By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, recommended to the National Assembly for confirmation/ratification some senior and war-tested officers – Major General Lucky Irabor, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru, Rear Admiral Auwal Gambo, and AVM Isyaka Amao – for appointment as service chiefs.
In effect, he had accepted the resignation of the former service chiefs – Major General Abayomi Olonisakin, Major General Tukur Buratai, Rear Admiral Ibok-Efe Ibas, Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar – who had stayed on at the posts well beyond the statutory tradition at the pleasure of their boss.
The new appointments caused a return a national pastime- the ethnicity of the appointees.
Southeast leaders complained that their zone was not represented. The Ika man was not Igbo enough. You see how preposterous things have become. Yet, the incumbent government has stirred up ethnic feelings more than any government in recent memory. We were however spared the anomaly of having most of the chiefs coming from one section of the country in the recent appointments. Garba Shehu’s response to a question on BBC was off the mark. It gave more room for criticisms. The sensitivities of our ethnic groups must be respected always.
There had been strident calls from all quarters on the president to terminate the appointments of the former chiefs. The insurgency was taking its toll on the nation. The level of insecurity as occasioned by kidnappings, invasion and near decimation of communities and villages in the northeast and Kaduna and Katsina States was alarming. Criminals masquerading as herdsmen plundered farms and killed at will.
In December last year the president was embarrassed when on the same day he arrived his hometown on a brief visit, gunmen struck at GSS Kankara Secondary school and kidnapped about three hundred students. The audacity of the crime was shocking to say the least. For nearly two years, the president had stuck tenaciously to the service chiefs he knew, was familiar with and had faith in. He rejected calls to disengage them.
No matter what we say, officials who work with President Buhari are assured of stability in office. He is not one to wake up and suddenly fire an aide in the Trumpian style. We recall how long it took him to ask then Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun to leave the cabinet after the NYSC certificate scandal. There is nothing like having a boss who does not play to the gallery in appointments and dismissals.
However, the tenures of the service chiefs had to end someday. No one remains in office forever, no matter how good they are on the job. Besides, service chiefs who are appointed like commanders in time of war, are judged by the success of their campaigns in the battlefront. No sentiments. If the C-in-C concludes that a commander is losing too much ground, there is usually no waste of time withdrawing the man involved and posting someone else.
For example, during the 1967-1970 civil war in Nigeria Col. Benjamin Adekunle of the 3rd Marine Commando who had charismatically led the forces in the push to take Port Harcourt, was withdrawn and Col Olusegun Obasanjo took over the command. The rest as they say is history. Nigerians were restive when the fight against Boko Haramseemed to have slipped into a lull and the Nigerian Army continued to lose ground to the scoundrels who commit haram in the name of Allah! Something drastic had to be done.
President Buhari as a candidate in 2015 promised to defeat Boko Haram. He then appointed new commanders at the time to carry out the presidential mandate. In December 2015, the president declared the ‘technical defeat’ of Boko Haram. As it turned out, Boko Haram has remained deadly. New strategies must be developed to contain their menace and save the lives of Nigerians. It is against this background that the appointment of new service chiefs was received with great excitement.
The nation is technically at war. We seem to burst at the seams. In all parts of the country and in different degrees, the nation is in a frightening security situation. For me the new appointments can only make meaning if they offer hope that the tide changes. This we cannot know till they fully assume office. It is worrying though that these gallant men had been part of the system in the last five odd years. What new strategy can they introduce that could turn the tide? Is it in deploying more men and material into the combat zone? Is it is acquiring new equipment and weaponry? Is it in motivating the men fighting in the field? Do we have the national will, strategy, and resources to defeat the earth-scorching vandals currently fomenting trouble in the country? What strategy will work if the armed forces cannot be equipped to deal with the war situation? How will they deal with the foreigners who are now found in the deep south, claiming that all lands belong to them?
For the new service chiefs to succeed in their mission, the nation needs to summon the political will to approach the war from a holistic perspective. Modern equipment is needed. Cooperation with neighbouring countries is mandatory. The enemy must be properly defined. Treating ‘repentant’ Boko Haramvandals is counterproductive. We need the support of the international community in prosecuting the war. Hoodlums have taken advantage of the situation. Policing structure and methods must change. The army, air force and navy are constitutionally mandated to defend the sovereignty of the country. The porous borders in the northeast must be secured. All towns and cities under the control of bandits and Boko Haram must be liberated. I am assuming that all such towns have been identified and the strategy to recover them outlined. The army, in collaboration with the Police, must take decisive steps to tackle the problem of herdsmen attacking farmers. if food production across the country is hampered by the savage attacks and clashes, the security situation will deteriorate further.
While congratulating the new broom offered by the new appointments, it is apposite to state that the national interest must be always considered in the decision-making process. It is not part of the national interest for deadly herdsmen and kidnappers to be embedded in the forests and bushes of states across the land. This is one of the security issues that the new chiefs must point out to the political class. It will remain a source of tension between ethnic nationalities in the country.
Finally, a new military strategy that will decapitate Boko Haram and curtail the menacing and bloody activities of bandits and other criminal gangs. What Nigerians want to see in three months is progress in the quest of liberating our people from the stranglehold of criminality.
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