New service chiefs: Matters arising

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed new service chiefs to pilot the affairs of the armed forces. The former service chiefs, namely the Chief of Defence Staff, General Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ibas, and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar, had been widely criticized by Nigerians for their poor handling of the country’s multifaceted security challenges, but the president had consistently expressed satisfaction with their performance. He had shunned the ceaseless calls, including by members of the National Assembly, to let them go, particularly as they had stayed in office beyond their normal service years. The appointment of the new service chiefs, namely Major-General Lucky Irabor, Chief of Defence Staff;  Major-General Ibrahim Attahiru, Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral Awwal Gambo, Chief of Naval Staff,  and Air Vice Marshall Isiaka Amao, Chief of Air Staff, therefore came to Nigerians as a surprise, particularly given President Buhari’s declaration that young officers were ambitious, a declaration considered to be capable of dampening the morale of the officer corps. In the services, the promotion and appointment of officers, including as service chiefs, are normal expectations.

Subsequent to the announcement of the new service chiefs, President Buhari forwarded a request to the Senate to confirm their appointment. But this was after he had been subjected to criticism over the failure to seek legislative input on the issue. The request, which was contained in a letter dated January 27 and read by the Senate President Ahmad Lawan during plenary, came about a week after the presidency announced the resignation of the former service chiefs and the appointment of the new set. According to the president, the appointments were in compliance with Section 18(1) of the Armed Forces Act. Cap A20 Laws of the Federation (2004). And in a separate letter, the president asked the Senate to confirm the appointment of the former service chiefs as non-career ambassadors.

To be sure, President Buhari announced the appointment of new security chiefs only after prolonged clamour by Nigerians for the sack of the former service chiefs due to the deteriorating security situation across the country. For a long while, Nigerians had harped on the need to inject fresh blood into the security system. With the new appointments, Nigerians and in fact even members of the international community would expect the infusion of new ideas into the country’s security architecture, particularly in the fight against Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen’s terrorism, banditry and other heinous crimes ravaging the country.

From all indications, there is hardly anything to build on as the security system worsened deplorably under the out-gone service chiefs, and it is a fact, however distressing, that nobody believes that anything is working in the country currently. Of a truth, Nigerians have run out of patience and have no time to give the new security helmsmen to play with. The times are desperate and the mood of the country is sour, and so the new service chiefs should approach the admittedly daunting tasks before them with the seriousness required to navigate the country out of the current mess. To say the least, Nigerians want pragmatic action, and it is telling that even President Buhari has unequivocally admitted that the country is in a state of emergency due to insecurity.

The new service chiefs must meet the expectations of their offices. They must deploy appropriate technology to smoke out criminals, as their locations are often known and identified for action. We expect drones to be deployed in tackling terror, banditry and kidnapping.  The service chiefs must be fully apprised of the reports of criminals annexing territories and collecting ransoms. That should count as a direct challenge to their existence and they must take the battle to the outlaws. Again, their loyalty is first and foremost to the country’s constitution and they must demonstrate this in their utterances and actions. The situation is clear: they either work hard and achieve concrete results, or get panned by the public.


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