Ringim, Azazi and Onovo
The Boko Haram insurgency has spelt the ruin of the careers of many security chiefs, and, perhaps, still counting, elaborating the fact that Nigeria has yet to work out an appropriate strategy against the rebellion that is becoming a festering sore on soul of the country. Vincent Obia writes
In Nigeria today, there is one word that seems to frighten military and police chiefs more than any other: Boko Haram. Many of the security chiefs have been elevated to their posts because of Boko Haram, and they know that Boko Haram can as well bring about their personal ruin and cut short their careers. The insurgency has made cowards of many security leaders – but also heroes of some.
The latest to be felled were Commandant of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, Air Vice Marshal Ibrahim Kure, and the Commander, Nigerian Army Corps of Infantry, also in Jaji, Major General Mohammed Isa. They were relieved of their appointments and returned to their respective services for redeployment, in one of the major fallouts of the November 25 twin-car bomb attack on Saint Andrew’s Military Protestant Church located at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College.
Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika, and the Chief of Defence Staff, Rear Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, had described the attack on the military church that Sunday as embarrassing and vowed to sanction those responsible for the security gaps that facilitated the incident.
A statement from the Defence Headquarters in Abuja said, “Following the Board of Inquiry raised by the Defence Headquarters to unravel the circumstances that led to the bomb explosion which rocked St Andrew’s Protestant Church at the Jaji Military Cantonment in Kaduna State last week, the Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral O.S. Ibrahim has directed the Services Headquarters to replace with immediate effect the Commandant, Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji, Air Vice Marshal I.A. Kure, and the Corps Commander, Infantry, also located in Jaji, Major General M.D. Isa.
“Air Vice Marshal E.E. Osim is to replace Air Vice Marshal I.A. Kure as Commandant, Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), while Maj Gen K.C. Osuji will act as Corps Commander, Infantry, Jaji.”
The attack had led to the death of about 17 persons.
The uprising by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, has killed nearly 2, 000 people since 2009, when its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, died controversially in police custody after he had been arrested by the Army and handed over to the police. Three years on, the country has not made any huge strides in containing the insurgency, but the government is not letting up. For the federal government, certainly, the rebellion has reached critical mass where something has to be done. But before Nigerians, what largely seems to be done is the frequent change of security chiefs in response to periodic bouts of Boko Haram violence.
Mass Sack of Security Chiefs
The federal government effected what appeared like a mass sack of the heads of the country’s Armed Forces and the Police on September 8, 2010. All the service chiefs, the Inspector General of Police, and Director-General of the State Security Service were removed. Air Vice Marshal Oluseye Petirin, formerly Chief of Air Staff, replaced Air Vice Marshal Paul Dike as Chief of Defence Staff; Ihejirika replaced Major General Abdulrahman Danbazzau as Chief of Army Staff; Ibrahim replaced Admiral Ishaya Ibrahim as Chief of Naval Staff; and Air Vice Marshal Mohammed D. Umar took over from Petirin as Chief of Air Staff.
The September 8 overhaul also involved the replacement of Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo with Mr. Hafiz Ringim as Inspector General of Police, and the appointment of Mr. Ita Ekpeyong as Director General of the SSS in place of Mr. Afarkiya Gadzama.
Though, a statement by the then Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Ima Niboro, explained that the tenure of the former service chiefs expired in August 2010, many are agreed that the bloody onslaughts by Boko Haram at the time were behind the dismissals. The case of Onovo seemed to confirm this.
Onovo: Came with Boko Haram, Left with Boko Haram
Onovo had been appointed by former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as acting IGP on July 28, 2009, in the wake of the Boko Haram uprising, and was confirmed substantive Inspector General of Police by the Nigeria Police Council on August 5, 2009.
Upon his appointment in July, he had declared, “We will ensure we have a stable and secure society with crime brought down to the barest minimum by initiating new crime fighting strategies and employing our greatest assets, manpower, through well motivated measures.”
Onovo’s appointment to the IGP post had coincided with a bloody rampage by members of the Islamic sect in five Northern states, where they attacked police stations and other state institutions. Yusuf was captured during the confrontation with the security agencies and following his death in police custody, Onovo summoned the five Commissioners of Police in the affected states to explain the circumstances under which the Boko Haram leader died.
The former chairman of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency had tried to realise his vision of “a stable and secure society”, but it appeared his best was not good enough under the circumstances he had worked.
At a valedictory meeting with his successor and other senior police officers on September 13 in Abuja, Onovo was filled with dismay by his removal and he blamed the government for making it difficult for the police under his watch to provide adequate security in the country.
“My period was marked with turbulence. I came in with Boko Haram and I left with Boko Haram. We gave it our best. It is left with history to decide whether we did or not.
“The Nigeria Police Force is an institution; it was there before we were born and it will outlive us. If you don’t receive your reward here, you will receive it in heaven. Policing is so frustrating in our country,” Onovo said in his valedictory speech.
Ringim: Fast-tracked Retirement
Ringim resigned on January 25 in the heat of the recriminations following the escape of Boko Haram kingpin, Kabiru Sokoto, from police custody. Sokoto is the prime suspect in last year’s Christmas day bombing of Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, in Niger State, in which about 42 people were killed. He had escaped on January 15 as he was being escorted by policemen to his house at Abaji, near Abuja, for a search that was ordered by Police Commissioner Zakari Biu. Sokoto was, however, re-arrested by the SSS on February 10 in Taraba State.
Biu, who was said to have ordered the search mission, was dismissed from the police.
While the Sokoto saga quickened the retirement of Ringim, few weeks before his official retirement time, two previous incidents had created deep doubts among the public about his capability to deliver at the helm of the country’s police force: the June 16, 2011 bombing of the police headquarters in Abuja, which was Nigeria’s first experience of suicide bombing, and the August 26, 2011 bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja, which killed about 24 persons.
Mr. Mohammed Abubakar replaced Ringim as IGP.
Azazi: Uneventful Tenure
The Boko Haram insurgency claimed two more major casualties on June 22. General Andrew Azazi was sacked as National Security Adviser and replaced with Sambo Dasuki, a retired Colonel. Also removed was the Minister of Defence, Haliru Bello. Azazi’s tenure had been marred by significant deterioration in the country’s security following serial bombings and gangsterism across the country in which scores of people were killed. In the days before Azazi’s sack, three churches were targeted by suicide car bombers in Kaduna State, in attacks that set in motion equally bloody reprisals. And in Damaturu, dozens of people were killed in gun battles between the security agents and militants.
It was learnt that the thinking behind the choice of Sambo, a scion of the influential Sokoto caliphate and a cousin of the sultan of Sokoto, who is seen as the spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims, was that it would help attempts to contain the Boko Haram sect, especially through dialogue. The federal government has said that it is dialoguing with Boko Haram through back channels, but such effort is yet to yield fruit.
Boko Haram-influenced Changes
On October 18, new service chiefs were announced by the federal government, with Ibrahim becoming Chief of Defence Staff; Rear Admiral Dele Ezeoba, Chief of Naval Staff; and Air Vice Marshal Alex Badeh, Chief of Air Staff; while Ihejirika, retained his position as Chief of Army Staff.
Reports said President Goodluck Jonathan had planned a more sweeping overhaul of the services, but he had to drop his original plan to avoid sentiments that might create sympathy for Boko Haram.
Security Management Problem
Though, the security chiefs are being commended for their efforts to contain the Boko Haram insurgency and other forms of insecurity, and despite the high turnover of security chiefs, it appears there is still a long-haul out of the country’s security malaise. Experts locate the problem in the nature of the country’s security management system, particularly, in the area of intelligence.
A retired Army officer and security expert, Col. Anthony Nyiam, told THISDAY in an interview in July, “There are gaps in our higher national security management organogram. One of the principal gaps is that we do not have what you may call a chief of the Nigerian intelligence community, one with the responsibility for the coordination of our various intelligence agencies: SSS (State Security Service), NIA (National Intelligence Agency), and DIA (Defence Intelligence Agency). We don’t have somebody who coordinates their efforts.
“People think that the NSA should be doing that, but the office is not structured or equipped to do that.”
According to him, “The NSA cannot handle that role. The NSA is in charge of policy making and ensuring their implementation. Policy making is separate from operations. Once policy makers start being in charge of operations there would be a conflict of interest, and that’s what leads to corruption...
“For external defence, we have a good coordinator, who is the Chief of Defence Staff. For internal security, we don’t have a coordinator.”
Nyiam believes Nigeria’s security crisis has lingered because it is fighting an unconventional war against terrorism with convention war tactics.
To overcome the problem, he recommends a security management strategy anchored on four core areas: chief coordinator of intelligence, whose occupant must be a spy master; chief of internal security operations, who should be a serving Army general; special forces, who should be drawn from the Armed Forces and who should be volunteers; and the think-tanks, who should be people from the academia with national security strategic studies background.
For now, the federal government continues to be criticised for doing too little too late to contain insurgency in the country. What remains a major lesson from the current approach and the frequent sack of security chiefs is that the government has yet to find an effective strategy against the growing menace of terrorism in the country.