Will the New Service Chiefs Stem the Tide of Bloodletting in Nigeria?

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Kingsley Nwezeh writes that the appointment of new service chiefs has renewed hopes for a renewed onslaught against insurgents, bandits and other criminal gangs whose despicable activities have shot issues of insecurity into a national emergency

With the appointment of new service chiefs last week by President Muhammadu Buhari, all eyes are now on the new military helmsmen to deliver where their predecessors failed.

The appointment of the new service chiefs, notably, Major General Lucky Irabor, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Major General Ibrahim Attahiru, Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao and Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Rear Admiral Zubairu Gambo, was a culmination of strident calls by stakeholders for a change of strategy in a conflict, particularly against Boko Haram insurgents that has become a war of attrition.

Insurgency War/Banditry

The insurgency war has been a tragedy of immense proportions. .A former governor of Borno State, Senator Kashim Shettima, once said that 100,000 or more people have been killed since the start of hostilities in the North-east in 2009.

Statistics also show that 1000 security personnel were killed in the last 11 years while 3.7 million people are internally displaced according to the 2021 statistics of the Human Rights Watch.

On the North-western flank, the United Nations Committee on Human Rights (UNCHR) said 30, 000 refugees fled the North-western part of the country to neighbouring Niger Republic in the last two months

The report said the refugees were fleeing “growing insecurity and atrocities across North-western Nigeria, most of it at the hands of armed gangs that rob, loot, rape and kill.”

Internal Security Operations/ Human Rights Abuses

The involvement of the military in internal security operations, a task that constitutionally belongs to the Nigerian Police, has also raised concerns that the lean resources of the military have been stretched.

Beside the allegations of killing of 150 members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in the South-east some years ago, new allegations of rights abuse against the military have emerged.

A research and human rights advocacy group, the International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law (Intersociety) in its latest report alleged that after the recent killings in Obigbo, Rivers State, where 400 Obigbo residents were abducted by soldiers and transported to secret military dungeons in the North raises questions on the involvement of the military in internal peacekeeping.

The group claimed that 52 of them were rescued in Niger State, three tortured to death while 150 languished in Abacha Barracks in Abuja.

In addition to that, a report last week claimed that there was secret execution of six soldiers of South-east origin in Abuja which the army authorities denied.

Intersociety further alleged that “one major attribute of the dreaded Decree 2 now being used clandestinely by the then Lt. Gen. Buratai-led Nigerian Army is the extrajudicial transfer and incarceration of citizens abducted by Army at prison facilities without recourse to court orders or remands.

“In other words, citizens abducted by soldiers are now sent directly to prisons from military custodies on orders of the army high command. This is one of the dreaded features of the obnoxious Decree 2 now in clandestine practice in the country,” it said.

The group further alleged that “the military authorities, too, now get some magistrates to sign detention orders for them outside the courtroom and due processes.

“The above was the case in the case of the 52 rescued Obigbo residents and three others that died in army captivity in Niger State as well as 150 others presently languishing without trial in army and spy police dungeons in Abuja.

The human rights group further alleged that “corroboratively, Intersociety had back in September 2020…received some independent reports that ‘dozens of citizens of Igbo Christian extraction were being held secretly and outside the law in places like Gusau Prisons located in Zamfara State.

“They are defenseless and unarmed citizens vindictively arrested across various states in old Eastern and Mid Western Nigeria, labeled “IPOB terrorists” and secretly transferred to far away Zamfara State, etc where they are secretly being held without trial.

The Lekki Toll Gate incident during the #EndSARS protests and the military involvement is still fresh in our memory.

The International Criminal Court (ICC)/Arms Procurement

The incessant complaints of abuse of human rights abuse by Nigerian soldiers championed by Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) cannot be wished away even when military authorities have issued denials because they are a recurring decimal.

The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, said recently that she had enough evidence to open full investigation into continuing violence in Nigeria by Boko Haram fighters and security forces.

The ICC boss said she would seek full investigations into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Nigeria.

She maintained that her office recognised a major part of the crimes were attributable to non-state actors but also found a “reasonable basis” to believe that members of the Nigerian security forces had also committed crimes.

According to her, the crimes include “murder, rape, torture and cruel treatment, as well as enforced disappearance and forcible transfer of the population and attacks directed at civilians.”

The Challenge before Service Chiefs

The former service chiefs during their handover ceremonies spoke glowingly of the capacity of their successors to steer their various commands.

They expressed the hope that the new military helmsmen would take the military to the next level.

The former Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin (rtd) said, “I am confident that General Irabor will lead the Armed Forces of Nigeria to build on what we have been able to achieve in the past five and half years and take the Armed Forces of Nigeria to much greater heights.”

“It gladdens my heart that the incoming Chief of Defence Staff is very familiar with these security challenges having previously served as Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Commander Multinational Joint Task Force and above all, the immediate past Chief of Training and Operations at the Defence Headquarters.

“There couldn’t have been a better choice of a seasoned senior officer who will hit the ground running as the Chief of Defence Staff,” he said.

On his part, the former Army Chief, Lt. General Tukur Buratai (rtd) urged the new Army Chief to ensure that the Nigerian Army remained professionally responsive in the discharge of its constitutional duties.

Buratai said that the army under his watch ensured support for democratic rule while urging his successor to ensure that the army continued to be loyal and professional.

He also urged Attahiru to remember him for three things notably improved professionalism of the Nigerian army, improved responsiveness of the army in the area of training administration and logistics needs and responsiveness to Nigeria’s democratic imperatives.

In his remarks during the handover ceremony, the former Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, took a swipe at bad eggs in the Navy, who subvert the system at every opportunity.

“I refer to all those who mindlessly subvert the system at every opportunity. Our experiences in their treachery of connivance with some criminal elements, complicity in crime commission, negligence performance of duty permitting aggravation of cases in some instances,” he said.

“The disrepute to the institution of Nigerian Navy in their less than professional conduct through alleged unethical behaviour,” he said urging such personnel to turn a new leaf

The new Chief of Defence Staff has already hit the ground running by directing other service chiefs after their inaugural meeting to proceed on a tour of the North-east where they met war commanders to ascertain the state of affairs in the theatres of war.

Many senior military officers have pointed to a likely synergy amongst the military chiefs especially the fact that the Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru and Chief the Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, are members of Regular Course 35 and would not be disposed to policies that would lead to failure.

Joint Operations

The issue of operational disharmony as it affects the services in some military operations in the North-east affected the general output in the past.

There were cases of ground troops calling for air support and the air force failing to do so. This was more pronounced at a time the former army and air force bosses were allegedly engaged in gritty ego battle on who should become the next chief of defence staff which never materialised. There is, however, a remarkable improvement in recent joint operations.

Collusion with Insurgents, Criminals

In war situations, the issues of sabotage cannot be ruled out. There have been alleged cases of troops approaching terrorist locations only to receive instruction to halt and continue after the insurgents must have escaped.

The new Naval boss while delivering his mission and vision statement warned naval personnel against collusion with drug barons and traffickers, kidnappers and armed robbers.

“The established policies and measures to sanction identified Nigerian Navy personnel that collude with economic saboteurs, drug traffickers/barons, bandits, kidnappers and armed robbers shall be overhauled and strengthened,” he said.

Shekau and His Band of Terrorists

One of the reasons adduced for the removal of the new army chief from his command as Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole under the former Army Chief, Lt General Tukur Buratai (rtd) was that he failed to meet the target to capture Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, dead or alive.

Attahiru had argued that his removal was routine deployment that took him back to Army Headquarters.

Whether that is accurate or not, an opportunity has now come to hold Shekau by the jugular and bring him to justice.

President Idris Derby of Chad last year led his troops to kill 1000 insurgents of the Boko Haram hue.

This was after they attacked and killed 98 Chadian soldiers in Bohoma military base.

On completing the rout of the insurgents, President Derby had said that he had cleared the Chadian axis based on the multinational joint task force arrangement and urged Nigeria and Niger to finish off the insurgents in their territory.

Abubakar Shekau felt the brutal pain inflicted on his fighters and took to lamentation, urging the remnants of his fighters to take heart.

Major General Lucky Irabor

As the head of the Nigerian military, Major General Lucky Irabor is battle tested. Having commanded Operation Lafiya Dole, he understands the nature of the theatre of war and the welfare requirements of troops. Having commanded the Multi-national Joint Task Force, he is in a position to handle the sometimes testy relations with other coalition partners.

He will understand the welfare demands of troops especially those who have stayed more than three years on the frontlines and are battle-weary and others with salary issues.

Described by colleagues as a “no nonsense officer, who will take charge,” Major General Lucky Irabor is urged to clean the Augean stable and restore the image of the military noted for its exploits in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia and other International peace keeping operations and more than anything else keep a clean human rights record to enable the country access weapons from western arms manufacturers.

Irabor had thanked President Buhari for considering him fit for the appointment as CDS and pledged to hit the ground running.

“Let me on this note thank the former Chief of Defence Staff and the former service chiefs for their various contributions throughout their tenure in office.

“Let me at this time invite every Nigerian to please join effort to support us and indeed members of the armed forces and other security agencies in ensuring that security returnS to every nook and cranny of our dear country,” he said.

The Watchmen

As new service chiefs have been appointed to watch the military, Nigerians are watching them. Even their appointment are closely observed by higher heavenly authorities.

The Bible says in James 4:17:”Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

Profile of the New Service Chiefs

Major General Leo Irabor (CDS)

Major General Leo Irobor is from Agbor in Delta State, he was a member of the Regular Course 39 of the NDA.
He served as a Commander Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) of the Nigerian Army, Minna.
Major General Irabor also served as Chief of Training and Operations (CTOP) Defence Headquarters.
He served as the Theatre Commander Operation Lafiya Dole and headed the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) as the Field Commander.
General Irabor also served as the Chief of Staff to the Chief of Army Staff.
He is a trained Engineer.

Major General Ibrahim Attahiru (COAS)

Major General Attahiru Ibrahim until his appointment as the Chief of Army Staff, was the General Officer Commanding 82 Division, Nigerian Army.
He was appointed to lead the offensive against Boko Haram in the North-East in May 2017.
He was however redeployed by the then Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai after a string of attacks by the insurgents, including failure after he was given a deadline in July to deliver Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau dead or alive within 40 days.

But Attahiru claimed in his valedictory speech as Theatre Commander that his removal was routine and not as a result of failure to fulfil his mandate.
“Permit me to seize this opportunity to clear the air on certain insinuations that had arisen following my posting. May I point out here that such insinuations being touted by a cross section of the media are far from the truth, misleading and capable of eroding the successes so far achieved in the fight against insurgency in the North-east.

“It could also send a wrong signal and precipitate disaffection among troops of the Nigerian Army and indeed the Theatre of Operation. My redeployment to Army Headquarters is a routine posting premised on needs assessment and is a normal exercise in the Nigerian Army. It is a call to higher responsibility and I assure you of my resolve to serve the Nigerian Army and the nation even better in that new capacity.

Rear Admiral Zubairu Gambo

Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo was born on 22 April, 1966 and hails from Nasarawa LGA in Kano State. He enlisted into the Nigerian Navy on 24 September, 1984 as a member of Regular Course 36 and was commissioned Sub-Lieutenant on 24 September 1988. He is an Underwater Warfare specialist with a sub-specialisation in Intelligence.

The senior officer has attended several military courses which include; Sub-Technical course and Officers Long course both at NNS QUORRA. He also attended Junior Division 48/99 and Senior Course 26 both at AFCSC Jaji. Other courses attended include the National Defence Course at the South African National Defence College. Until his recent appointment as the CNS, he was the Director of Procurement at the Defence Space Administration.

The senior officer holds a PGD in Transport Management and a Master’s degree in Transport Management (Logistics option) both from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology.

He is also a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management, Fellow of the Certified Institute of Shipping, Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Administration of Nigeria as well as a fellow of the National Defence College, South Africa.

The senior officer has been awarded the Grand Service Star, Distinguished Service Star, Passed Staff Course among other several decorations and awards. He is married to Hajiya Nana Aishat Gambo and the marriage is blessed with three children.

Air Vice Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao

Air Vice Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao was born on 14 September 1965 at Enugu. He hails from Oshogbo Local Government Area of Osun State, Nigeria. He enlisted into the Nigerian Air Force on 19 January 1984 as a member of 35th Nigerian Defence Academy Regular Course and was commissioned as Pilot Officer on 20 December 1986. He has the following academic qualifications: Master of Science (MSc) in Defence and Strategic Studies from University of Madras India, Master of Military Science and Strategy (MMSc) and Advance Diploma in Defence and Strategy Studies from National Defence University (NDU) China, Post Graduate Diploma in International Relations and Diplomacy from Kaduna Polytechnic Nigeria, National Diploma in Freshwater and Fisheries Technology from Federal College of Freshwater and Fisheries Technology (FCFFT) New Bussa Nigeria and Nigerian Defence Academy Certificate of Education.

QUOTE 1

Many senior military officers have pointed to a likely synergy amongst the military chiefs especially the fact that the Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru and Chief the Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Oladayo Amao, are members of Regular Course 35 and would not be disposed to policies that would lead to failure.The issue of operational disharmony as it affects the services in some military operations in the North-east affected the general output in the past. There were cases of ground troops calling for air support and the air force failing to do so. This was more pronounced at a time the former army and air force bosses were allegedly engaged in gritty ego battle on who should become the next chief of defence staff which never materialised. There is, however, a remarkable improvement in recent joint operations

QUOTE 2

The incessant complaints of abuse of human rights abuse by Nigerian soldiers championed by Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) cannot be wished away even when military authorities have issued denials because they are a recurring decimal. The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, said recently that she had enough evidence to open full investigation into continuing violence in Nigeria by Boko Haram fighters and security forces. The ICC boss said she would seek full investigations into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Nigeria.

She maintained that her office recognised a major part of the crimes were attributable to non-state actors but also found a “reasonable basis” to believe that members of the Nigerian security forces had also committed crimes. According to her, the crimes include “murder, rape, torture and cruel treatment, as well as enforced disappearance and forcible transfer of the population and attacks directed at civilians