After Major General Patrick Adebayo Falola, the former Director of 68 Army Reference Hospital, Yaba was demoted after being found guilty of “fraudulent use of Army property,” his lawyer and friends have continued to insist that he has committed no offence. Assistant Editor, Seun Akioye, looks at some of the alleged conspiracy that may have affected the judgment.
Former Director, 68 Army Reference Hospital, Yaba, Major General Patrick Adebayo Falola, sat in the middle of the round table facing the President of the Special Court Marshal. His face which had been partly hidden by his cap showed no emotion; he did not blink nor smile. And when Air Vice Marshal James Gbum, the President of the court delivered his verdict, reducing the rank of the accused from a Major General to a Brigadier General, Falola’s countenance remained unchanged.
What changed, however, was the loud protestation from his family and friends who had sat through the almost seven hours of gruelling trial. The family insisted the General was unduly punished over a crime he never committed.
“His Service record is unblemished; this is a planned set up to humiliate him because they know they cannot match up to his service record, so they had to rope him in on this charge,” a member of the family said amidst tears.
The case against General Falola as seen by his Defence is “flimsy” and a way to unduly humiliate an officer with an “unblemished service record.” Falola was arraigned on a two-count charge of conduct to the prejudice of service discipline and fraudulent use of service property punishable under section 66 sub-section A and Section 68 of the Armed Forces Act.
After a lengthy trial, General Falola was discharged and acquitted of the charge of prejudice to the conduct of service discipline but convicted on fraudulent use of Army property. In arriving at the sentence, the president of the court said: “We have taken into consideration the service record of the convicted senior officer, the touching plea by the defense, the demeanor of the convicted senior officer.
“Ordinarily, this court would have admonished or reprimanded, however considering his seniority, rank, experience; this court is compelled to award a higher punishment in the following: for the offence of conduct to the prejudice of service discipline, he is discharged and acquitted; on the fraudulent use of service property, a reduction in rank to Brigadier General.”
Between July 6 and September 7 2015, General Falola had admitted two Nigerian students studying at the Espan Formation University, Cotonoue Benin Republic into the 68 Army Reference Hospital Yaba to undergo their Clinical Trial Experience without clearance from the appropriate authority. Falola’s lawyer, Wing Commander Enokela Anebi Onyilo-Uloko (rtd) said there was no law criminalising the act and Falola met that tradition on the ground when he assumed duty as Director.
A conspiracy theory
Friends of the demoted General have since protested against his treatment by the Nigerian Army. However, there are indications that Falola may have been removed by those who do not want him to be appointed as the Commander of the Army Medical Corps.
” It is a guesswork, that it might be a possibility,” says Onyilo-Uloko. The lawyer said the matter should have been decided at the administrative level, with a warning or a query and not a court martial.
“It should have been an administrative matter not a court martial; there are cases that are not supposed to be heard by a court martial, especially as it concerns a very senior officer like this. Because he did not violate any law, it would have been settled administratively in form of either a warning or an instruction that it should never be done again.
“My client was in the frontline nursing the ambition of commanding the medical corps of the Nigerian Army. There are competitors; those in the same rank who are eyeing the same position, and when a very senior officer has a court martial case, he cannot command his Corps. That is one area of postulation; his credentials and confidential reports and records of service are intimidating; nobody will like to compete with him on merit; he will overwhelm such person; the best thing (for them therefore) is to rope him in one way or the other to give way,” Onyilo-Uloko told The Nation.
He is not the only one who believes Falola’s ambition may have been his undoing in the army. In many editorials, Director-General of a non-governmental organisation, Strategic Powerful Information Network (SPIN), Prince Ajayi Memaiyetan lamented that Gen. Falola is being unduly punished.
“General Falola should not be a victim of witch-hunting by his detractors who would like him not to head the Military Medical Corps of Nigeria. There is, therefore, a procedural error in arraigning him before a court martial instead of Army Council where a senior General would preside. The Army Council and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari should, therefore, ensure that Maj.Gen. Falola is not unduly punished,” he appealed.
A former classmate at Medical School, Dr. Raymond Kuti said the demoted General had always wanted to be in the Army because of his love for the profession. He described him as a man of “integrity” and pleaded that the case should have been an administrative matter.
” I have known him since 1981; he loves the Army with a passion; he is a man of integrity, loyal and he is a core professional. We all feel that the matter is an administrative one and he should not have been demoted. I am appealing that the authorities temper justice with mercy,” Kuti said.
A family member who pleaded anonymity told The Nation that, Falola’s singular commitment to the rule of law and his uprightness did not sit well with many of his colleagues. “They said he admitted foreign students but are they not Nigerians? Won’t they return to serve the country with the skills they gained in a foreign university? The whole argument is very faulty if you ask me.”
An unblemished record
A deathly silence greeted the reading of the record of service of Gen. Falola to the court martial, save for a sob or two which emanated albeit involuntarily from his friends. One could not find a single blemish in over 30 years in the military record of the now demoted General. Major General Falola was born on May 6, 1961; he entered the Nigerian Army in 1973 as a boy soldier and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1982. He is said to have an untarnished military career for over 40 years. A medical doctor, he was described as an “earnest and assiduous worker with a mental capacity above average.”
The convicted officer was described as having shown “exemplary devotion to his primary assignment and he took the Army Hospital Eye Center to world standard and one of the most successful doctors and directors of the Military Hospital Lagos.”
The Army described him as a person with impeccable character, known for his intelligence, honesty, transparency, dedication to work and enthusiasm for military service, particularly as an outstanding Senior Consultant Ophthalmologist, who has headed many military hospitals in Nigeria.
He was also a past Chairman of Lagos State Chapter of Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria (OSN); Commander of Military Army Reference Hospital, Lagos (Greek) and Commander of 3rd Division Hospital, Jos where he stopped cholera outbreak with proactive initiatives.
But Nigeria has a lot more to be grateful to the now demoted Army General for. The Record Service recorded that General Falola responded in a timely manner during the Ebola epidemic in Lagos, helping to identify and stop the deadly infection and was credited with creative innovations, which has helped the Nigerian Army hospitals all over the country.
Onyilo-Uloko however said he has filed a motion of appeal, which has been served on the Nigerian Army and a stay of execution of the sentence of the court martial. “We have done everything in the process of appeal, we will appeal the conviction,” he said. The Nation