetes, heart, liver, lungs and other serious orthopedic health conditions contracted during service. Any drugs (including malaria) that is above N500 is not available. Most aged retirees with sight and hearing disabilities, organ related issues, diabetes, high blood pressure and other terminal ailments contracted in the line of duty, spend their monthly pensions on drugs with nothing left to feed. The result is malnourishment, low self-esteem and untimely deaths.
The Nigerian veterans community have had alot of unpleasant experiences over the years regarding their welfare, resulting in the current state of heightened suspicion and mistrust in their dealing with military authorities. For instance, it has become a recurring decimal that military authorities delay payment of entitlements and benefits to retirees even when funds have been released ostensibly, to allow for depletion in their number through death.
Currently, government owes veterans 3 months arrears of pensions increment approved since 2017. Also, the new minimum wage consequential adjustment has not yet been effected for military pensioners, with fifteen (15) months arrears already accumulated.
Experience has shown that the Nigerian Government only understands the language of protest and confrontations before yielding to legitimate demands of veterans. From Obasanjo, to Yar’ Adua and Jonathan regimes, payments of acrued allowances or entitlements were secured after protests or threats of demonstration. Does the current administration wants to go the way of previous regimes?
Lauya, a Veteran and Journalist, wrote in from Gombe. E-mail: email@example.com