As the year 2020 begins, Nigerians are expecting that President Muhammadu Buhari would redesign the country’s security architecture and infuse new blood in the command structure of the Armed Forces by appointing new Service Chiefs.
The reason, according to them, is that the present Service Chiefs have been in office for nearly five years and that their expertise, especially as it concerns the war against insurgents, may have started to wane.
Apart from their expertise dwindling, officers within the Armed Forces have raised fears that the continued stay of Service Chiefs would lead to delayed promotions, untimely retirement of promising officers, all of which would invariably affect the multi-faceted challenges affecting the country’s security architecture.
The echoes of uneasiness reverberated when the Federal Government approved the extension of tenure for the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin; the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusufu Buratai; the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas; and the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Baba Abubakar.
Expectations in many quarters points were that the government should have infused new blood in the Armed Forces leadership, especially to carry on from where the present leaders had stopped, considering that their tenure had variously expired and thus their service year as public officers elapsed.
Section 8 of the Public Service Rules puts the retirement age for all grades in the service at 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service whichever that comes first.
The Section reads in part: “No officer shall be allowed to remain in service after attaining the retirement age of 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service whichever is earlier.”
Also, Section 4 of the harmonised terms and conditions of service for officers (2017) states that military service of an officer is a period of unbroken service in the Armed Forces of Nigeria from the date of commission to the date of retirement from service.
This period of unbroken service, it was learnt, covers year of enlistment into service as soldiers/ratings/airmen for regular commission, short service commission, direct short service commission, direct regular commission, executive commission officers, including other commissions.
It was learnt that when caught up with age or service years, voluntary retirement would be recommended even if you are holding an appointment.
Some senior military officers who spoke on condition of anonymity had said that the elongated tenure of the Service Chiefs has not gone down well with most of the high-ranking officers in the three services, who are aspiring to reach the pinnacle of the service before their retirement.
Some of the officers, it was learnt, have complained quietly that their Commander-in-Chief is “suffocating” growth in the Armed Forces as officers who are junior to the Service Chiefs are being forced into retirement ahead of their seniors.
Some of these officers in the service have been retired earlier in 2019 having attained the service age of 35 years as stipulated by the Public Service Rules.
Reasons have been provided by top politicians on why the president is still keeping the present Service Chiefs and also why it is not likely that the president would change them now.
According to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, President Buhari’s reluctance in appointing new Service Chiefs was because Nigeria is at war.
He said: “We are in a war. Definitely, we are in a war. We are fighting the insurgents in the Northeast and in the Northwest. The military is so much involved and are being deployed in so many zones of the federation. The security situation is such that the military is involved almost in all parts of the country. So, we are in a war.
“The military is so involved in so many security challenges. In fact, in almost the 36 states, in fact, this is a pointer that we are in a war. Coincidentally, the president is a retired Army General and he knows this war situation better than most Nigerians; and he knows when to change his army commanders and when not to do that. As Commander-in-Chief, he understands this war situation better than we the civilians.”
Speaking with Sunday Sun, the Managing Director of Hakes Security, Colonel Hassan Stan-Labo (rtd), noted that though the Service Chiefs have stayed long in office, it was equally important to note that Service Chiefs are appointees of the president and Commander-in-Chief.
“They are appointed and relieved at his discretion. Mind you, there is no statutory tenureship assigned to the office, so the president is at liberty to retain such appointees for as long as he deems necessary.
“They report directly to the president and if he finds them to be competent hands delivering on their job descriptions and meeting all key performance index, definitely he would be persuaded to retain them as long as he wishes despite alternate views. After all, the buck stops on his table,” he said.
Colonel Stan-Labo agreed that their long stay would affect the career progression of the numerous officers looking up to attaining such heights before leaving the service.
“But given the fact that the office of Service Chief is not an all-comers game with representation from every Course of the Defence Academy, it would be too ambitious for anyone to see his attainment to such positions as a right or sacrosanct. Besides, being a strategic level appointment, considerations for such offices go beyond military credentials. Such elements as the national interest, loyalty, trust, geo-political balancing, ideological leanings etc; are likely factors for consideration given the time, political temperature and the national interest,” he noted.
On whether it was affecting the long strategy being applied on the war against insurgents, the security expert said: “The current Service Chiefs have performed creditably well in executing the war so far. Looking back to when they assumed office, well over 16 LGAs in four states were fully occupied by the insurgents with flags hoisted and tax collection structures on ground (a mini-administrative arrangement).
“Today, the story is different. They have paid their dues and I see them as heroes. However, given the emergence of fresh strategies by the insurgents, coupled with the menace of kidnapping, hostage taking, cattle rustling and other forms of banditry, it would not be out of place to seek a change of baton for a crop of fresh hands, seasoned professionals with out-of-the-box perspectives to take on the mantle of leadership,” he said.
Colonel Stan-Labo also spoke on how their long stay affects service rules, explaining that exigencies on ground and the national interest override any civil service rule, saying “this is not the first time public servants would be made to stay on in the national interest of the country and I doubt if it would be the last. It is a global practice worldwide.
“You don’t just let go some loyal or extremely good hands. If this is the president’s perception of his Service Chiefs, then all we can do as loyal citizens is to avail them every support and adequate cooperation needed to succeed.”
Another security expert, John Macaulay told Sunday Sun that the long stay of the Service Chiefs has destroyed generation of officers of the Armed Forces.
He said: “I regard it as very precarious. I believe if anything were to terminate the existence of this good country we call Nigeria, the first will be security and if security is not handled, and I admit it has not been properly handled, then we have a serious problem and for the security to be rationally handled, it has to be effectively handled by putting square pegs in square holes.
“When a general succeeds or fails, then we have a very serious problem if he feels he cannot be in place. And if you are to do the posting and the deployment, it has to be done on a rational basis in accordance with time, tests, procedures that are known globally.
“These Service Chiefs have had their terms and tenures as Service Chiefs rolled over a number of times in the process they have destroyed at least one or two generations of officers who are due to take over from them, that is unfair, that is injustice,” he added.