How new are the new Service Chiefs?

Finally, the president, retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, has changed his Service Chiefs. Giving the ex-Service Chiefs soft landing, they were said to have resigned. You can say that to the Marines! All four chose to resign the same day! Public officers hardly resign here; they stay put, well beyond their welcome. Hardly anyone leaves here when the ovation is loudest. The Nelson Mandela spirit does not reside in Nigeria’s public officers and leaders. Here, they stay put in office until they are disgraced out of it. If the ex-Service Chiefs were to behave honourably, they would have left a long time ago, especially after even the rubber-stamp National Assembly passed motion after motion asking them to leave. Nigerians across party, religious, political, and social strata demanded that they leave but they turned a deaf ear. Presidential spin doctors told us only the president could sack the Service Chiefs. As if we did not know that! But the presidential powers the nit-wits referred to were given to the president by “We, the people” and he is to exercise those powers on our behalf and at our discretion. He failed spectacularly in this wise and when, eventually, he bucked, he acted too little, too late.

Various comments have followed the exit of the Service Chiefs. Some said the ex-Service Chiefs did try their best and can now go on a well-deserved rest. Others said it is time for fresh ideas and new hands, especially with the scandalously perilous state of security all over the country, not least of all the losing battle against the Boko Haram insurgency. Therefore, there are those who think the ex-Service Chiefs deserve no accolades but should, in fact, face a probe panel. Humongous sums of money have been sunk into Defence; yet, it had all amounted to money down the drains. Rather than get better under the watch of Buhari, the security situation got worse. That is the verdict of every right-thinking Nigerian, including many in government. Only a few die-hard supporters and rabid Buharists, as they are called, still mouth the gibberish that things have improved from what they used to be. Despite that the ex-Service Chiefs got extended tenure, they still failed abysmally. And they weren’t man enough to throw in the towel when the demand for them to quit became a din.

The ex-Service Chiefs served many years above their term; their failure apart, this was another reason for the public’s anger against them. The rules that set tenure limits are not arbitrary; neither were they written into our statute books by fools. It is for the good of the system as well as for the benefit of everyone. No one is indispensable. Fresh hands and new ideas help the system but when expired elements are retained in a system, it fouls up and pollutes everywhere. The entire environment becomes toxic. It is a river that flows that is clean and fit for human consumption. Stagnant rivers, like the Dead Sea, are dead in the real sense of the word – dead in ideas, dead in innovation, dead in thinking, dead in positive action, dead in integrity – dead in everything positive! That was what the Service Chiefs had become before their exit last week. It was a great disservice done to the nation by Buhari and his ex-Service Chiefs.

Some said Buhari wanted to give the Service Chiefs enough time to turn things around. I accept that argument – but with a caveat. We should not behave like the Chelsea Football Club boss, Roman Abramovich, who sacks coaches every 18 or so months. If Ole, the Manchester United coach, had been sacked earlier this season, we would not have seen him and his boys turn around the situation and sit again atop the Premier League. So, there is wisdom in giving people enough time to prove their mettle – but you must know when to draw the line. A good banker knows when to make the cash call; otherwise, bankruptcy! That Buhari could not draw the line speaks volumes of his competence as a leader and head of government. For someone who had been both military and civilian head of state and commander-in-chief, this is abject.

To the retired Service Chiefs, I must recommend Kobe Bryant, the African-American basketball hero’s immortal words: “We must quit the stage when the ovation is loudest” The Service Chiefs quit when the ovation was lowest – or, better still, when there was no ovation at all, as we witnessed in shouts of joy amongst soldiers in barracks when the news of their disengagement broke. Who, then, did you serve when even your immediate constituency said “good riddance…? Said William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven stages” (Jacques, in “As You like it”, Act II, Scene VII). The Service Chiefs not only played their own part, they also used up the time of other men. Had they left when they should have, other officers would have had the opportunity of becoming Service Chief. And, perhaps, the story would have been different. Sitting tight in office, however, they denied others their own opportunities and thereby poisoned the system. How could they, then, have possibly garnered support from the rank-and-file or command the loyalty of fellow officers?

Little wonder, then, that soldiers were serially accused of abandoning the battlefield and of turning their back on the enemy while officers were court-martialed for cowardice; accused of acts unbecoming of their calling and of behaviour unbefitting of their ranks. In response, the men accused their bosses of starving them of weapons and arms; of saddling them with obsolete equipment; of denying them of their entitlements; and of playing monkey games with their welfare. Worse, we heard allegations of the fat-cats themselves sabotaging the war efforts, so that the flow of largesse might continue. While the shenanigans continued, the war effort suffered! Exasperated and furious, everyone cried for a change of baton – which only came a few days ago!

Some have said it is better late than never. They are right; if Buhari had insisted on carrying on with the ex-Service Chiefs – just as he seems to be doing with his tribesmen Fulani herdsmen – what could anyone have done? Others have said, however, that what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. Once Buhari decided on a change of baton, he should have, at least this once, gone the whole hog. He should have done a good job. Sadly, his leopard once again proved incapable of changing its skin. Out of four Service Chiefs, he gave two – the biggest two (Army and Navy) – to the core North while he gave the Southwest the Air Force. Where does the Chief of Defence Staff fall – a General without troops, as they say?  Is it South-east or South-south or both? Buhari should have done better than this. The outgoing Service Chiefs, no straightforward Igbo; the in-coming Service Chiefs, again, no straightforward Igbo! Who did the Igbo offend?

And when was the last time a Yoruba headed the Army?  Olusegun Obasanjo, in his three years plus as military head of state and eight years as civilian president, never accorded his (?) own Yoruba people the privilege. At least, Goodluck Jonathan gave his cousins, the Igbo, that privilege in Lt.-Gen. Onyeabor Azubuike Ihejirika and also appointed his own South-South persons ( Lt.-Gen. Kenneth Minimah) and then Lt.-Gen. Owoye Andrew Azazi as NSA. The last time a Yoruba headed the Army was in Lt.-Gen. Ipoola Alani Akinrinade (October 1979 – April 1980) – and for just six months! Given that the North/Muslims/Fulani are ensconced in every critical military position in the country – Minister of Defence, NSA, Police, Civil Defence, name it – Buhari should have shared the four Service Chief positions amongst the Middle Belt, South-West, South-East, and the South-South.

Now, how “new” are the new Service Chiefs, two of whom had seen action in the North-east’s theatre of war? One was removed for alleged incompetence but, today, he is back in charge. This is a clear case of the stone which the builders rejected but which has become the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22; Mathew 21:42). Can we, then, call this the Lord’s doing, which is marvellous in our sight, as Jesus posited, or is it Buhari’s doing, which is astounding all the same? A man reportedly failed a class and was removed; today, he has returned to the same class as captain of the ship! Then is the scripture fulfilled that says: “There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maiden” (Proverbs 30:19). Unto these must now be added a fifth wonderment: the way Buhari makes his skewed appointments!

But note that someone who is miserable on the field of performance can be an expert in boardroom politics and in the game of lobbying. It is also a possibility that an incumbent, seeking to destroy all likely successors, may seek to destroy everyone that shows up on his radar as a likely successor. Some names were routinely mentioned as likely successors as tongues wagged the ex-Service Chiefs. One of such “likely” successors reportedly died not long ago in what was alleged by some to be mysterious circumstances. Another tragedy of our situation is that many otherwise brilliant careers may soon come to an abrupt ending with the choice of Service Chief made last week. Many officers may have to retire from service, having been by-passed for their subordinates or course mates they may consider it unsuitable for them to work with or work under. I am sure you know that in any class, students know the worth of one another. Where merit is bypassed in making appointments, expecting the best from such a system is tantamount to day-dreaming. Time and time again, we have by so doing shot ourselves in the foot.

Therefore, how “new” the new Service Chiefs are remains to be seen. Ironically, however, the kind of change they will bring about depends on how “new” and untainted they are by the corruption and incompetence of the past. More importantly, how “new” is the appointing authority and how “new” are the marching orders given to the new Service Chiefs by their Commander-in-Chief? For, like Jesus said, a servant is not greater than his master (John 12:20)! Has Buhari changed from his parochial self? Is he now more broad-minded and nationalistic? Is he no longer the patron saint of Fulani herdsmen? Has he retreated from his statement that an attack on Boko Haram is an attack on the North? Is he no longer beholden to Islamic fundamentalism? Buhari’s infamous body language had, so far, ruined the war efforts and set the country aflame all over, especially in the South. Except that changes; the change of baton by Service Chiefs will result in more of the same; in motion without movement; and in “the more you look the less you see” (apologies, Max Romeo).

Need I say more?

 

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