By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
To say that the Nigerian military is under pressure at the moment would be an understatement: the institution is literally embattled with many fingers being pointed at one who was much touted in 2014/2015 as having the magic wand with which the decades-old rot in the institution would be addressed.
That one person, who became the rallying symbol of the political opposition to then President Goodluck Jonathan is the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. But alas; the cries over, and fall-outs of insecurity in the country may have even gotten louder.
In the past two weeks, the army has been in the news almost on a daily basis and not exactly for the right reasons. Troubled over some of the reports from his men on the field, the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, last week appointed new army commanders to lead the Boko Haram war in the North-east.
The reshuffle is coming in the wake of renewed pressure on the military to end the 10-year insurgency that both the civil and military authorities had earlier declared had been technically defeated.
Among others, Major-General Bulama Biu, the commander of the Boko Haram war was replaced by AK Ibrahim, a brigadier-general who was transferred from the Army Headquarters to 7 Division Headquarters in Maiduguri. Mr. Ibrahim was made the theatre commander of Sector 1 Operation Lafiya Dole and acting-general officer commanding (GOC) of 7 Division, the main formation overseeing the Boko Haram war.
Biu, who had come under a gale of criticism for allegedly hosting ‘a lavish party in the wake of the killing of a colonel, a captain and five other soldiers by insurgents,’ is however not leaving the war theatre completely as he moves on to command the Sector 3 Operation Lafiya Dole and Sector 3 Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) units.
Moving away from the Boko Haram challenge but still staying within the geographical North East, the army is also fighting to contain the very displeasing uproar that greeted the conduct of some of its men in Ibi, Taraba State and in which they had opened fire on and killed three officers off the Nigerian Police Force on anti-kidnapping duties in the state. Already, the Defence Headquarters has instituted an inquiry into that tragic face-off, which most curiously, led to the release and escape of the suspect in the kidnap saga, which the policemen had already apprehended and put in handcuffs!
And underscoring the fact that the ‘siege’ on the army is sufficiently national, it also last week went into renewed troubleshooting mode following reports of a fresh clash involving its men and members of an alleged cult group in the Isheri Olofin Community of Ogun State.
Reacting to the incident however, the statement from the 81 Division Nigerian Army explained that it had no hand in the alleged killing of three victims as was being insinuated and that its only role in the incident was that its ‘patrol team in response to a distressed call made a prompt intervention to forestall bloody clash among the “Isheri boys” who are allegedly referred to as a dangerous cult group terrorizing the community.’
The statement equally underscored that ‘there was no firing or exchange of fire between the troops and the alleged cult group throughout the period of the troops’ intervention,’ even as it admitted that ‘however, one of our soldiers got a deep cut on the head arising from the troops’ efforts to avert lethal conflict in the community.’
Before the Isheri Olofin incident there had been heightened tension in other parts of the South West following a spike in the incidence of criminality in the region that were being randomly associated with ‘Fulani herdsmen-kidnappers.’ Two of the more notable ones involved the daughter of Afenifere leader, Mrs Funke Orekunrin and ‘pastors’ of the Redeemed Christian Church of God that were on their way to the ministry’s recently convened Annual Convention 2019. While the ‘redeemed pastors’ were rescued, Mrs Orekunrin was killed in the incident and has since been buried.
Alarmed, the Presidency engaged in frenetic troubleshooting to douse the then rising state of tension in the region.
Root of the challenge
Persons knowledgeable in the workings of security organizations that Business Hallmark spoke to in the course of this report averred that indeed, the crisis in Nigeria’s security space was indeed long-running and deep-seated. Tracing a lot of the problems to the widening insecurity challenge in the country which has in their view, since overwhelmed the police, they recalled a National Assembly finding that even last year, troops had been deployed to no less than 28 states in the country.
‘But then this is unusual as the military by its nature and training is not a social force. The mere act of continually exposing them to the civil population and using them for ordinarily routine policing activities is bound to be counter-productive in the long run and that is part of the challenge,’ an analyst who would not be named, remarked.
Other precipitating challenges mentioned by respondents include alleged late or non-payment of salaries and allowances, inadequate fighting gear, long posting spells in combat zones leading to fatigue and exhaustion and poor welfare conditions.
Indeed, at a point recently, concern was even being raised that incidents of desertion and unwillingness to confront the adversary which had been raised in the Jonathan era and which had led to the court-martial of several combatants may have begun to rear its head once again.
One such validation for this came in media accounts of the address of the Chief of Army Staff at a Transformational leadership workshop for troops.
According to the report, the COAS was quoted as saying:
“It is unfortunate but the truth is that almost every setback the Nigerian Army has had in our operations in recent times can be traced to insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks or simply insufficient commitment to a common national/military course by those at the frontlines.
“Many of those on whom the responsibility for physical actions against the adversary squarely falls are yet to fully take ownership of our common national or service cause.”
The Army Chief was however to subsequently disclaim this statement, attributing it to what he termed media mischief.
Nepotism as additional albatross
Among other explanations being proffered for the crisis in the military is that of nepotism. Here, it is being observed that President Muhammadu Buhari may have in his first term literally broken the record of being the Nigerian leader with the most exclusive security appointments in the history of Nigeria. This had drawn flaks from Nigerians across Southern belt with a charge of ethnicity being the major leitmotif in the chorus of condemnation that followed the development.
Many influential voices in the South had said the pattern of the appointments by the President did not reflect federal character and the diverse nature of the country.
BusinessHallmark findings showed that 14 of the nation’s 17 security agencies are being headed by Northerners. All of them were appointed by President Buhari.
Only three security agencies are headed by Southerners, a situation Dr. Kolade Asimiyu, an expert in security told Business Hallmark was “worrisome.”
In the Buhari first term, the Minister of Interior, Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau (retd.), under whose purview are the Prisons Service, Immigration Service, Fire Service and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, hailed from Kano State.
At the same time, the then and yet serving Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, hailed from Borno State, while the National Security Adviser, Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd.), was equally from Borno State. Also from Borno State is the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu.
The former Minister of Defence, Brig.-Gen. Mansur Dan Ali (retd.), hailed from Zamfara State, while the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, is from Bauchi State. The former Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, hailed from Niger State, while the current one, Abubakar Mohammed Adamu is another Northerner from Nassarawa State.
Also from Niger State is the Commandant-General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Abdullahi Muhammadu. The former Director-General of the Department of State Services, Lawal Musa Daura, was also from Katsina State. After he was removed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in the aftermath of the assault on the National Assembly, and replaced with Mathew Seyeifa from Bayelsa State. Upon his return from his medical vacation, President Buhari quickly replaced him with another Northerner, Yusuf Bichi.
The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service, Muhammed Babandede, is from Jigawa State, while the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd), is from Bauchi State.
The Controller-General of the Nigeria Prison Service, Alhaji Ja’afaru Ahmed, is from Kebbi State, while the Federal Road Safety Commission boss, Corps Marshal Boboye Oyeyemi, is from Kwara State. Also, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, is Ahmed Rufai Abubakar.
However, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, is from Ekiti State in the South-West. But critics say that in the organogram, this position is without any significant heft as he practically does not directly control any real troops.
At the same time also, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, is from Cross River State.
On the constitution of his security appointments, critical voices have expressed concerns over time, with former President Olusegun Obasanjo charging about a gravely suspected “Fulanisation agenda”.
On his part, the spokesperson for the Ijaw National Congress, Mr. Victor Borubo, told Business Hallmark that the security appointments in Buhari presidency suggested the President was “tribalistic” and not “interested” in the country’s diversity.
“The President is not showing interest in diversity and this has led to the loss of confidence in his administration. I think this is why different agitation groups are springing up across the country,” Borubo lamented.
As he gets set to rev up the reins of government consequent upon the anticipated swearing in of ministers this week, the jury remains out as to whether the President could perhaps now begin to change some of the security appointments to reflect federal character as has been petitioned by different commentators and groups in the country, On this, Borubo says: “I do not think so. He does not strike me as a listening President. If he were, we would not have got to this level. He does not really respond to issues. He carries on as if nothing is happening. We are going through a lot of pain today because the President is carrying on like a tribalist. What he needs to do right now is to save the country.”
The National Publicity Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said the mostly Northern composition of the leadership of the country’s security agencies was “very” dangerous and could lead to the heating up of the polity.
“The pattern of the appointments today has not shown enough sensitivity to the diversity of Nigeria. When you have the IG of the Police, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Air Staff, Minister of Defence, Minister of the Interior and the NSA appointed from a section of the country, what that means is that when the apparatchiks are meeting, it is a section of the country that is being represented; it means that the views of other sections are not accommodated, that is very dangerous.
“That kind of arrangement is a situation from which genocide could germinate because there is no balance in the security architecture of the country. This is not healthy for the polity. When you look at the table today, especially at the composition of the heads of the security agencies, I don’t think everybody is comfortable.”
The spokesperson for the Ijaw Youth Congress Worldwide, Mr. Eric Omare, said the situation was worrisome and unhealthy for the country. He called on the President to make changes to reflect federal character.
Omare said, “The style of the President’s recruitment is worrisome. When you appoint people from only one part of the country, it gives room for concern. For instance, we have a security challenge in the Niger Delta and we expected he would appoint someone from here who knows how to deal with it. However, he didn’t do so.
“We are not surprised because looking at the background of the President, he does not really know the country he is governing. Look at the people around him; there is no diversity. It is worrisome and we call on him to make changes with immediate effect.”
The spokesperson for the Afenifere Renewal Group, Mr. Kunle Famoriyo, told this newspaper that the President’s action suggested that he was promoting a Northern agenda.
He added that the situation depicted that the President was only comfortable in working with, and for Northerners.
Famoriyo said, “It is very clear to everybody that the appointments of the heads of the security agencies tend to be skewed towards the North. It is clear to everybody the appointments are seemingly part of a Northern agenda than being pan-Nigeria agenda. This is clear for everybody to see.
“Does that mean there is no person from the South-West, South-East and the South-South that is qualified and trained to hold any of those key positions? One is not happy that what is supposed to have national character is not having it. That is the issue that must be looked into.”
Famoriyo, however, urged President Buhari to make his appointments reflect national character so that he would not be labeled as a Northern President as against being Nigeria’s President.
One other point which analysts make is that given the sacrificial nature of military service, it takes a higher nationalistic goal to motivate officers and men to stand up to be counted in service when the chips are down. They therefore link the dwindling levels of morale in the services to the overall national socio-political complex where many are asking for greater levels of equilibrium in the polity and call for a more holistic appreciation of the extant challenge.
Notwithstanding the complaints raised this far, there are concerns that things may not fare any better in the second term. Starting with the ministerial list (though portfolios are yet to be assigned), many who spoke with this newspaper are of the view that the South may not feature in major security appointments once again in the Buhari second term.
It is highly rumoured that General Magashi (retd.) may replace Lt-Gen. Dambazzau as Interior minister, while another Northerner may also be appointed to replace Gen. Mansur as Minister of Defence. And that, commentators worry, may not have addressed the thorny issue of an alleged nepotistic bent in the appointments of leading lights within the nation’s security architecture.
The view of pessimists is reinforced by the fact that when President Buhari himself volunteered an answer in an Arise TV January interview as to why he had not changed service chiefs this far, he had stated that he was being ‘very careful on removal of the service chiefs because you don’t know the ambition of the ones coming up…I am measuring the options critically, when you have a case of emergency, if you don’t wait for an appropriate time to do it, then you create competition within the service, there are so many ambitious people waiting, only one man can be chief of army staff in the army, only one man can be the inspector-general of police….”
Well, the waiting game continues. Even as the nation bleeds on.
SERVICE CHIEFS UNDER OBASANJO
Lt Gen Victor Malu (COAS May 1999 – April 2001)
Lt Gen Alexander Ogomudia (COAS April 2001 – June 2003) Later Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
Lt Gen Martin Luther Agwai (COAS June 2003 June 2006) Later Commander of the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur.
Lt Gen Owoye Andrew Azazi (COAS 1 June 2006 – May 2007) Later Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
Lt Gen Luka Yusuf
CHIEFS OF DEFENSE STAFF
Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi (1999–2003).
General Alexander Ogomudia (June 2003 – June 2006)
General Martin Luther Agwai (June 2006 – May 25, 2007)
General Owoye Andrew Azazi (May 25, 2007 – August 20, 2008)
Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike (August 20, 2008 – September 8, 2010)
CHIEFS OF NAVAL STAFF
Vice Admiral J. Ayinla DSS (1998 – 1999)
Vice Admiral V.K. Ombu CFR (1999 – 2001)
Vice Admiral S.O. Afolayan (2001 – 2005)
Vice Admiral G.T.A. Adekeye (2005 – 2008)
CHIEFS OF AIR STAFF
Air Marshal Isaac Alfa (1999–2001)
Air Marshal Jonah Wuyep (2001–2006)
Air Marshal Paul Dike (2006–2008)
Service Chiefs under Yar’Adua
Chief of Defence Staff—- Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike
Chief of Army Staff— Lt Gen. Abdulrahman Bello Danbazzau
Chief of Naval Staff— Vice Admiral Ishaya Ibrahim (Navy)
Chief of Air Staff— Air Marshal Oluseyi Petirin (Air Force)
Service Chiefs under Buhari
Chief of Army Staff—-Major-General Tukur Buratai
Chief of Naval Staff– Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas
Chief of Air Staff– Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar