Kyari, Buhari, Monguno

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA and BAYO OBAJEMU

Moments after being sworn in as Nigeria’s new service chiefs on July 13, 2015, they stood behind President Muhammadu Buhari’s shoulder, their faces betraying no emotion. Some hours earlier, the president had sacked the heads of the army, navy and air force, criticizing their inability to lead the military in the fight against Islamist group, Boko Haram.

In their place, he had named the Head of the Nigerian Army Training and Doctrine Command in Minna, Niger State, Abayomi Olonisakin, the Chief of Defence Staff; the Commander of the Multinational Joint Task Force which had its headquarters in Ndjamena, Chad, then Major General Tukur Buratai, the new Chief of Army Staff; Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar as Chief of Air Staff; Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas as the new chief of naval staff and Air Vice-Marshal Morgan Riku the Chief of Defence Intelligence.

The only retired general among them, Major General Babagana Monguno, was named National Security Adviser (NSA).

As serving and retired generals, the new service chiefs knew the costs. They had fought several battles in the past. It was their first day in office, but the bargain they had just made with President Buhari’s administration was clear: win the war against insurgency at all cost and buoy up the administration against any rebellion.

While they have largely failed in fulfilling the arduous task of battling insurgency to the ground, they have been able to keep the president in power despite widespread opposition from political opponents and the verdict of non-performance on his government. However, in the course of holding power for the president, they have become very powerful and untouchable.

Some political analysts who spoke with Business Hallmark over the weekend argued that though President Muhammadu Buhari may still be the most powerful person in Nigeria by virtue of his position, however, his service chiefs have become too powerful after sharing power with him for too long. For this reason, they maintained that the president cannot touch them despite calls for their sack by many Nigerians.

“They will remain untouchables as long as their interests align with that of their employer (Buhari). Some of them, particularly the chief of army staff have been cited in cases of corruption and abuse of office. Yet, President Buhari appears unable to beat them into line. Without them, I think the president is a toast. They are the one keeping some angry elements in the military at bay. Without the president, they will also lose their power. The pendulum is in their favour. They are untouchable”, declared a retired colonel who did not want his identity revealed.

BH findings revealed that of all the service chiefs to date, none have been more powerful in office than the present crop of occupants. It has not always been this way. Checks revealed that no service chief spend more than four years in office, except during the military era when the then Lieutenant General Sani Abacha, served for five years (August 1985 to August 1990.)

The other exception was Major General David Ejoor who served as COAS for four years, 6 months from January 1971 to July 1975.

The shortest in the office were Lieutenant General Alani Akinrinade, six months (from October 1979 to April 1980 and Lieutenant General Owoye Andrew Azazi (11 months), from June 2006 to May 2007. However, these were COAS under civilian regimes.

The present service chiefs, on the other hand, had stayed in office beyond their constitutionally approved tenure. While they were appointed in July 2015, they were expected to leave office July 2017. The president again renewed their appointment for another term which expired in July 2018, despite being due for retirement having spent more than 35 years in military service.

According to Section 8 of the public service rules, the compulsory retirement age for all grades in the service shall be 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service, whichever is earlier.

”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,” the law reads.

Also, Section 4 of the harmonised terms and conditions of service 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 covers date of enlistment into service as soldiers/ratings/airmen for regular commission, short service commission, direct short service commission, direct regular commission, and executive commission officers, including other commissions.

However, despite several protests from lawyers and retired military officers, President Buhari again extended the tenure of the service chiefs for another six months, ending December 2019.

According to the Public Relations Officer to the Defence Minister, Colonel Tukur Gusau, the extension was largely based on the efforts of the military chiefs in tackling terrorism in the North East and addressing other security issues.

Two months after the third extension, the service chiefs are still in office despite the surge in insecurity and calls for their removal.

Meanwhile, calls for the sack of the security chiefs resonated again recently following the upsurge in activities of insurgents, bandits and Fulani herdsmen. Unable to take it any longer, the Senate and House of Representatives called for the replacement of service the chiefs who they claimed were no longer capable of delivering on their mandate to tackle insecurity in the country. They urged them to either resign or be fired by President Buhari.

The lawmakers maintained that the recent upsurge in security-related challenges and the devastating loss of lives and properties across the country was enough ground for them to ask for the service chiefs’ exit.

Despite the calls, the presidency has decided to retain his service chiefs, dismissing claims that President Buhari does not have the interest of Nigerians at heart with respect to security.

According to the presidency, President Buhari is still retaining the service chiefs because at the moment they are useful in the fight against insecurity.

“Removal or sack of service chiefs does not stop all of what we are experiencing. Whether we like it or not, we are in a war situation. The president and the commander-in-chief are seeing things that others cannot see. This is why he deserves the benefit of the doubt”, said Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu. The presidential media aide added that due to the collaboration of the presidency with the security heads, President Muhammadu Buhari is privy to intelligence information which those Nigerians calling for the overhauling know nothing about.

BH, however, gathered that the retention of the service chiefs may not be unconnected with the role the service chiefs played during the last general election in ensuring that the election favoured the president and his party, particularly in the South East and South-South.

Several sources in the military and the presidency alleged that owing to the present state of the nation, the present administration has lost the confidence of many powerful individuals, institutions and groups, and that it is only the military that is keeping the government in power.

The Managing Director of Hakes Security, Colonel Hassan Stan-Labo (retd), while alluding to the belief that the president could not just sack the service chiefs, noted that though the service chiefs have stayed long in office, it was equally important to note that they are appointees of the president and commander-in-chief.

“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,” he said.

Some angry military officers who spoke to BH alleged that officers are quietly complaining that the president 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. This some alleged, demoralizing officers even those at the frontline of the war and some would not want to to put their best since there is no vacancy at the top.

For instance, the chief of Defence Staff is course 25, while the top generals next to the service chiefs are Course 34, a difference of nine years. The Chief of Naval Staff is Course 26, while that of Army is Course 29. Military experts said that the gap between the service chiefs and their top generals is so wide that camaraderie would be difficult to achieve. They said the president has unwittingly replicated the gerontocratic political leadership in the military.

Chief of Army Staff from 1966

No.Chief of Army StaffTook officeLeft officeTime in office
1Lieutenant colonel
Yakubu Gowon FSS
(born 1934)
Later military ruler
January 1966July 19666 months
2Lieutenant colonel
Joseph Akahan FSS
(1937–1968)
May 1967May 1968 †1 year
3Major general
Hassan Katsina RCDSPSC
(1933–1995)
May 1968January 19712 years, 8 months
4Major general
David Ejoor
(1932–2019)
January 1971July 19754 years, 6 months
5Lieutenant general
Theophilus Danjuma
(born 1938)
July 1975October 19794 years, 3 months
6Lieutenant general
Ipoola Alani Akinrinade CFR FSS
(born 1939)
Later Chief of Defence Staff
October 1979April 19806 months
7Lieutenant general
Gibson Jalo CFR FSS, JSS
(1939–2000)
Later Chief of Defence Staff
April 1980October 19811 year, 6 months
8Lieutenant general
Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi CFR FSS
(born 1940)
October 1981October 19832 years
9Major general
Ibrahim Babangida
(born 1941)
Later military ruler
January 1984August 19851 year, 7 months
10Lieutenant general
Sani Abacha GCON , DSS, mni
(1943–1998)
Later military ruler
August 1985August 19905 years
11Lieutenant general
Salihu Ibrahim FSS , FHWC
(1925–2018)
August 1990September 19933 years, 1 month
12Lieutenant general
Aliyu Mohammed Gusau DSS, rcds
(born 1943)
September 1993November 19932 months
13Major general
Chris Alli CRG, DSS, ndc, psc(+)
(born 1944)
November 1993August 19949 months
14Major general
Alwali Kazir DSS, Usawc, psc(+)
(born 1947)
as Chief of Army
August 1994March 19961 year, 7 months
15Lieutenant general
Ishaya Bamaiyi DSS, Usawc, psc(+)
(born 1949)
March 1996May 19993 years, 2 months
16Lieutenant general
Victor Malu DSS, mni, fwc, psc
(1947–2017)
May 1999April 20011 year, 11 months
17Lieutenant general
Alexander Ogomudia
(born 1949)
Later Chief of Defence Staff
April 2001June 20032 years, 2 months
18Lieutenant general
Martin Luther Agwai
(born 1948)
Later Commander of the United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur
June 2003June 20063 years
19Lieutenant general
Owoye Andrew Azazi
(1952–2012)
Later Chief of Defence Staff
1 June 2006May 200711 months
20Lieutenant general
Luka Yusuf CFR, GSS, GPP, DSO, psc(+), fwc, Msc
(1952–2009)
June 2007August 20081 year, 3 months
21Lieutenant general
Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau CFR, GSS, psc, ndc, fwc(+), PhD
(born 1954)
August 2008September 20102 years, 1 month
22Lieutenant general
Azubuike Ihejirika CFR, GSS, psc(+), fwc, fniqs
(born 1956)
September 2010January 20143 years, 4 months
23Lieutenant general
Kenneth Minimah GSS, psc(+), fwc
(born 1959)
January 2014July 20151 year, 6 months
24Lieutenant general
Tukur Yusuf Buratai NAM, GSS, psc(+), ndc (BD)
(born 1960)
July 2015Incumbent4 years, 7 months