|Service Chiefs - Credit: Daily Trust|
Monday 24 February 2020
Pervasive Insecurity In Nigeria, Boko Haram Resurgence And The Fierce Urgency of Now!
Caveat: my take strings no political undertone. I don’t do partisan politics. I join no issue nor forces with no one. Yours sincerely is just an active citizen, passionate security analyst and thought leader who does not waver to speak truth to power. What is more, having being around for a while, served in the Armed forces and fairly informed about global, local events, and global best practices, I believe I can do justice to this topic.
Without much ado, I humbly and respectfully submit that aforesaid grounds seeking to justify why the service chiefs must stay put, is to say the least wishy-washy, untenable. If changing military leadership at the height of Boko Haram insurgency is tantamount to tactical suicide, then it follows that former service chiefs – Lt. Generals Azubuike Ihejirika, Kenneth Minimah et al, both former heads of the army and other former service chiefs ought to have been retained indefinitely simply because removing them would derail the war against insurgency in Nigeria. In Niger Republic, the President Mahamadou Issoufou fired two top military brasses after a Jihadist attack on an army base saw 89 people killed in January 2020.
When the current Service chiefs – COAS Tukur Buratai, CAS Sadique Abubakar and the NSA Babagana Mongunu et al were appointed from Borno state, nay, northeast Nigeria, which is the epicentre of BH insurgency, one the extenuating sentiments bandied, was that they are from the neck of the woods of the BH insurgency and as such they know 'where the dead bodies are buried' and will rein in the rampaging insurgents sooner than later. A Channels Television report of October 14, 2015 quoted President Buhari as saying during an audience with the Commander of United States Africa Command, General David Rodriguez, ‘’that with greater support from his administration in terms of improved training, equipment, logistics and welfare, the Nigerian Armed Forces were well positioned to meet the December  deadline which they have been given to end the Boko Haram insurgency. Five years down the line, Boko Haram insurgents are unrelenting, and resilient in their bloodletting campaign. The wussy fight against Boko Haram apparently explains why Borno residents booed President Buhari during his sympathy visit to Maiduguri. A video of residents who came out early, queued up on both sides of the road along the airport way, chanting in Hausa, ‘Ba ma so’ roughly means: ‘we don’t want.’
In the midst of the hoopla surrounding the continued stay in office of the service chiefs, there's reported inter-agency rivalry, raging battle and power play between the NSA and the Chief of staff, Abba Kyari and also between the COAS - Buratai and the NSA - Babagana Monguno. Premium Times reports that General Buratai reportedly ordered the immediate redeployment of about twenty three army officers attached to the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) in two batches, on February 4 and 10 without replacement. All the officers posted out of the ONSA were reportedly ordered to report at their new posting within three days, failure of which they could face disciplinary action. According to the report, the ONSA facility is without any army protection and this is construed as more about “cutting the NSA to size than maximizing personnel efficiency’’. The implication of this power play is that the redeployed military officers are caught between obeying their most-senior commander and another authority (the NSA) who oversees the entire military architecture. According to a security and political analyst, Mr. Sola Olubanjo, “If it is true that we already have a situation in which military officers are unable to obey the chief of army staff because the NSA asked them not to, then we might not be able to comprehend where the country is headed”. There is no gainsaying the fact that this squeeze-play will distract, hinder the fight against insurgency and demoralize troops. It is preposterous to expect positive results, progress when top echelon security, nay, government officials work at cross-purpose.
Grounds, Overwhelming Calls For The Removal of The Service Chiefs
Bring to mind that Section 8 of Nigeria's public service rules pegs compulsory retirement at 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service, whichever comes first. Similarly, section 4 of the Armed forces Harmonized Terms and Conditions of Service (2017) (HATCOS) stipulates 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. The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) – Abayomi Olonisakin have reportedly put in 38 years in service. The Chief of Army staff (COAS) - Tukur Buratai, Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) - Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas have respectively served 36 years while the Chief of Air staff (CAS) - Sadique Abubakar have reportedly spent 40 years of his life in active military service. Recall that the military bosses were appointed on July 13, 2015.
It follows that if the Civil service rules and the Armed Forces Terms and Conditions of Service are anything to go by, the term of office of the service chiefs expired on July 13, 2017 but it dragged out. There were calls for them to step aside before the 2019 elections but another alibi sufficed: you don't sack service chiefs in the eve of an election. Stability, not results seemingly trumped. So they stayed put. For the sake of clarity and to put this in perspective, Lt. Gen. Olonisakin is said to be Course either 25 or 26 of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) but Course 32 officers are already retiring or being forced, suffocated into retirement ahead of their seniors. This does not augur well for upward mobility of subordinate officers and takes a heavy toll on morale, professionalism. Envisage the psychological impact on troops in the battlefield when they are constantly reminded that their service chief or commander isn't good enough and that their superior is suffocating their career aspirations.
A question that begs for answer, are the military gaffers staying put on the precondition that: they have achieved or exceeded their deliverables or because there are no competent hands to replace them? Is Nigeria or Nigerians safer now than we were five or six years ago? If hypothetically speaking (God forbid) any or all of the military honchos boarded the same aircraft and the end beckons, won't they be replaced afterwards? One reason why the Chiefs are still very much around is because the ‘’Oga-at-the-top’s’’ ego seem to be at stake. A retired military general, he doesn’t want to come across as taking orders from anyone. I think it does more good than harm to have a listening ear and to be decisive. I recommend that our leaders develop and imbibe the trending art of social listening. They should listen in to the pulse of the nation and act expeditiously. If the commander-in-chief is fully cognizant of the grumbling in the military, the negative implications and the commotion this service chief thing has generated, he would have acted swiftly.
Some of us that have served in the military will agree with me that an officer that has put in 40 years in service doesn't work with the same amount of passion, zeal he put in when he was much younger. Explains why Generals seldom mastermind coup and why recruits, newly commissioned officers are more enthusiastic. They need to prove their mettle unlike senior military brass that have nothing to prove, owe no one explanations or apologies. I can assure you that if they have a choice, having sacrificed the best part of their life and got to the pinnacle of their career, these service chiefs would opt to take a bow and tend to their farms, multimillion dollar investments scattered across Nigeria and overseas.
Apart from some vested interests, there seem to be a consensus amongst analysts, stakeholders, retired military officers, that the service chiefs have overstayed their welcome and need to honorably step aside. In a recent poll by Premium Times which lasted for about seven days and was conducted in such a way that made it impractical for a respondent to vote more than once from the same computer or mobile device, participants were asked a single question: “Should service chiefs be removed?” with options of “yes”, “no” and “indifferent.” An overwhelming 3,771 respondents (86.1 per cent) supported the sack. 317 participants (7.2 per cent) kicked against the idea while 292 respondents (6.7 per cent) said they were indifferent about the call.
A diehard proponent of the current administration, Kayode Ogundamisi agrees that it is high time the military gaffers stepped aside. Mr. Kayode Ogundamisi submits that, ‘’The response of government is becoming more predictable, reactive rather than proactive, an attack happens, the presidency issues a condolence message, promise to deal with Boko Haram, some appointees insults our intelligence with unguarded statements then we all move on until the next attack. In a rare demonstration of unity, both opponents and supporters of the government have called for the removal of the service Chiefs, the Presidency seems to have its own strategy, whatever that strategy is, it obviously isn’t working’’. Mr. Ogundamisi goes further to say that, the bulk stops at the desk of the President and Commander in Chief Mohammad Buhari, it is his responsibility to protect Nigerians. Lead, pick the best available in crushing Boko Haram and other criminal elements’’.
Less than two weeks after lawmakers called for the sack of the Service Chiefs, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) led by its Convener, Professor Ango Abdullahi demanded a total overhaul of the Nigeria’s security architecture. The NEF boss opined that the current government has failed to secure its citizens from incessant attacks by bandits and other terrorist groups. Disappointed with the pervasive security challenges in Nigeria, Members of the National Assembly comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution asking President Buhari to sack the service chiefs. The Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, specifically called on President Buhari to resign over the security situation in the country. Some other senators also called for the resignation of the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu.
Before Nigeria Becomes A Slaughter House…
Expressing his worries about persistent insecurity in the North West Nigeria, a Niger State lawmaker at the House of Representatives, Mr. Adamu Chika says he's afraid of visiting his village due to insecurity. Lately, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Adeboye urged Christians across the country to participate in prayer walks, protest to end senseless bloodletting in the country. According to a February 4, 2020 Punch Newspaper editorial titled, ‘’Buhari, bandits are taking over here’’, ‘’bandits have become unstoppable, turning the country into a massive graveyard. Mourning, anguish and lamentations, therefore, have become routine to a lot of hapless citizens, compelling them to wonder what became of the government, whose statutory responsibility of protecting lives is a constitutional guarantee’’. Premium Times reports that at least 245 people were killed in violent attacks in Nigeria in January 2020 alone. Shiroro Progressives Forum (SPF), an umbrella body for youths in Shiroro local government of Niger state and the Coalition of Public Interest Group (CPIG) say ‘’over 500 people had so far been killed by bandits in 320 communities, while not less than N200million was paid as ransom at different times to secure the release of the abductees from their captors since the hoodlums stormed the state in the last three months’’.
In the first week of February, Boko Haram insurgents reportedly killed 30 travelers in Auno, a neighbouring village on the Maiduguri-Damaturu Highway said to be 25 kilometers away from the main town of Maiduguri, the state capital. About 16 members of the same family were burnt to death by bandits who invaded Bakali village in Fatika District, Giwa LGA of Kaduna State. Despite an amnesty granted to bandits by the Governor of Zamfara state, Bello Mattawale, the Zamfara state Commissioner of Police, Usman Nagoggo, on January 8 say no fewer than 6,319 people were killed by bandits in the state in 2019 alone. As I was gathering my thoughts and materials for this essay on February 23, 2020, I stumbled on a report that, Boko Haram (ISWAP) insurgents operated freely for six hours at Garkida town in Gombi LGA of Adamawa State on Friday night. The town is located on the Gombi-Biu – Damaturu Road, which shares proximity with Southern Borno and Sambisa Forest. Reports say police barracks, churches and a house belonging to General Paul Tarfa (Rtd.) were among several buildings burnt by the terrorists during the attack. According to the Expat Insider Survey of 2019 by InterNations, Nigeria is the third most dangerous country in the world due to widespread corruption and insecurity. Recall that on January 16, 2020, the European Parliament, the legislative branch of the European Union, reportedly asserted that progress has stalled in the fight against Boko Haram and Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP). The EU Parliament deplored the increased occurrence and severity of suicide attacks and direct attacks against military positions.
On Regional Security Outfits - Operation Amotekun, Shege-Ka-Fasa et al
Galvanized by growing insecurity in Nigeria, nay, the southwest, governors of the 6 southwest states set up a regional security initiative tagged ‘’Amotekun’’. We hear the 5 Southeast governors are tinkering with a law to create their own regional security outfit. Not to be outdone, a coalition of Northern Groups reportedly launched a regional security outfit code named ‘Operation Shege-Ka-Fasa’ in a bid to tame the raging insecurity ravaging the region. Spokesman of the group, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman said in the past 12 years, the North has struggled with disabling challenges that include dwindling economy, rising poverty, and crippling security situation that has taken a huge toll in lives, property and the overall cohesion of the region. This is a clear message and resounding vote of no confidence on the mainstream federal government security agencies.
I think we need a clean sweep, fresh ideas and change of strategy – preferably a holistic approach that entails inter-alia, being more proactive than reactive. I don't care where the next crop of service chiefs come from as long as they have the capacity and will deliver results. As is tritely said, it would be idiotic to expect a different result if one does the same thing the same way for 5 years. As we say in military parlance, soldier come, soldier go, barrack remains. We need to embed efficacious and seamless succession planning process in the Nigerian military. If former service chiefs like Ihejirika et al didn’t leave, the likes of Buratai won’t be service chief today. I align my thoughts with those asking for the service chiefs to honorably step aside. According to Professor Ango Abdullahi, ‘’in civilized societies, the service chiefs should have thrown in the towel and acknowledged the fact that they cannot handle what is going on’’. Granted new service chiefs may not perform miracles instantaneously but I am confident that injecting fresh ideas, rebooting Nigeria’s national security framework, implementing a holistic approach which encompasses Constitutional reforms, will engender progress. Inter-alia, I think the over-centralization of political power cum security paraphernalia in Nigeria is not fit for purpose, and not sustainable. High time we restructured Nigeria, decentralized and rejigged the security agencies or risk the country coming apart at the seams.
This is my considered opinion...As Rudolf Okonkwo would say, correct me if I am right.
©Don Okereke, a security analyst, thought leader, writer, active citizen and ex-serviceman.
February 23, 2020