Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Shola Oyeyipo write that strident calls for immediate sack of all service chiefs is gathering more force in the face of the incessant killings across the nation.
One of the disturbing trends in the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari that has generated a lot of debate is the perceived lopsidedness in appointment, particularly of service chiefs. The emotion generated by this selection has created sharp divisions in the polity.
Sixteen of the 17 service chiefs are from Buhari’s Northern part of the country, generating loud criticism against the All Progressives Congress, APC, led-government at the centre over the insensitivity in the federal appointments.
Even when he had the opportunity to replace them when their tenure ended, Buhari choose to exercise his executive privilege to extend their contract to the surprise of many. His frequent excuse that retention of the service chiefs will improve the gains in the war against terrorism falls on its face, considering the killing field that many states of the federation have become.
This may be one of the key issues responsible for Buhari’s inability to successfully court the South-east geopolitical zone. Their apparent complaint was that they are excluded from the top tier of Nigerian security apparatchik.
Under this administration, Army Chief, Lt. General Tukur Buratai; Air Chief, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris Kpotum; Director General of Department of State Security, Ismaila Gwarzo; National Security Adviser, Mohammed Babagana Monguno; Comptroller-General Immigration Service, Muhammed Babandede; Minister of Defence, Brigadier General Mansur Muhammad Dan Ali; the Comptroller-General of Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (Rtd); Comptroller-General, Nigerian Prisons, Mr. Ja’afaru Ahmed; Commandant-General, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Mr. Abdullahi Muhammadu, are all from various parts of the North. A school of thought posits that Buhari may have become disillusioned from losing the presidential contest thrice. This setback may have restricted his circle of trusted allies to those a handful of loyalists.
The unsubstantiated joke making the rounds is that Security Council meetings are conducted in Hausa language to the chagrin of members who do not speak the language.
Only the duo of the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, who hails from Ekiti State and Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok Ekwe Ibas, from Cross River States are from the Southern part of the country.
The tenancy of the service chiefs has been a long running debate. Former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo said clearly that appointment into major national offices must be fairly distributed across the country.
According to him, “The federal character principle, as espoused in our constitution, was to guide the leadership to search for competent holders of major offices to be distributed within the entire nation.”
The reason, he said was to “avoid the concentration in a few ethnic hands or geographical places, as we currently have in the leadership of our security apparatus.”
Obasanjo is not alone in his thoughts Former Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Danjuma pointedly alleged that the armed forces are not neutral in the fight against terrorism and banditry.
Many individuals and organisations, including traditional rulers and religious leaders have also expressed disgust over the situation and insisted that the situation must be reversed.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Afenifere, the Pan-Yoruba sociocultural group, both chambers of the National Assembly, Ohaneze Ndigbo, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum and similar groups have maintained their opposition to the configuration of the security architecture of the country.
The Fear Factor
The reasons many people are uncomfortable with the way the service chiefs are constituted vary. First, it is important to underscore the fact that Nigeria is a country polarised along two fault lines; religious and ethnicity, to which many are extremely sensitive.
For whatever reason; good or bad, when ever a section of the country seems to have attracted undue advantage from the leadership, particularly when the leader is from that region, it arouses the sensitivity of even a detribalised person.
Apart from this, the unhinged killings by the menacing herdsmen, which some Nigerians are tracing to the rather lackluster attitude of President Buhari to apprehend the perpetrators explains their anxiety.
The correlation is that since most of the service chiefs are northerners and herdsmen are principally northerners, the security chiefs are looking away from what some people consider as a deliberately orchestrated ethnic cleansing.
Though the federal government was disturbed when Danjuma called on communities under herdsmen siege to rise and defend themselves, but as a former defence minister, his allegation that the security agencies appeared to be colluding with the murderers, was very instructive.
His utterance that, “Everyone of us must rise up. The armed forces are not neutral. They collude with the armed bandits that kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement, they cover them,” was a very strong statement from a respected elder statesman.
Danjuma further posited that, “If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one-by-one. The ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State, must stop in all the states of Nigeria. Otherwise, Somalia will be a child’s play. I ask everyone of you to be alert and defend your country.” With this position, he literarily nailed the Nigerian security agencies.
At different times, information have emerged in the public space implicating officers who use troop members as cannon fodders, leading to regrettable, but avoidable lose of lives. The insinuation is that the war against terrorism and the insecurity situation in parts of the country have become a huge cash cow, from which the service chiefs and their commanding officers are feeding fat on.
For this reason, CAN and Afenifere have insisted that President Buhari must sack all the service chiefs and appoint more competent ones.
Afenifere Spokesman, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said, “Buhari must fire all the Service Chiefs and appoint new ones to reflect the ethnic composition of Nigeria, thereby enabling divergent competences to fore.”
According to Odumakin, with the seeming helplessness of the service chiefs while reckless killings by herdsmen persist, “People will go with the impression that there is a script to decimate some sections of the country, by concentrating its security in the hands of some people from one section of the country.”
The persistent killings across the country by alleged herdsmen, is a source for Odumakin’s concern. He only joins other Nigerians in their collective their resolve on the urgent need to protect the common man and ensure that those in possession of illegal weapons are disarmed.
Members of the House Representatives recently passed a vote of no confidence on service chiefs and security advisers and called for their replacement.
Explaining why they reached the decision, Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, said the lawmakers opted to call for the sack of service chiefs, over the spate of killings in Benue State and other parts of the country.
He wrote on his Twitter page, “We cannot continue to look on as our people are murdered in cold blood.”
On individual level, practically all the lawmakers are miffed that the Nigerian security system is unable to check the killings and they want a change.
Recently, a multitude of Nigerian ethnic nationalities, including self a determination groups, civil society organisations as well as professional and youth associations converged on Lagos to discuss the rising spate of killings across the country, particularly the endless clashes between farmers and herdsmen, they decided that the trend must stop.
With over 200 groups proffering solutions to the situation, the conclusion was that “the current dangerous trend which places the younger generation of Nigerians at the receiving end of all the violent incidences is unacceptable and must be halted.”
In a communiqué jointly signed by Mallam Shettima Usman Yerima,President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (Convener), Nazi Okechukwu Iziogosoro (National President, Ohanaeze Youth Council), Eric Olawale (Yoruba Youth Council) and Barrister Pereotubo Oweilaemi (President, Ijaw Youth Council and President, Ethnic Nationalities of Niger Delta) on behalf of other 200 youth ethnic nationalities groups across Nigeria, they gave a two-week ultimatum to President Buhari and all other stakeholders to act decisively to avoid negative reactions from overstressed citizens’.
“Nigeria, Africa and indeed the entire world may not be able to cope with the consequences of a full blown religious or ethnic war in Nigeria which the current dangerous trend portends.”
Speaking with THISDAY on their point of view, Shettima said it is because: “The situation portends immediate danger of scuttling the nation’s democratic order with the dire consequences of a drift to anarchy. We therefore call on Nigerian elders, leaders of thought, theological, cultural leaders and all our international friends to step in quickly and save the situation as any further delay could be dangerous.”
He said President Buhari has failed in the discharge of its primary responsibility of securing citizen’s lives and properties and that the citizenry are unhappy about it.
Against this background, the federal government has received many uncomplimentary remarks from world powers like the United States of America and United Kingdom over the killings in Nigeria.