President Muhammadu Buhari eventually acceded to the wishes of the majority of Nigerians to appoint new military heads in place of the previous ones, who served for five years, even beyond their retirement time and age. In fulfilling the promise made in his New Year broadcast, to effect changes in the security architecture of the country, President Buhari approved the retirement of the former service chiefs and appointed new ones.
President Buhari, in one fell swoop, let go the former Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Abubakar Sadique; and Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok Ibas. In their place, he appointed Major General Lucky Irabor (Chief of Defence Staff); Major General Ibrahim Attahiru (Chief of Army Staff); Air Vice Marshal Ishiaka Amao (Chief of Air Staff); and Rear Admiral Auwal Gambo (Chief of Naval Staff). With this done, Nigerians expect the second leg of the presidential promise. The change of service chiefs is not the only thing required in the rejigging of security architecture. There are many other things that need to be done.
Long before the change of the service chiefs, many Nigerians felt that there was need to make the former heads of the different arms of the military give away for others to lead. First, they had long been due for retirement. Second, the former service chiefs were still in service when many of their juniors had retired, which was not good in a military that has retirement tradition. Third, the security situation in the country was not good, with insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and sundry high-profile crimes rampant across the country. Nigerians, therefore, wanted a change in the military leadership, as, according to many people, such action would bring fresh vigour and impetus to the fight against insecurity.
Now that the new service chiefs have taken charge, with a mandate by President Buhari to end insecurity forthwith, as the country is in an emergency, it is expected that they would hit the ground running to tackle this national problem. From the profile of the new service chiefs, it appears that President Buhari had the problem of insurgency in mind in picking them. Three of the service chiefs had served as theatre commanders in the North-East. Major General Irabor was theatre commander of Operation Lafiya Dole until 2017 and later field commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad Basin area. Major General Attahiru was theatre commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, after General Irabor. Air Vice Marshal Amao was air component commander, Operation Zaman Lafiya/Lafiya Dole (North-East operations). However, the pertinent question is this: Did these officers do well as theatre commanders? If they did, why did they not end insurgency or defeat Boko Haram in the true sense of it?
However, if really President Buhari had the Boko Haram menace in mind in appointing the service chiefs, one would have thought that General Irabor, who distinguished himself as theatre commander and also field commander of the MNJTF, would have been appointed the Chief of Army Staff. For the avoidance of doubt, the Nigerian Army, which commands the ground forces, is more involved in the fight against insurgency than any other security arm. This is not to say that the Air Force or the Department of State Services and others are not relevance. Not at all! The army is the service that holds the ground. Therefore, in my considered opinion, an officer who did well, to the extent of being given the responsibility of commanding a force made up of the personnel of other neighbouring countries’ military, should have been in charge of the army. Since competence ought to be central in appointing the service chiefs, the President should have played down on where the officers come from.
Much has been said about the leadership of the military and other security agencies in the country. The President Buhari government ought to be worried, even if it does not care, that allegations of ethnicism always resonate when appointments in security services are made. Before the appointment of the new service chiefs, there was the discomfort that the majority of the heads of the various arms of security were from the northern part of the country. While Nigerians were expecting a change, the appointment of the new service chiefs sustained the imbalance. In the new appointments, two out of the four service chiefs are from the North, one from South-South and one from South-West, like the last appointment. This latest appointment was also greeted by allegations of deliberate exclusion of the South-East geopolitical zone.
General Irabor is an Igbo from the Anioma area of Delta State in the South-South. Being an Igbo man, whom the Igbo are proud of, his appointment does not cancel the fact that the South-East, a major component of the Nigerian state, is, again, not represented in the service chiefs structure. The only three times Igbo men have been service chiefs in Nigeria’s 60 years are in 1965: General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, General Officer Commanding, Nigerian Army; 1993: Rear Admiral Alison Madueke, Chief of Naval Staff; and 2010, General Azubuike Ihejirika, Chief of Army Staff. We know that it is at the discretion of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces to appoint whosoever he prefers or is comfortable with as service chief. However, in exercising such discretion, balance is required in a country with diverse ethnic groups.
However, the country’s fight against insecurity goes beyond changing the service chiefs. The Federal Government and the new military chiefs should know that insurgency and banditry, especially, cannot be fought in isolation. The country needs assistance from others to wage the war effectively. Cooperation with neigbouring countries like Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic is commendable. However, cooperation should also be sought from other First World nations in intelligence, training, arms supply/donation, etcetera. The United States’ SEAL recently came to Nigeria in a covert operation to rescue a U.S. citizen kidnapped in Niger Republic and held captive in Nigeria. The U.S. SEAL tracked the location of the kidnappers, stormed the place and rescued the victim. This means that well-thought-out cooperation with the U.S. SEAL, for instance, could aid intelligence and tracking of the operations bases of Boko Haram, for easy attack and demobilisation.
The government should do much more in the motivation of soldiers who are fighting insurgency. There should be no case of unpaid allowance or non-provision of needed materials like uniforms, boots, protective shields, etc.
Most importantly, the government should provide fighting materials or military equipment. No military can fight with bare hands and win a war. There were insinuations in the past that insurgents were better equipped than Nigeria’s military. Whether true of not, there should not be any situation where the military would lack the necessary tools to wage war against insurgents or keep the country safe. For whatever it is worth, government should provide the requisite equipment for the battle against insurgency and banditry, which has made the northern part of the country insecure.
Also, the government should take measures to tackle alleged sabotage in the fight against insurgency and banditry. There have been allegations that unscrupulous officers and men in the military as well as residents of communities give information to insurgents on movement and location of the military, thereby making soldiers vulnerable. This should not be ruled out. In a situation where people have different interests, anything is possible. Therefore, the military chiefs should, using intelligence, keep track of their soldiers and villagers in communities where they are operating.