by Samuel Ogundipe,
A recent decision by the Nigerian Army to establish a multi-billion naira exclusive golf course for officers is generating disquiet among its rank and file, PREMIUM TIMES can report.
This newspaper learnt that the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, recently informed officers of the Army chief’s intention to construct a golf club for Nigerian Army personnel in Abuja.
The Army described the undertaking as a “noble project”, and said personnel were encouraged to engage in sporting and recreational endeavours to enhance their professionalism.
But in order to realise that ambition, a January 10, 2017 memo signed by M. Mohammed, a major general, on behalf of Mr. Buratai, “directed that all NA officers should exercise part of the ownership of the club by contributing funds for its development/construction”.
The Army chief apportioned the contribution of the officers according to their seniority and said the money could be deducted from their salaries if officers fail to pay up.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that officers who have attained the rank of a major general would pay N150, 000 per person, while Brigadier generals are to pay N100, 000 each.
Colonels were asked to pay N75, 000; while lieutenant colonels pay N50, 000 and majors pay N40,000.
Captains were ordered to pay N30, 000 each while lieutenants and second lieutenants will all pay N20, 000 per head.
The two-page directive was issued by the Department of Army Standards and Evaluation.
The department did not give budget estimates for the project; neither did it say how long it would take to complete. But with an estimated 6,000 commissioned officers, the project would likely draw about N120 million for the project, if the base contribution of N20,000 per officer is used.
Officers who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES about the project described it as “unnecessary” and the manner in which it is being handled as “dictatorial.”
Not only did the officers say the project should not be a priority at a time the military is preoccupied with the war against Boko Haram and other counter-insurgency activities, they also expressed reservation about the decision of Mr. Buratai to make it mandatory for all officers.
The personnel, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on the condition of strict anonymity, urged Mr. Buratai to reconsider the clause that all officers must contribute.
“One, we’re fighting Boko Haram, herdsmen and some economic saboteurs across the country right now and they brought this? Why are they always finding different ways to extort officers?” one soldier asked.
A colonel said Mr. Buratai should suspend the plan and allow officers concentrate on their duties, especially when many of them may never get to use the facility.
“How much are we earning that we’re being told to pay money for golf course at this point in time?
“This is a project that many of us may never use. For instance, how many officers are in Abuja? Do they know that many officers may never even get posted to Abuja throughout the course of their career?
“They won’t let officers concentrate on multiple security challenges facing the country,” the colonel said. “For how long are we going to keep complaining about this arbitrary cut of their salaries?
Army spokesman, Sani Usman, said the officers were wrong to claim extortion when the contribution was voluntary.
“It is not because it is voluntary,” Mr. Usman, a brigadier-general, said in an SMS to PREMIUM TIMES Friday.
In a follow-up discussion, the Army spokesman said the directive the Army officers were fuming about was no longer valid because a new memo had been issued on a later date that clearly instructed all personnel to contribute voluntarily.
“The directive was an old one, it was erroneously issued after a meeting with the Chief of Army Staff on the matter,” Mr. Usman told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone January 3. “But another one had since been issued clearly stating that the contribution is voluntary.”
Although our sources acknowledged a follow-up directive was issued, they maintained that it contained essentially the same instruction.
The officers said while the old directive stated that all commissioned Army personnel must contribute towards the project; the new one said they must contribute but gave them an option to seek a refund.
“So the only difference between the old directive and the new one is that officers were giving the option to fill out the paperwork to formally declare their interest not to partake in the ownership of the golf course and seek a refund of their contribution,” one officer said.
The sources said the contribution remained mandatory for all commissioned officers and “no sensible personnel” will take advantage of the opt-out procedure because they saw it as a landmine.
“No officers, no matter how deeply opposed they may be to the golf course, will dare fill any form to request for refund of their contributions,” our sources said. “They will be victimised by the Army authorities who set it as a trap.”
Last October, Nigerian soldiers battling Boko Haram insurgents in the Northeast expressed concerns about unauthorised reduction of their allowances to PREMIUM TIMES. They said the situation had continued to impact on their overall morale.
Last week, some anonymous officers took to social media with allegations of dubious pay cuts against the Nigerian Army.
But the Army said the “campaign of calumny” was politically-motivated and fired back at the officers, describing them as disgruntled elements who manufactured their ordeals to tarnish its image.
“The fabricators are most probably being sponsored by the categories of people that frustrated themselves out of the army and political self-defeatists,” the Army said in a February 18 statement signed by Mr. Usman.