Anxiety, Uncertainty in Military over Service Chiefs’ Succession Battles 

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Muhammadu Buhari

Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja

As President Muhammadu Buhari winds down the first stanza of his administration, top military officers have begun jostling for the positions of service chiefs.

Already, there are reports of a likely shake-up in the military during the second term of the president, which begins on Wednesday, as the tenures of some of the service chiefs have expired.

THISDAY checks at the weekend showed that some of the high-ranking military officers have started lobbying to replace their superior officers.

The subterranean succession battles have triggered simmering tensions in the military, sources said.

The unusual situation was triggered by a recent rumour that  while Buhari was considering renewing  the tenures of the service chiefs, for a record third time, some of his close aides and associates opted for an overhaul of the leadership of the nation’s armed forces to infuse new confidence in efforts in tackling the insecurity in many parts of the country.

The president had argued recently that it was unhealthy to change service chiefs when the country was in a state of war with insurgents. But he admitted that there are ambitious officers who were aiming to succeed the service chiefs.

The situation has thrown up lobby groups who are determined to ensure that the service chiefs do not return after the May 29 inauguration.

The groups, acting on behalf of senior officers eyeing such positions, have been secretly reaching out to influential government officials, top-ranking politicians and powerful traditional rulers, among others, to convince the president on the need to appoint fresh hands to run the military establishments.

The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Olonisakin, who is  a member of the Combatant Regular Course 25, is believed to have spent 40 years in service as against the statutory 35 years, having enlisted in the Nigerian Defence Academy for cadet training on January 3, 1979.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, a member of Course 26, has also spent 40 years in service, having joined the Navy in 1979.

 His colleague, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, a member of Course Cadet Military Training Course (CMTC 5) joined the Air Force in November 1979.  He has also spent 40 years in service.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Yusuf Buratai, a member of the Course 29, has spent 38 years in service.

In January, 1981, Buratai attended the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna as a member of the 29 Regular Combatant Course (29 RC) where he was given the prestigious appointment of Cadet Sergeant Major (CSM).

The major argument being put forward against the continued stay of the service chiefs has remained that the war against insurgency has persisted owing to the fact that “they have run out of ideas.”

“Obviously, they have run out of ideas. They have lost a sense of direction. Why are we losing soldiers every day? Our equipment is purchased and then carted away by insurgents and we still make noise.

“Change is a management concept that improves on situations and strategies.

“Even if the president ends up renewing their tenures again, it will end up eroding military ethos and tradition  thereby creating major problems”, a senior military source told THISDAY.

The other contention is that many senior officers who had hoped to reach the peak of their career, including occupying the seat of the service chiefs, were forced to retire prematurely.

“So many senior officers were forced to retire up to Course 35. How would they move up when those from Courses 25 to 29 are still in service?

“In those days when core military tradition was adhered to, this won’t be the case,” another senior military source said.

Another line of argument is that some senior officers who believe they have the panacea to the  challenge of insurgency have refused to volunteer such ideas.

“If you volunteer such an idea,  somebody who has sat on your career progression would take advantage and take credit for your initiative and effort”, the source said.

Efforts by THISDAY yesterday to get the spokesman of the Defence Headquarters, Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, were unfruitful. He neither picked up calls to his telephone line nor has he replied to the message sent to his WhatsApp platform as at press time.

However, Buhari is still at liberty to extend the tenure of the service chiefs, if he still considers them pivotal to winning the war against insurgency. The 1999 Constitution confers on the president the powers  to reappoint or extend  the tenure of the service chiefs.

Based on the Armed Forces Terms and Conditions of Service, the tenure of the defence and service chiefs expired on July 13, 2017.

However, the president approved the extension of the tenure till December 2017.

Buhari had on July 13, 2015, appointed the present crop of defence and service chiefs, and ought to have replaced them after the statutory two years.

In extending their tenures, Minister of Defence, Brigadier-General Mansur  Dan-Ali (rtd) had said: “the President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, having carefully reviewed the ongoing military operations across the country and the efforts of the Chief of Defence Staff and the service chiefs in the counter-insurgency operations in the North-East coupled with the security situation of the Niger Delta region, has approved the extension of tenure of service chiefs.

“This extension is pursuant of the powers conferred on the President by Section 218 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Section 09.06 of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions for Service for officers (2012) Revised.”