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Published On: Fri, Feb 7th, 2020

Service Chiefs: Cats with nine lives

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Villascope with Lawrence Olaoye

The consistent call for the retirement of the nation’s service chiefs got to the crescendo recently when the National Assembly joined the fray. The House of Representatives had passed a motion demanding that they either voluntarily resign or get booted by the Commander-in-Chief.
The Senate on its own had reviewed the security situation and recommended the restructuring of the nation’s security architecture. This in fact included the recommendation for the change of the service chiefs.
Majority of Nigerians from all walks of lives seem to have come to a conclusion that the fist step toward addressing the worsening security situation in the country is the change of the men in control of the war theatre as they are viewed to be lethargic in their approach to the fight against the insurgents and the bandits who now have a field day in the country.
Notable Nigerians including opinion leaders, faith based Organisations, groups, security experts and commentators have, at one point or the other, linked the failure of government efforts to tame insecurity in the country to the overstay of the service chiefs who seem to be bereft of fresh ideas to combat agents of sorrow in Nigeria.
The Service Chiefs were appointed shortly after President Muhammadu Buhari got sworn-in in 2015. They include the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Olonisakin who formulates and executes policies, programs towards the highest attainment of national security and operational competence of the Armed Forces including the Army, Navy and the Airforce.
His lieutenants equally appointed by the President same day on July 13th 2015 to complement him were the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Gen. Tukur Buatai; Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas and Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar.
Since independence, the current service chiefs are about to make history as the longest serving considering the fact that the President seems not to be willing to change them despite public outcries against their continued stay in office.
Olonishakin is trailing the record holder, Gen. Domkat Bali, who served for six years and nine days as the CDS; Buratai will by July this year match the record made by the former Head of State, Gen. Sanni Abacha, who served as the COAS for 5 uninterrupted years while Abubakar has former CAS Ibahim Alfa records of six years to beat.
It would be noted that those who beat the records of the incumbent service chiefs served during the military rule. These are obviously the longest serving service chiefs since the advent of the nation’s democratic rule in 1999.
To some discerning Nigerians, the length of service of the service chiefs would have mattered less assuming they are able to make ground breaking impacts in the unending war against insurgents. But the resilience of the Boko Haram insurgents at the face of military claims that they have been technically defeated makes people to query the competence of the service chiefs.
Some other argue that their continued stay is dampening the morale of their juniors who are being deprived of attaining the zenith of their career. Many of their subordinates have been compulsorily retired having attained the mandatory thirty-five years maximum service term without getting to the ultimate top for lack of vacancy.
There are also some who hold that the composition of the service chief as presently constituted does not reflect federal character principle. They argue that it is lopsided in favor of a particular region and religion.
Until recently, the apparent lack of coordination among the top military echelon accounted for several deadly blows dealt the troops by the insurgents in the Noth-east. Even now, while one would not deny the fact that they have been able to tackle the insurgents in a reasonable manner, the fact still remains that the military can do better by adopting proactive measures.
It is apparent that there is a need for a new thinking, fresh and innovative ideas to tackle the unrepentant insurgents bent on making life difficult for Nigerians. It is therefore not out of place for a rational mind to call for not only a change of the military leadership but for injection of new ideas into the cumbersome fight against insecurity in the country.
It is for these reasons that the call for their resignation or sack by the President even by the lawmakers could be understood. As for their resignation, nobody should be fooled that anything like that will happen as no one does that in this clime even at the face of glaring failure in the discharge of their responsibilities. So, expectations were high that the President would do the needful immediately after the National Assembly passed a resolution for their removal.
So, not a few compatriots were disappointed when the President refused to hearken to public opinion this week. One had expected that the President would ease the military chiefs out after the maiden security meeting held this week. Contrarily, insinuations abound that the President may have extended their stay in office for another one year!
But many wondered why the President has refused to reason with the generality of Nigerians in the need to have a second look at the military heads. The President in an interview with Arise Tv attempted to answer when he said he would not be hasty in making such decision having served as military administrator, minister and Head of State.
According to him, removing service chiefs in the middle of a fight against insurgency may not be right. “While fighting insecurity, if you remove service chiefs and the Inspector-General of Police, if you don’t wait for an appropriate time to do it, then you create competition within the service.
There are many ambitious people waiting within the service but only one man can be chief of army staff, only one man can be chief of air staff, only one man can be IG. Don’t forget that it was this administration that appointed them.
I didn’t know them personally. I followed records and I think I picked the best. Of course, their performance may be disappointing but I accept responsibility for not changing them.”
This the President may have told the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila this week when they had a closed-door meeting on the security situation in the country.
Burning with unbridled temper against continued stay of the service chiefs in office, the leadership of the National Assembly went into the meeting with the President only to come out sober.
In their interaction with the media afterwards, one could deduce that they may have been confronted with ‘superior’ argument against their earlier resolution calling for the sack of the service chiefs.
While Lawan was prevaricating and begging the question, Gbajabiamila, whose House pointedly called for service chief’s resignation or outright sack by the President recanted. He said “Opinions are divided. The generality of the opinion is that the service chiefs should go. That was evident in our debates in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. But sometimes you don’t want a knee-jack reaction. Many of us identify that something drastic has to be done.
There is also the school of thought that says since we are talking about banditry, kidnapping and murders, what have the armed forces got to do with that anywhere in the world? So the question then arises that if he changes the service chiefs, does that address the issues of kidnapping and banditry? The Army, Navy and Airforce are outfits set up to tackle external aggression. It is the police that is set up for internal security such as we are all witnessing.”
With these words, one can see the thinking of the government: The service chiefs stay! However, nobody cares who goes or who stays so long as the security of the people is guaranteed; so long as people can sleep with their eyes closed and move freely from one point to another without falling victims of bandits and kidnappers. That’s not too much to ask from a government.

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