Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-General Azubuike Ihejirika
By Ike Abonyi
It has emerged at the weekend that a combination of factors, chief among them adherence to the age-long military tradition of seniority and the issue of the North-east zone vis-à-vis representation in the body of service chiefs influenced last Thursday's change of guard at the helm of the nation's military.
Other factors regarded as given in the military – loyalty and track record of the officers – according to THISDAY checks within military and security circles, also placed crucial roles in the appointments.
It was learnt that the first factor – seniority – paved the way for Vice-Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim to emerge as successor to Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin, who retired as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
Ibrahim is the immediate-past Chief of Naval Staff. He is a Course 17 officer while the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-General Azubuike Ihejirika, graduated from the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) a year after, as a Course 18 officer.
Military sources told THISDAY that if the President had yielded to pressure on him and had appointed Ihejirika as Petinrin's successor as strongly speculated, the action would have immediately led to the retirement of Ibrahim.
Ibrahim's record is said to be so glittering that some military personnel had expressed fear that it would have generated bad blood within the Navy if he was forcefully retired to give way for his junior just because he is not from the dominant arm of the armed forces, the army.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan is also said to have enjoyed Ihejirika’s unblemished loyalty as COAS and was not ready to take chances by removing him from the position of army chief considered very strategic and making him CDS. Sources described Ihejirika's reappointment as a vote of confidence on him by the President.
The other factor, which also influenced the appointments – zonal balancing – is said to be an area that had probably given President Jonathan some sleepless nights before he effected the recent changes.
This, however, opened up the exit route that led to the retirement of Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Ibrahim Dikko Umar.
For instance, a careful analysis of the leadership of the country's defence and security network before the change of guard shows that the office of the National Security Adviser to the President (NSA), that of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) as well as the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) were occupied by the North-west.
The North-east has been without a service chief since the retirement of the immediate past IGP Ringim.
Other zones were, however, represented. The South-west held the office of the CDS; North-central produced the occupant of the office of CNS; and the South-east produced the COAS.
Although the South-south did not have a service chief, it was consoled with the office of Director-General of the State Security Services (SSS).
However, in the new formation, every zone has a seat. The CDS, North-central; COAS, South-east; CAS, South-south; CNS, North-east; IGP, North-west; and acting Minister of Defence, South-west.
THISDAY had reported last week that Petinrin was actually due for retirement a year ago. But he had a presidential extension of a year that fell in September, but was further extended by one month and again by a further one week. Before the changes, there was a groundswell of opinions, although in hushed tones, in favour of the ceding of the office CDS to the Navy.
This is how the defence portfolio has fared since democracy returned 13 years ago.
The CDS under the Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar administration, Air Marshal Al-Amin Daggash (rtd), handed over to Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi as the first naval officer to occupy the position.
Ogohi retired and handed over to Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, who later passed on the baton to Gen. Martin Luther Agwai and then to Gen. Owoye Andrew Azazi.
The mantle of leadership, however, fell on Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike. He was the second officer from his service to have the defence porfolio. Dike handed over to Petinrin.
The new appointments, to a number of Nigerians, are surprise picks. This is because none of them had featured in the public postulations in the run-up to their emergence.
For one, Ibrahim stayed out of the fray as he was even away on leave until his return to Nigeria about two weeks ago.
President Jonathan in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, had named Ibrahim as the new CDS while Ihejirika retained his position.
Ezeoba emerged as the new Chief of Naval Staff while Badeh took over as the Chief of Air Staff.
According to the statement, the President thanked the outgoing service chiefs for their meritorious and commendable service to the nation and wished them well in their future endeavours.
A security source, who pleaded not to be mentioned, said the retirement of Petinrin had necessitated the changes, saying “the President felt there is no need to delay the retirement unnecessarily but in carrying out the changes, the issues of seniority and loyalty of the officers concerned to the nation were crucial factors.”
The new appointments may mean the feared massive retirements in the services is out of the question as it is only the Air Force that would suffer minor shake-ups at the top, especially course mates of Umar who the President had retained at the headquarters of the NAF and Defence Headquarters.
For the Navy, Admiral Ezeoba is directly next in seniority to Admiral Ibrahim.
One positive implication of the appointments in the military is that as much as there will not be noticeable attrition of very senior officers as in past appointments, the exercise will lead to promotions and new appointments, at least for the senior officer cadre because the new chiefs will assume duty adorning new ranks.
Ezeoba's trajectory in the Navy is historical because for a long time, he remained the only surviving member of the famous Course 22, whose course-mates died in the Ejigbo, Lagos C-130 aircraft crash in September 1992.
Until his appointment as CNS, Ezeoba was the Chief of Administration, Defence Headquarters.
Also, Air Vice Marshal Badeh, who hails from Vimtim, Mubi North Local Council of Adamawa State, was until his appointment the Air Officer Commanding, Training Command, Kaduna.
The new CDS, Ibrahim, was born on June 15, 1955. A graduate of the NDA, Kaduna and the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, he trained with the Royal and Indian navies. He is a navigation and direction specialist. He holds a bachelor of law degree from Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). He was at the Royal College of Defence Studies, the United Kingdom (UK) as a member in 2002, where he, in addition, obtained a master’s degree from the Department of War Studies and Public Policy at the Kings College, University of London.
Ibrahim had tours of duty on Nigerian naval ships in various capacities and is decorated with the Command of Sea Badge for successful command at sea on various Nigerian naval ships.
He was a directing staff and a chief instructor at the Department of Maritime Warfare, Armed forces Command and Staff College, Jaji.
He was secretary to the CNS before being appointed to command the naval operations base, Nigerian Naval Ship Beecroft in 2001.
In 2003, Admiral Ibrahim served as Commander, Naval Task Group, Operation Harmony in the Eastern Naval Command, Calabar, before he went to the National Defence College, as a directing staff.
He left the National Defence College for the Naval Headquarters as navy secretary in August 2005. He returned to the College as director, curriculum and programmes development in May 2006.
It was from this appointment that he headed back to the naval headquarters as chief of administration and subsequently chief of training and operations.
In February 2009, he was appointed Flag Officer Commanding Western Naval Command, the appointment he held till his elevation as the CNS on September 8, 2010 and subsequently, CDS last Thursday.