Nigeria’s military service chiefs and the rising insecurity

622 views | Victor Gai | June 25, 2020

Despite huge military successes against the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and the adoption of a new strategy towards combating banditry in the North West, the clamour for the removal of the military service chiefs, is rising to a fever pitch of late.

Nigerians are unanimous on the need to change guards in the armed forces to give a breath of fresh air to the fight against Boko Haram and bandits.

In reality, the bulk of the work has already been done in the North East against Boko Haram and what remains now is just clearance operation, while a new strategy has already been adopted to eliminate the bandits in the North West.

But it seems like the service chiefs have long become war-weary and basking in the euphoria of their modest successes, leaving off their guards and creating a vacuum which the criminals and terrorists capitalised on lately.

Nigerians, including the National Assembly, are convinced that it is high time to change the service chiefs and even the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, have never hidden the fact that the service chiefs needed to be changed.

But why President Buhari still keeps them despite the public outcry is however not clear to Nigerians.

Meanwhile, the various protests by Nigerian victims of banditry and terrorism and the criticisms against the service chiefs, point to the fact that all is not well.

And for the first time, in the face of pressures, President Muhammadu Buhari gave a matching order to the service chiefs to end the impunity or risk the hammer. This is coming on the heels of the unending massacre taking place in the states of Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna and Katsina.

With the Fulani herdsmen attacks in the North Central states of Plateau, Kaduna, Taraba and Benue, it can safely be said that the entire north is under siege. Ironically, that is the region that gave the President the highest number of votes.

But the signs were there that the service chiefs are war-weary, have lost focus and deserve to be rested.

For instance, at the height of the war against Boko Haram, the lack of equipment to prosecute the war and the declining staff motivation at the war theatre, all that these military chiefs were interested in was establishing universities.

In 2018, the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Buratai, established the Nigerian Army University, located in Biu Borno state- his native town. The university was approved by the National Universities Commission (NUC) and a N2 billion take-off grant was approved by the Federal Executive Council which would be accessed from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND).

Amazingly, a year after, his colleague, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Sadiq Abubakar, went on in like manner to establish a Nigerian Airforce University in his own state Bauchi.

Nigerians frowned at these steps taken by the service chiefs. There was the suspicion of abuse of office and mismanagement of the enormous resources at their disposal to fight the war.

Worthy of note is that the army and airforce were at the frontlines of the insurgency war and that underscores the controversy involving their Heads.

Speaking with PUNCH, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), described the establishment of universities in the hometowns of the army and airforce chiefs as an abuse of office.

Falana said it was unfortunate that service chiefs were taking actions in contravention of the federal character principle.

He said, “The Nigerian Defence Academy already exists and it awards certificates. The same NDA is not well funded and yet the military is establishing new universities in the hometowns of service chiefs. Interestingly, NDA, the army university and the new air force university and other institutions are mostly concentrated in the North. This is against the federal character principle.”

Also, a brigadier-general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “What the service chiefs are doing is nothing but a waste of taxpayers’ money. It is even worse that the Federal Government is allowing them to do this at a time when we need to curb waste.

“It’s even worse that our troops fighting insecurity are told there is not enough money for equipment but there is money for new military universities.

“The service chiefs have been in office for over four years and have turned themselves into politicians, taking projects to their hometowns like constituency projects.”

An air commodore, who also wished to remain anonymous, said there was already an Air Force Institute of Technology in Kaduna which was approved by the NUC.

He said the institute was already offering courses on aeronautics, aerospace engineering and avionics and wondered why there was a need to establish more institutions.

He said, “FEC has approved N2bn for the takeoff of the army university. That is already a waste of taxpayers’ funds.

“We already have AFIT in Kaduna which teaches aeronautics and other professional courses. The sad thing is that the army university is even offering courses like Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and Arabic when it should be strictly specialised courses.

“Even conventional public universities are complaining of lack of funds. Is this the best time for the military to establish new schools?”

In essence, earlier in 2020, the huge successes of the Chadian Army led by President Idris Debby, over the Boko Haram in the Lake Chad area, pushed Gen. Buratai to take a decisive action.

Just like a laid back student suddenly awakened, Buratai, quickly relocated to the theatre of war and recorded some flash successes.

However, the new marching order to the service chiefs by Mr President only goes to show that there is still work to be done or somebody somewhere has not done what he is supposed to do.

And just recently, a video that trended on the social media, showed a serving army Lance corporal, carpeting the service chiefs including Buratai. The latest video has left people imagining the magnitude of the problem in the nation’s armed forces to the extent that a junior officer could even sacrifice his job in the interest of the nation.

“Lt Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, as I am making this video, I want to let you know that I am highly disappointed in your command. You should call yourself a coward, a traitor and a betrayer of Nigeria as a whole… you cannot earn my loyalty with what you are doing”, boasted the officer who had since been arrested.

He did not stop there but went ahead: “…the CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) I am highly disappointed in you, in the sense that, you are the Chief of Defence Staff-the army, navy, airforce; they are under you. But you have failed, to the extent that you are collecting command from the COAS all in the name of loyalty and cabals”.

Well, that’s where the cookie crumbles and it takes such brazen show of courage from the low estate of the armed forces to tell Nigerians what is going on up there. 

Ultimately, removing the service chiefs may not be the final solution to the country’s present security challenges. Maintaining their positions may not be the solution either. But we must all embrace the age-long belief that the only constant phenomenon is change.

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