Thu. May 23rd, 2024

Nigerian Army Declares Officer AWOL For Marrying Foreigner, She Sues The Army

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A female Nigerian Army officer, Major N.U. Ukachukwu has found herself entangled in a legal dispute with the military leadership following her marriage to a foreigner and her subsequent voluntary resignation.

Background of the Case

In 2021, while on a doctoral research programme, Major Ukachukwu met and married K. Lawton in Scotland, UK. Upon deciding to resign, she communicated her intention to the Nigerian Army, anticipating the end of her military service.

However, the Army’s response was far from what she expected. Instead of accepting her resignation, the Nigerian Army declared her Absent Without Leave (AWOL) and proceeded with an order for her arrest, propelling the case into the legal realm.

Legal Proceedings and Arguments
Major Ukachukwu, feeling aggrieved by the Nigerian Army’s actions, took the matter to the Federal High Court, Abuja, under Suit no: FHC/ABJ/CS/282/2023. She sought judicial intervention to ascertain her rights under Section 151 of the Traditions, Customs, and Ethics of the Nigerian Army, asserting that she had lawfully resigned and should not be deemed as having deserted her post.

Her lawyer, Godwin Idem, laid out the timeline and circumstances of her resignation, highlighting the bureaucratic inaction and eventual punitive measures taken against her. According to Idem, despite Major Ukachukwu’s formal communication of her resignation, the Nigerian Army took seven months to respond, only to declare her AWOL and later reject her resignation outright. The legal battle intensified with the Army’s insistence on her unauthorized absence and the initiation of an arrest warrant under the Armed Forces Act.

In contrast, the defense, represented by Deborah Bassey, Esq., argued that Major Ukachukwu had exceeded the approved duration of her study leave and failed to return to her duties in Nigeria as obligated. The defense stressed that the Army had not extended her study leave beyond October 2021 and contested the legitimacy of her resignation, citing regulations against marrying foreigners and the procedural requirements for commission relinquishment.

Judicial Ruling

The case took a significant turn when Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court adjudicated on the matter. In a ruling dated March 15, 2024, Justice Ekwo determined that the crux of the dispute fell within the realm of employment issues, particularly those related to military service and discipline.

He pointed out that the National Industrial Court, as per Section 254 C of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), holds exclusive jurisdiction over employment-related matters.

Justice Ekwo’s judgment emphasized the disciplinary framework within the Nigerian Army, noting that such matters are integral to the employment context and hence fall under the purview of the National Industrial Court. Acknowledging the procedural norms, he declined jurisdiction over the case, opting instead to transfer it to the National Industrial Court for a more appropriate adjudication.

In his reasoned decision, Justice Ekwo highlighted the importance of maintaining order and discipline within the military service, suggesting that the alleged AWOL declaration against Major Ukachukwu was part of broader employment and disciplinary considerations that the National Industrial Court should evaluate.

This transfer not only underlined the legal complexities surrounding military employment issues but also marked a pivotal step in determining the legitimacy of Major Ukachukwu’s actions and the Nigerian Army’s response thereto.

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