RECENTLY, Patrick Falola, Commander of the Armed Forces Hospital in Kano and former Director of the 68 Military Reference Hospital, Yaba, Lagos, was demoted from the rank of Major General to Brigadier General by a Special Court Martial for alleged fraudulent misapplication of the hospital’s property. Major General Falola was first arraigned in May 2016 on a two-count charge before a court martial presided over by Air Vice Martial James Gbum for admitting international students from Espan Formation University, Cotonou, in Benin Republic between July and September, 2015, for training at a military hospital. The court martial discharged and acquitted him on charges of conduct prejudicial to the service but convicted him for using the Nigerian Army’s property to train students from the Republic of Benin without following the necessary procedure.
While AVM Gbum, who presided over the court martial, declared that the court’s decision was based on Sections 103 and 66 of the Armed Forces Act Cap A 20 Laws of the Federation 2004, Lieutenant Colonel Ukpe Ukpe, the prosecuting officer, claimed that the judgment was a balanced one as the court was very liberal in meting out punishment. However, the defence counsel, retired Wing Commander Enokela Onyilo-Uloko, insisted that the conviction had no legal backing and was an attempt to tarnish the clean record of his client. He stated further that there was no law stating that senior officers must take permission from the higher authorities before allowing such training. He consequently declared the intention to appeal the judgement.
Considering that the judgement of the Army court martial is subject to confirmation by the Nigerian Army Council, we call on the council to disconfirm the decision. The punishment is uncalled for, and entirely meaningless given the circumstances. It seems at best a disincentive to hard work and public service. During the proceedings, the Army presented the service record of the General to the Special Court Martial. He was described as an officer of impeccable character noted for his intelligence, honesty, transparency, dedication to work and enthusiasm for military service. It was also noted that he had always been an outstanding medical officer of the military.
The General, as senior consultant ophthalmologist, was reported to have served Nigeria as the chairman of the Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria (OSN), Lagos State chapter. It was noted in the records that he significantly upgraded all the hospitals where he served. For example, he refurbished and set up the Intensive Care Unit and Neonatal Unit at both Greek and Yaba hospitals. He transformed the Bonny Camp (Lagos) Eye Centre to a world-class status; he introduced laser equipment worth millions of naira at no cost to the Nigeria Army, but by sheer dedication to work and resourcefulness. He is reputed to be an exemplary military administrator, clinician and surgeon. He was singly commended for his prompt and professional handling of the cholera outbreak in Jos, Plateau State, and his proactive initiatives to prevent Lassa fever and Ebola outbreaks in the barracks. Over the years, no charge of breach of military discipline was brought against him.
As many senior military officers have pointed out, Falola’s predecessors who had similarly admitted students for training without any authorisation from the Army headquarters were not prosecuted because no such requirement for permission is contained in the extant military laws. Again, the distinguished officer has not been accused of benefiting in any way from the said admission of foreign students for training at a military hospital. How then could he have been guilty of fraudulent misapplication of the hospital’s property? The trial conveys the impression that he is merely a victim of circumstances being punished for some undisclosed offences.
We call on the Army Council to consider General Falola’s outstanding service performance in reviewing the decision of the Special Court Martial. Indeed, upholding the decision would send a wrong signal to conscientious and diligent officers that the Army is an organisation that does not give due regard to meritorious service and outstanding performance in case of trouble. Indeed, we are of the view that the allegations could have been addressed administratively without the full drama of a court martial given the nature and consequences of the issues involved.