The demotion and dismissal of Major General Hakeem Oladapo Otiki as ordered by the General Court Martial (GCM) of the Nigerian Army over missing money have sent tongues wagging.
Some sources were alleging that he did not perform ‘satisfactorily’ during the last election in Sokoto, hence his current ordeal and likely disgraceful exit from the institution he has served meritoriously for over 34 years, except if he gets any soft landing from the Army Council or at the Appeal.
General Otiki was the Commander Infantry Corps in Jaji, Kaduna State before he was appointed the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 8 Division Nigerian Army Sokoto, on March 16, 2019, few day after the March 9 gubernatorial election in the state, which was declared inconclusive because the vote difference between the incumbent Governor Aminu Tambuwal and his challenger was lower than the cancelled votes.
On assumption of office, Otiki warned army personnel against any illegal involvement in the rescheduled election saying that such would attract severe reprimand.
According to him, permission and clearance from army headquarters was mandatory for any officer and soldier to be on election duty.
While leading his troops on “Show of Force” to arouse public attention on military presence to confront all security challenges during and after the election, he called on public to be free and comfortable to come out and exercise their civic responsibility at the selected places for the election.
After the supplementary election on March 23, 2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Tambuwal as the winner for securing the highest votes of 512, 002, defeating his close rival Alhaji Ahmad Aliyu of All Progressives Congress (APC) who polled 511, 660 votes.
The governor won by a small margin of 342 votes which created tension and confusion among the political elites in the state and Abuja.
PRNigeria could not confirm if the GOC was given any specific directive on the gubernatorial election.
According to credible sources, his deployment may not be unconnected to the aspiration of some politicians, who wanted him to provide military assistance in a bid to secure victory for one of the leading political parties during the re-run.
“Though his deployment was purely for military operations, some politician saw it as a strategic move to facilitate the outcome of the election in the state. That is why his travails was orchestrated by some powerful politicians who want him removed over his refusal to play ball.
“Beside, there are ample evidence indicating that some of the soldiers who stole the money had been in connivance with some politicians before and during the election. They might have acted in cahoot with politicians who want to see the downfall of the forthright, honest and cerebral General,” one of the sources said.
PRNigeria reported that the accused officer was a contemporary of the president of the court-martial, Lieutenant General Lamidi Adeosun, as both were admitted to the Nigerian Defence Academy at different times in 1983.
But Otiki, whose over 34 years unblemished career in the military, will likely end in sheer ignominy and utter dishonour, unless the Army Council temper justice with mercy. He was promoted Major General in December 2016, held strategic military position including Aide Camp (ADC) to Chief of General Staff during Abacha regime and Defence Attache. He would attain the 35 years maximum years of service on the 14th of December 2020.
The trouble for the ex-GOC started in July 2019, when he sent five soldiers to haul cash from Sokoto to Kaduna for the purchase of furniture and other items for the military barrack before the money allegedly got missing. General Otiki immediately reported the incident to the highest military authorities.
He was, last Wednesday, indicted by a General Court Martial over the ‘stolen’ money.
Military sources identified the fleeing soldiers, who have since been declared wanted, as Corporal Gabriel Oluwaniyi, Corporal Mohammed Aminu, Corporal Haruna, Oluji Joshua and Hayatudeen. One of them Lance Corporal Isah later returned the sum of N15 million as well as $6,600 to army authorities voluntarily and he was detained.
The court martial found Gen. Otiki guilty of disobedience to service orders, theft of public property, diverting operational money and engaging in private businesses. The tribunal ordered his demotion from major general to brigadier general and dismissal from the service.
The court also ordered that all monies totalling N135.8 million, $6,600 recovered be returned to the coffers of the Nigerian Army. It also ordered that another N150 million which could not be accounted for, be returned to the coffers of the Nigerian Army.
The judgement is, however, subject to approval of the army council.
In his final submission, Mr Otiki’s lead lawyer, Israel Olorundare, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, pleaded for clemency and urged the Nigerian Army to show mercy.
Mr Olorundare told the court that the accused officer had returned N100 million that was stolen by the soldiers detailed to escort the money to Kaduna, and that some of the projects for which N150 million was released to Mr Otiki were either completed or about to be completed.
PRNigeria reported that Mr Otiki whose wife, a native of Borno State, is seriously ill, is also sick and was brought to the premises of the court-martial on a wheelchair.
In what appears as ‘ironical’ or perplexing, and also coming from an unexpected quarter, Lt. Gen. Adeosun, before giving the court martial’s judgement, said: “Many will be praying to have such an unblemished career and record of military service in the country like the accused senior army officer.”
The Army Chief of Policy and Plans (COPP) said that having confirmed that Maj. Gen. Otiki is a first time offender in his 34 years of “previously unblemished career in the army and to the Nigeria armed forces, it (the tribunal) would not fail in dispensing justice. We would do the very best with the humanness and kindness that the law allows.”
In a citation read by Colonel NG Mohammed of Department of Military Secretary at the tribunal, Otiki was described as “a discipline, loyal, hardworking and efficient officer and a good manager of men and resources under his command.”
Experts in Military Jurisprudence and civil legal luminaries are unanimous in their verdict that the sentencing amounted to killing a fly with a sledgehammer considering the antecedents of the senior officer and the facts of the case.
A military officer, who is versed in legal matters, told PRNigeria that the senior officer is a first offender (if at all he committed any offence) as attested to by Major General GAT Ochigbano, the Military Secretary (MS-A) in court.
The officer, who prefers anonymity, said: “He clearly testified on oath that having scrutinized Major General Otiki’s Service records as a cadet in Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) Kaduna and as a commissioned officer in the Nigerian Army, the senior officer had no regimental entry (no offence committed) in his Service career.
“There was no consideration of his over 34 years of meritorious service to Nigeria, especially his modest contributions to the Chief of Army Staff vision, such as the successful rotation of 3,500 overstayed personnel serving in the North East while he was the Commander Infantry Corps. This was an effective Relieve-in-line for front-line troops, some of whom had spent over 4 years in the North East.”
He then added: “Operation Sharan Daji and Operation Harbin Kunama III were effectively and successfully conducted by the senior officer without any blemish while he was the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 8 Division, Sokoto. Thus, there was relative peace, security and prosperity within his purview as GOC in contrast to what currently obtains in the North West. “
It seems nobody knows the fate of the five ‘obstinate’ and ‘unruly’ soldiers who eloped with the money; whether they were also tried in absentia over the incident.
But some prominent officers in the military have maintained that it is only by openly arraigning and diligently prosecuting them that justice would seem to have been served on Maj. Gen Otiki, who apparently appears to have been caught in the web of Sokoto 2019 gubernatorial politics.
Apart from General Adeosun who led the nine-month trial, others on the jury of the GCM include: Major General A Tarfa, Major General FO Agbugor, Major General FA Nadu, Major General N Mohammed, Major General CT Olukotu, Major General C C Okonkwo. He also named Major A Mohammed was the judge advocate; and Captain A Ibrahim the Liason Officer.