Much ado over Service Chiefs

These are certainly not the best of times for Nigeria’s Service Chiefs. Many are asking for their removal over worsening insecurity across the country.

The new thinking is that the realities of the moment demand that they should be relieved of their duties and fresh hands engaged to reinvigorate the counter-insurgency and counter-terror campaign.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; Chief of Army Staff Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai; and Chief of the Naval Staff Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas are in the eye of the storm. Nigerians, more than ever before, are having nightmares over the spate of killings across the country. While the Boko Haram insurgents have scaled up their mindless attacks in the Northeast, bandits and other terror groups are wreaking havoc in many parts of the Northwest and Northcentral zones. Bandits, kidnappers and other criminal elements have also been haunting residents of Abuja, the nation’s capital city, and its environs. The opinion of many citizens is that the Service Chiefs are tired hands and legs and that it is time for them to go.

The call for the retirement of the Service Chiefs has also echoed in the two chambers of the National Assembly. Many senators and the House of the Representatives’ members have called for the removal or voluntary resignation of the military chiefs. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and two of the leading socio-cultural groups, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Afenifere have also joined the call.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan, while addressing reporters a few days ago, declared that the nation’s security architecture, as presently constituted, could not produce the desired results in securing the nation and its people. Lawan stressed that the Senate owed Nigerians the responsibility to rise above political partisanship and intervene and change the country’s approach to the handling of security matters. At the resumption of plenary shortly after, over 50 senators called for the sacking of the Service Chiefs, insisting that they have served too long and are already “bereft of ideas” to tackle insecurity. The military chiefs were appointed in 2015. About the same time, the House of Representatives called on the military chiefs to voluntarily resign. The lawmakers had urged President Buhari to sack the military quartet if they failed to resign.

Only last Sunday, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, led members of the Church across the country on a peaceful march to condemn the spate of killings across the country.

Apart from the growing attacks Boko Haram, which Nigerians are blaming on the delayed restructuring of the security architecture, others believe that the continued stay in office of the Service Chiefs poses another serious threat to the health of the country’s military.

Security experts and analysts have also learnt a voice to the call on the military chiefs to quit. In an open letter to the President, the founder of PRNigeria, an online news platform, Yushau A. Shuaib, said the retention of the Service Chiefs would jeopardise the careers progression of other senior officers. This, according to him, has induced premature retirements of senior officers without being allowed to reach the peak of their careers.

In the letter to the President, Shuaib pointed out that the Service Chiefs have exceeded their Run-Out-Dates (ROD), which is the mandatory 35 years of military service, and the additional discretionary extension, which he said, is generally time-bound.

Shuaib’s letter reads: “As you may be aware, Mr. President, apart from attaining the ROD, the tenures of the Defence and Service Chiefs have since expired, going by the revised Armed Forces of Nigeria Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service (HTACOS) for officers.

“In Section 09.08 of the said HTACOS, which is the authoritative and official service order in the military, it is stated that an officer appointed to the substantive appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Air Staff will hold the appointment for a continuous period of two years. The appointment could be extended for another two years from the date of expiration of the initial two-year period.

“The service chiefs were first appointed in July 2015 and their tenures were extended for an additional two years in 2017, which finally expired in 2019. It has always been the standard practice, since the return of democratic governance to Nigeria in 1999, for Service Chiefs to be in office for a maximum term of two years, except on a few occasions of discretionary extension by Mr. President, after which replacements are made.

“As in the practice in the past, the exit of a service chief automatically impels the departure of their course mates from the service, such that officers who are next in seniority, such as the Chiefs of various corps and departments at the service headquarters; general officers commanding; commandants; brigade commanders; and directors then experience an upward movements in their careers.

“As it is now, at least five sets, and generations of regular course (RC) members, including those in the 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st, 32nd and 33rd Courses, with the exception of Lt. General Adeosun, have left the service without any of them attaining the highest military positions in their various services. There is the likelihood that those of the 33rd and 34th Courses may also not have the privilege of producing a service chief among them if this trend continues. With limited vacancy, only a few officers can be promoted, while several other brilliant officers would be forced to go on retirement.”

He argued further that “With adequate resources provided to the military chiefs for procurements, recruitments and the training of personnel, they have performed to the best of their abilities; yet recent developments call for more strategic thinking, fresh ideas and a change in the administration and style of managing generations of military talents.”

Amid the deafening call for their removal, the military chiefs met with the President. There was no word from the President after the meeting, suggesting that the Commander-In-Chief was still pleased with the performance of his military appointees.

Speaking shortly after a joint security meeting at the State House, the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, said the matter of the military chiefs was not discussed at the meeting. The meeting held barely 24 hours after the federal legislature called for the removal of the officers.

Monguno said: “The meeting made an appraisal of the current security situation in the country and took a look at the possibilities, the opportunities available to government in addressing most of the recent challenges.

“There were discussions, and at the end of the day, the most important thing that we came up with was the need for collaboration; both between governmental agencies and the larger Nigerian society, because of the type of the insurgencies we are faced with, the complexities, the multiplicity of all kinds of issues.

“There is a need for parties, governmental agencies on one hand and the larger society, to collaborate more vigorously. There is a need for us to deal with these problems in a comprehensive manner.

“Therefore, the Council has decided to take a closer look at issues that will help us, not just at the federal level or at the state level, but right down to the local government level. But this is going to be done after due consultations with the relevant stakeholders”.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also spoke along the same line when he spoke on the security situation on Monday. Without a word concerning the military chiefs, Osinbajo announced plans for increased equipment and personnel for the Armed Forces to enable them to tackle the growing insecurity in the land.

Osinbajo said: “Osinbajo, who spoke during the visit to the Villa, of clergymen under the auspices of Arewa Pastors Forum for Peace, was quoted by his spokesman Laolu Akande, as assuring Christians that the Federal Government was “handling security well”.

The Vice President said: “We are doing everything that needs to be done.

“We are handling security well, and as you know, including military deployment in diverse fields, like the Boko Haram in the Northeast.

“We have to now recruit more into the army, and much faster than we ever did because we need men on the ground; resources also – to buy more arms, to buy more platforms.

“At the last meeting of the National Security Council that was held on Thursday, we had discussions on how to beef up the military’s platforms. How do we beef up the numbers? How do we recruit more men and women into the army? How do we collaborate more with local vigilante, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) and all that,”

“So, there is a lot going on in terms of trying to beef up security. The security situation is one that is very challenging. We are also looking at aspects of surveillance – how we can do more aerial surveillance using drones and electronic devices to improve surveillance.”

However, some stakeholders in the security sector do not believe that the security situation would improve simply by removing the Service Chiefs.

A few of them are of the view that a solution lies in enhanced inter-agency collaboration and citizens’ participation. They also canvased robust intelligence gathering and sharing in the counter-insurgency and war against terrorist campaigns.

For instance, Interior Minister, Rauf Aregbesola believed that effective management and maintenance of peace and security could only be achieved through cooperation among security agencies and citizens. Aregbesola spoke while addressing the Service Chiefs and Heads of para-military agencies during a workshop organised by the Ministry of Defence in Abuja recently.

According to the minister, “We cannot but work together to achieve the desired objective of acquisition of peace. You must acquire peace before you can maintain peace. We are in a special period as a nation considering the spate of economic and consequential security challenges that we are grappling with. For effective containment of the security challenges, we cannot overlook the need for leadership and synergy in the administration and management of the resources which are institutional, material and human that we deploy to neutralize the threat and their promoters. There cannot be any other way. We must respect one another, we must seek to coordinate our activities, we must collaborate and cooperate.”

Speaking after a meeting with the president on Monday, House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila said the generality of the opinion “is that the service chiefs should go”.

“That was evident in our debates in the House of Representatives and the Senate, but, sometimes, you don’t want a knee-jack reaction.

“Many of us identify that something drastic has to be done, there’s also the school of thought that says since we are talking about banditry, kidnapping and murders, what have the armed forces got to do with that, anywhere in the world? So the question then arises that if he changes the service chiefs, does that address the issues of kidnapping and banditry? The army, navy and air force are outfits set up to tackle external aggression. It is the police that is set up for internal security, such as we are all witnessing.

“That’s talking about Service chiefs, has the Inspector-General of Police met up with his responsibilities? The question is if we now narrow it that to the Inspector General to Police, many will argue that he has done a very good job and many will argue with you that he’s hamstrung, straight-jacketed, there’s very little he can do in the face of no equipment, no funding and we explained to Mr President that we have to increase funding, we have to recruit more,” he said.

Lawan, who was also at the meeting, said the country should do everything for the security agencies to perform better, concluding that “we have reached a tipping point that everybody in Nigeria is concerned about the security situation”.

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