It’s time to allow the service chiefs to go

On Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari held one of his routine meetings with the security chiefs. At the end, he reportedly restated his displeasure with the security chiefs’ inability to safeguard lives and property in the country. But Nigerians do not understand what “an immediate re-engineering of the entire security apparatus” means, against the background that the service chiefs have long been due for retirement and evidently have little else to offer. Their mandatory 35 years in the military have elapsed and there are capable replacements to choose from. But President Buhari has refused to make any change even when the war against insurgency has been floundering.

Last week, the convoy of Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum, was attacked on the Baga highway while on his way to distribute palliatives to internally displaced persons for the Sallah celebration. A visibly angry Zulum told the soldiers that the nation was being deceived about the capacity of the insurgents, said to have been ‘technically defeated’. He said there are saboteurs behind the lingering insurgency. The Shehu of Borno has also added that in his domain, nobody is safe anymore. Since all the critical stakeholders seem to have lost confidence in the managers of the war against insurgency, we wonder how long it would take before the president realises that change is inevitable if we must make progress.

As a reminder, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin was born on 2nd December 1961 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1981. Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai was born on 24th November 1960 and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 17th December 1983. Air Marshal Abubakar was born on 8th April, 1960 and joined the Cadet Military Training Course (CMTC 5) in November 1979. Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas was born on 27th September, 1960 and was commissioned a Sub-Lieutenant on 1st January 1983. In terms of age and service records, they have all exceeded their mandatory retirement age and years of service. But President Buhari granted them an extension in 2017 and this expired in 2019. Their retention has therefore impacted negatively on the career progressions of the 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st, 32nd and 33rd Regular Course members.

Meanwhile, both arms of the National Assembly had at different times and jointly asked the President to replace the Service Chiefs for inefficiency in managing the security situation in the country. Yet the nation is told almost on a daily basis that Boko Haram and its terror affiliates have been decimated, even when the results in the field often contradict this.

The latest attack on the convoy of Governor Zulum and the outcry from the Shehu of Borno that people in the state are no longer safe has brought a renewed agitation that the military chiefs must go. While the governor did not elaborate on his sabotage theory, there are reports that the attack on his convoy may have been initiated to stop him from entering Baga town because of alleged military involvement in farming and fishing business. He has in fact accused soldiers of being behind the attack. Whatever may have been the reason, there is no better time than now to retire the service chiefs and overhaul the entire military apparatchik and give impetus for fresh ideas to improve and strengthen the fight against insecurity in Nigeria.

It is true that Boko Haram is losing ground, resources and fighters. But these are not yet compelling enough for the insurgents to drop their guns. They need to be hit hard. The president should save the day by making the requisite changes in the armed forces.