Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, last week, did what any head of the military concerned about the military’s integrity would. He unequivocally and authoritatively dismissed a rumour making the rounds of a likely military overthrow of the elected civilian federal government headed by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The rumour was not without a basis. It was the climax of speculations circulating for many months about disquiet in the military hierarchy over the way the Jonathan government is funding the military campaign to crush the insurgency by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, in the North-east states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – a rebellion now in its fifth year. Indeed, the head, Account and Budget of the Nigerian Army, Major General Abdullahi Muraina, recently complained openly about the inadequacy of the defence budget. “Currently, budgetary allocation for the military is inadequate to meet the contemporary security challenges and also cater for the welfare of the Nigerian Army”, he said.
“The Nigerian Army is enmeshed in the bureaucratic bottlenecks for the funding approvals for military operations. This calls for a review as the increasing speed at which the effects of conflict appear in the operational environment will continue to challenge commanders. It is our humble appeal that government should evolve other means of funding and supporting military operations than the normal budgetary allocation. Such means include but not limited to strategic cooperation and liaison with other civil industries for the production of uniforms and other equipment”, General Muraina added.
To be sure, what the federal government spends on security has been fluctuating over time. In 2012, the vote was N922 billion. It rose to N1 trillion in 2013, but went down to N845 billion this year.
It was that public complaint by a top ranking officer of the army that sent tongues wagging about the possibility of a coup d’etat. A wary population and the government needed an open declaration by the head of the military denying the rumour. It was what the CDS did last week. “Why should anyone be thinking in a negative fashion? He asked. “Tell them we will not do it. Those rumouring coups must be living elsewhere, not in Nigeria. The armed forces are defenders of democracy. We’re an arm of democracy, so how (we) work against democracy?”
It is hoped that CDS Badeh’s statement has soothed frayed nerves. But has it? Badeh, we must admit, does not have a record of walking his talk. We recall, painfully, that in January this year, few days after he was appointed, he promised an end to the insurgency in April. It was a surprise pronouncement. Then the insurgency was into its fifth year. Not long after, he was forced to eat his word. A statement by Defence Headquarters, “clarified” his comment, saying that the April deadline was given to service chiefs “to motivate them” to take measures to reduce the insurgency to the “barest minimum”.
Again, in May this year, Badeh opened his mouth a little too loud. Speaking on the over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state, abducted by Boko Haram fighters, he said the military knew where the girls were but was refraining from moving in to rescue them so that they would not be harmed. “The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you…where they are held, can we go there with force? We can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back”, he declared. It is over a month now since he made those remarks, yet the girls are still with their captors.
On the coup rumour, Badeh has to do more than issue a declaration of military support for democratic governance. He has to prove that he is truly in charge of his troops and that they will do as he commands.