From MOLLY KILETE, Abuja
The Nigerian military has begun moves to recall hundreds of retired generals, officers and soldiers into the battlefield following its combat engagement in at least 10 operations across the country. The decision to recall the retired officers was taken in order to strengthen their colleagues who are still in active service and are presently overstretched due to the unending war against Boko Haram in the Northeast, Niger Delta militants in the South-South and other arm-bearing gangs across the country.
Saturday Sun further gathered that the recall of the retired officers whose experiences cannot be purchased in the open market became necessary following reports of how the insurgents were killing their colleagues on the battlefield. The Director, Defence Information, Gen Abubakar Rabe confirmed the move. A former Military Secretary, Shehu Usman Abdulkadir who is a retired Major General with the Nigerian Army also confirmed the bid in an interview with Saturday Sun.
How it all started
It was learnt that long before members of the Boko Haram terrorists began their activities in the North-east, the agitation on the need for the Nigerian armed forces to have a reserve of retired personnel had been on. However, sources say the military has not been able to make a headway because of the disposition of past Service Chiefs.
It was gathered, for example, that past and current service chiefs have not been able to see the need for them to initiate a forum of past service chiefs where they would meet and brainstorm on ways to improve and move the military forward.
Sources say this has not been possible as some of them see the forum as a threat to the firm control of their command.
Aside viewing it as a threat, sources say those of them in power do not want interference with their operation and how they run the office especially when their predecessors did not do same when they were in power.
Besides, the “I know everything”, syndrome has not helped matters as some of the service chiefs are being instigated by their friends, relatives, colleagues and politicians not to allow anybody to control them.
Military sources say unlike in other military forces across the world where past military chiefs meet regularly to deliberate on the way forward, the story is not the same in Nigeria.
Findings show that airline operators in the country rush for Nigerian Air Force pilots and flight engineers as soon as they get information of their pending retirement from service, as such there is hardly any airline company that does not have a NAF pilot and flight engineers in their employ.
Until recently, the military has always left its retired officers to die with their wealth of experience in retirement. The trend however, changed few years ago under the leadership of Air Chief Marshall Paul Dike, when NAF began to engage its retired pilots, flight engineers and other personnel. His successor has since then maintained the same system. Today, NAF, is said to have the highest number of retired officers on its payroll followed by the Nigerian Navy while the Army is said to be the least.
Retired naval officers are also engaged after retirement to maintain ships and other platforms of the service and equally engage as instructors to train younger personnel.
At a recent meeting of the annual chief of army staff conference held in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom state capital, and which also had the highest attendance of past chiefs of army staff and other top retired army officers, the former chiefs had called for the establishment of such forum.
The meeting, which was attended by Generals David Ejoor, Salihu Ibrahim, Alexander Ogomudia, Martin-Luther-Agwai, Abdulrahaman Bello Dambazau and Azubuike Onyeabor Ihejirika, among other retired commanders, the service chiefs had compalined that they were being left out while the military was being messed up.
They made very strong suggestions on how to go about the counter insurgency operations and win the war using their own experiences which could not be put in print for security reasons. Sadly, after that gathering, nothing has come out of it.
Move to activate Reserves
Interestingly, there is a department in all the services that is saddled with the responsibility of bringing retired personnel together. It is called the Department of Recruitment, Retirement and Reserve (DRRR). Until now, the department has been dormant.
However, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as the Director, Defence Information, Brigadier-General Rabe Abubakar, said the department is being reinvigorated to have the breath of life.
Rabe, while confirming that indeed the Nigerian Armed Forces do not have a reserve of military personnel like their counterparts across the world said the Defence Headquarters was working round the clock to put one in place in the shortest possible time. He however expressed fear that the initiative my take a longer time because it has to follow all due process.
In a telephone interview with Saturday Sun, Rabe said “military , all over the world have reserves of those who retired meritoriously. They always constitute reserves for the armed forces. In our own case, we have a directorate, that is the Department of Recruitment, Resettlement, Reserve and Rehabilitation.
Even though in recent times, we don’t have a functional reserve per say, but I know that the Defence Headquarters, is trying to bring up the idea of having a reserve and the DHQ, is consulting with the other services to see how they can come up with a very functional template like other armed forces in the world.”
On how soon that would come on, he said “It’s going to be soon because the committee set up to look into it has started working and you know it is not something that you can rush into or do in a hurry. You have to define your role, you have to find what are they going to be doing, you have to find out how they would be administered, how they would be deployed in the event of need.
All these things have to be worked out and this is constitutionality and you know this is democracy, so it must go through the normal processes of enacting laws to back it up.”
He said he could not give the specific number of reserves that would eventually be called for duty. His words “I cannot give you a specific number now because anybody who retired from service automatically go back to the pool of the reserve. And they can be called up depending on the demand of the time and situation to be deployed on internal or external operation. Other armed forces even use them for United Nations operations, I think we are working to reach that stage.
“We are working out modalities on how it is going to come up and what would be their role and how to make it work and which law that would be cited in establishing this kind of reserve and this is what the committee is doing.
This will definitely take time, it is not something that we can rush, it is not something that can be done a day or on a month or two.”
He assured that the Committee working on the recall of reserves has a time frame to submit its report for processing. “The committee has a time frame within which to submit its report. But what I am saying is that it must consult with otter stakeholders, it must consult with other countries on how it is supposed to be effected and what it had been like in their own countries. So that is all we are trying to do.
“I can assure you that we have brains in the Nigerian military and there is going to be vacancy for those with specialty, you know we have the best engineers, ICT, infantry, armor, technical squad and other professionals and I think they are going to be very useful in one way or the other and that is what we are trying to put in place. But I believe when it comes to international global best practices, we have to go to the National Assembly to enact the law and it is because of that we have a directorate solely dedicated for that purpose”, the Defence spokesman stated.
The Nigerian Armed Forces are currently engaged simultaneously in at least 10 major battlefronts across the six geo-political zones of the country. They include the war against terrorism, deadly herdsmen, cattle rustlers, kidnappers, oil thieves and pipeline vandals, and the joint police/military security outfits against criminal activities such as armed robbery in the 36 states of the federation.
In the North East, there is Operation Lafiya Dole, which handles the overall Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Insurgency Operations comprising three divisions in more than five states. This has dovetailed to other specialised operations like Operation Crackdown to wind down the war against insurgents and clear the remnants of the Boko Haram sect in Sambisa Forest; Operation Gama Aiki, which serves same purpose in the northern part of Borno state; and Operation Safe Corridor, set up for the de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of repentant Boko Haram terrorists.
North Central has Operation Safe Haven stationed in Plateau State with area of operation extending to Benue, Kogi, Nasarawa and Kwara States to quell ethno-religious conflicts and other criminal activities.
There is also Operation Sara Daji and Operation Harbin Kunama in the North West, established to battle the criminal activities of armed bandits, cattle rustlers and robbers operating particularly in Zamfara, Kaduna and fringes of Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Kano states.
Down south, the military has a major operation codenamed Operation Delta Safe which was formerly Operation Pulo Shield. It is now reinforced by the Nigerian Army’s Operation Crocodile Smile, and Navy’s Operation Tsera Teku. These operations are all aimed at crushing the resurgent Niger Delta militancy and other acts of criminality like oil theft, vandalism, and bunkering in the region.
In the South west, there is Operation Awase with a mandate to contain the criminal operations around Ogun-Lagos axis, particularly in Arepo where illegal oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism are regular occurrences. South East has Operation Iron Fence to combat armed robbers, hooligans and kidnappers.
In addition to all these operations is Operation Mesa, which is a Joint Task Force (JTF) operation against all forms of criminal activities in all the states of the federation.