Disaffection in Military over Alteration of HTACOS.

    Disaffection in Military over Alteration of HTACOS.

    Following the arbitrary alteration of the Harmonized Terms and Conditions of Service (HTACOS) by the Nigerian Military and the changes that run contrary to the spirit of the Armed Forces Act, some military officers have expressed dissatisfaction with the authorities.
    The officers who are professionals in the military said that several medical doctors, engineers, lawyers, chartered accountants and architects had allegedly resigned from the three services because of the injustice contained in the altered document. The officers, who spoke under condition of anonimity, said, because of the bad impression some people had about the military in the past, coupled with alleged poor remuneration, the Armed Forces Council, drawing its powers under the Armed Forces Act, authored a document known as the Harmonized Terms and Conditions of Service (HTACOS) to attract graduates to the force.
    “The HTACOS reorganized the ranks of the Armed Forces and drew up clear equivalents among the rank and file in the three services (the superior officer ranks were never an issue)”. “Importantly, the HTACOS introduced incentives to lure the professional class into the Armed Forces. Before then, the three services had their individual arrangements: the Army Council, the Navy Council and the Air Council were each responsible for the administration of their respective spheres of influence.
    “However, these were haphazard and proved to be of doubtful efficiency. Then the Armed Forces Council decided that it was better to have uniformity and thus took out time to thrash out policies and regulations that apply to all the services in equal force; hence, the coming of the Harmonized Terms and Conditions of Service.
    “The HTACOS set out some incentives to make a career in the Armed Forces an attractive prospect for professionals.” The aggrieved military officers further explained, “Whenever the Armed Forces advertise vacancies and request applications from the public, they dangle carrots before prospective applicants who are professionals.
    “This they do by stipulating a higher age limit at which medical doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, architects and holders of doctorate degrees in fields relevant to individual services can enter any of the services through the Direct Short Service Commission. “While the age limit is 27 years for ordinary graduates, it is 30 years for professionals. This is obviously in recognition of the fact that professionals spend more years to qualify to practice their disciplines than their ordinary-graduate colleagues.
    “By Chapter 5, Article 3 of the HTACOS, professionals joining any of the services through the Direct Short Service Commission will be commissioned in the same rank with their colleagues who are ordinary graduates. “However, the former will enjoy two years’ seniority over the latter. This balances out what would have amounted to a Greek gift under the higher age limit entry. How? Every rank in the services has a run-out date, the maximum date at which its holder must retire if he is not promoted. “For instance, the run-out date for a Lieutenant in the Army is 39. If he is not promoted to Captain by that age, he will be compulsorily retired. Thus, the higher age limit entry level for professionals brings an officer closer to his run-out date and exposes him to the risk of premature retirement.
    “An officer who joins the service at the age of 30 has only nine years to make the rank of Lieutenant while his ordinary-graduate colleague has twelve. Thus, the two years’ seniority given to the professional class extends their run-out date to eleven years and accordingly cushions the negative effect of entering the services at a higher age limit.
    “A lot of professionals poured into the armed forces as a result of these incentives, and have since moved through the ranks. However, the policy is not without its critics. “The critics mostly comprise officers already in service who feel miffed that the two years’ seniority given to their juniors propels the former to become their mates, sometimes even their seniors. It is possible that it is these same persons who have inspired this about-face by the leadership of the armed forces. “The HTACOS, currently in force, is the 2012 (Revised Edition). Recently, the three services wrote letters to their officers enjoying the two years’ seniority in which they notified the officers that their seniority had been withdrawn. “They also published their respective seniority lists reflecting the said withdrawal of seniority.
    Curiously, this action is not backed by any law. The new policy clearly flouts the HTACOS which is an instrument authored by the Armed Forces Council under the power of delegated legislation.
    “The Armed Forces Council is established by Section 4 of the Armed Forces Act with no less a personality than the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Commander in-Chief of the Armed Forces as its Chairman. “The Minister of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff and Chief of Air Staff are members. The HTACOS, being a delegated legislation, has the force of law and cannot be departed from at will. Interestingly, Paragraph 1 of the certification page states as follows: ‘This HTACOS Officers 2012 (Revised) has been reviewed to ensure uniform implementation and it supersedes the previous HTACOS (2007). The contents are to be strictly observed on all occasions and interpreted reasonably and intelligently, with due regard to the interest of the services . . .’“The proper thing for the management of the Armed Forces to do is to review the HTACOS to remove the two years’ seniority for professionals joining the services. But even then, it cannot affect officers who are already enjoying the privilege.
    “This is because the HTACOS cannot be made to apply retroactively. As Section 6(i) (b) and (c) of the Interpretation Act, stipulates: ‘The repeal of an enactment shall not – (b) affect the previous operation of the enactment or anything duly done or suffered under the enactment; (c) affect any right, privilege, obligation or liability accrued or incurred under the enactment.” Faulting the action of the three services, the officers said, “By their action, the leadership of the Armed Forces has unlawfully pushed officers closer to their run-out dates. And by reducing their seniority, a lot of officers are now on ‘borrowed’ ranks. “This is because without the two years’ seniority factored in, many of them would not be due for promotion to their current ranks.
    What this means is the absurdity that an officer, say a Lieutenant Colonel, affected by this action, is, in reality, a Major. Demoralized “Disincentivized and demoralized, several officers in the three services have since resigned so that the services run the real risk of eventually starving themselves of the services of these professionals that they had paid odds over for. “The policy somersault or policy reversal is not only illogical and ill-timed but also without any legal foundation. At a time the country is reeling from the violent work of insurgents, the action couldn’t come at a worse time.
    “The officers and men of our armed forces have an onerous task on their hands waging the war on terror. They surely do not need the distraction of having their ranks tampered with. It is an irresponsible thing for anyone to contemplate, let alone do. “The Armed Forces are created by law and must operate in conformity with the law. The HTACOS is the only document that regulates the command, retirement, payment of retirement benefits, promotion and discipline of officers and men of the three services of the Armed Forces. It is a sacred document indeed and ought to be treated as such.
    “Unfortunately, the authorities of the Armed Forces are not doing this at the moment. What this means is that it is at the mercy of the whims and caprices and can be violated any day the authorities feel so inclined. “A serviceman could get his rank yanked off with no justification, have his benefits halved or quartered or be thrust into some other unsavoury situation that he never signed up for. “This will not only threaten but effectively jeopardize the livelihood and careers of tens of thousands of our servicemen and their dependents who put their lives on the line every day in defence of our nation. “It is a scary thought, and one that continues to send shivers down the spines of not just officers but also the rank and file of the armed services. The HTACOS is essentially a contract between the armed forces and its officers. “It is inconceivable that anybody will deign to conduct the affairs of the Armed Forces in flagrant violation of its clear and elaborate provisions.”

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