Service Chiefs Jostle for CDS Position

  • Buratai, Abubakar in tight bid
  • Senior officers lobby to replace them

By  Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja

Military service chiefs have intensified the lobby to replace the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin.

Military sources said Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, have stepped up subterranean moves, in their different capacities, to get President Muhammadu Buhari to name either of them as the next CDS.

In the same vein, senior officers from the rank of Major Generals or its equivalent in the Air Force and Navy have also commenced secret campaigns and lobby to be appointed as new service chiefs.

While the lobby is going on, terrorist organisation, the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) announced at the weekend that it killed 10 soldiers near Maiduguri, a claim the Nigerian Army disputed.

The calculation of the lobbyists is that having served out their tenures, which was further extended, the president would most likely retire the service chiefs as he begins his second term in office by May 29.

THISDAY learnt that Buratai and Abubakar are hinging their campaign to succeed Olonishakin on two planks. One is that they both hail from the troubled North-east, which has been a hot bed of the war against terrorism in the past 10 years.

While Buratai is from Borno State, Abubakar is from Bauchi State. Both see themselves as having a grasp of the security situation at hand especially the North-east and would be able to function more effectively as joint services chief.

The second plank is that going by the tradition of previous administrations, the Chief of Defence Staff is usually picked from retiring service chiefs in order to tap from their managerial experience.

For instance, under the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, a former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Ibrahim Ogohi, was elevated to the office of the CDS when his peers retired. The trend continued with General Alexander Ogomudia, who moved up as CDS from his former position as Chief of Army Staff.

The late former CDS, Air Chief Marshal Alex Barde, followed the same pattern after he finished as Chief of Air Staff.

However, the present CDS’s appointment did not follow the same pattern as he was not a service chief before he was named to the top job. Prior to his appointment as Chief of Defence Staff, General Olonisakin was Commander, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Nigerian Army and Commander, Nigerian Army Corps of Signals.

A source told THISDAY: “The lobby is in full gear. But the lobby for the CDS did not start today. It started before their tenure was extended when they thought they would be exiting the service but the president extended their tenure. The lobbyists have employed the services of traditional rulers and top presidency officials.

“The same goes for senior officers from the rank of major generals or their equivalent in the Air Force and Navy seeking to replace the service chiefs other than the CDS.

“The truth is that all the positions are up for grabs. The president did not follow the so-called tradition of naming the next CDS from the retiring service chiefs. The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Eteh Ibas, who is not featuring prominently may even be given the slot.

“The president has his way of sorting things out. He is starting a second term and he may decide to start with an entirely new team.”

Meanwhile, the Islamic State said at the weekend that it killed 10 Nigerian soldiers in an attack on Thursday in the country’s north-eastern Borno State, but a Nigerian Army spokesman said “no such incident was recorded.”

In a statement issued through its news agency Amaq, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on a village it referred to as Tdmari, near Maiduguri town. It said the attack happened two days ago.  

A Nigerian Army spokesman insisted: “The situation in the North-east has been calm for some time now. The Nigerian Army is consolidating its efforts and successes are being achieved.”

Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), which split from Islamist group Boko Haram in 2016, has carried out a number of attacks in North-east of Nigeria in the last few months.

Borno is the state worst hit by the Islamist insurgents whose attacks on Nigerian military bases in the last few months made security a key issue in a just concluded presidential election won by the incumbent, Buhari.