While President Muhammadu Buhari was in the process of forming a new cabinet, one of the ministries that expectedly caught the attention of Nigerians was Ministry of Defence, MOD.
Whether in peace or wartime, a country’s Ministry of Defence is one of the key elements in its security architecture.
It is also one of the vital instruments of national power deployed in safeguarding the territorial integrity of the country from external aggression and for internal security operations in line with constitutional provision and as directed by President and Commander-in-Chief.
As President Buhari named his ministers, the searchlight was beamed on, and discussions narrowed to the Kano-born General, Bashir Salihi Magashi.
Unlike the outgone cabinet which had two retired Generals (Lt Gen AB Danbazzau and Brig Gen M Dan Ali), this time, Magashi was the ‘only one soldier visible’.
A product of Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, Regular Course 5, Magashi is coming to beat at a time Nigeria is confronting multifarious security challenges. The armed forces are deployed in almost all 36 states and FCT for Internal Security Operations (ISO).
Despite effort by the current administration to totally eliminate Boko Haram as exemplified by the political will of President Muhammadu Buhari and commitment of service chiefs, it has remained a major national challenge.
Criminal activities such as militancy, banditry, kidnapping, oil bunkering, communal crisis, farmer/herders perpetuated by conflict entrepreneurs and criminal non-state actors continue fester.
While the minister would naturally focus on confronting current security challenges in the country, it is important that he does not loss sight of short, medium and long term demands of repositioning Nigerian Armed forces for future battles.
To achieve this, he must focus on the core mandate of the ministry which is: “To manage all branches of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to maintain a modern, competent, and professional military force for the protection of national territory, maritime interests, airspace, and constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
In line with this core mandate of the MOD and role of the Minister of Defence, General Magashi is expected to exert his authority to ensure that all joint operations are not just so mere routine by ensuring strict command and control; and eliminating inter-service and inter-agency rivalry at tactic, operational and strategic levels of commands in all operations.
In age of hybrid warfare, Magashi must concentrate on having Armed forces that are not just seen to be powerful, but really powerful based on its Table of Equipments (TOEs) in Army, Navy and Airforce- armed forces that are technologically superior, effective in weaponry and have capabilities for rapid response.
Magashi has the task of truly ensuring Nigeria regains her past glory in Peace Support Operations. Rather than basking in the euphoria of the past, he must do honest, transparent and accountable assessment of the country’s position in PSO as regards Contingent Own Equipments, COEs.
Over the years, the defence sector has faced challenges of budgeting and funding as well as arms/and armaments acquisition. In line with global best practices, United Nations recommended that even in peacetime, a country’s annual defence budget allocation should not be less than 3% of the Gross Domestic Product, (GDP). Nigeria has not achieved this recommendation since return of democracy in 1999.
One of the biggest challenges of Nigerian Armed Forces is negative public perception and lack of national consensus on its role and achievements in various operations in and outside the country. The task before the defence minister is to create a common front in building a positive public perception for the armed forces. There should be well-coordinated, continuous and deliberate narratives that project the Armed Forces as Citizen inclined.
Magashi who left Nigerian Armed Forces in 1999, almost two decades ago is returning to serve the country in the age of social media; when citizens are empowered to demand and engage public office holders, while some non-state actors undermine authority of state actors.
Therefore, the focus of MOD should not just be on winning battles, but more importantly, winning the war. The role of the new minister should be to mobilize citizens’ support for the armed forces in any operation whether at home or abroad.
In a country with high number of agile and knowledgeable retired officers and men of the armed forces; army of unemployed; youthful population, it is surprising that Nigeria is yet to form a military reserve force.
As the minister settles down, this is one key area he would be expected to address in the long term. This will address wastage in the system and assuage the army of ‘disgruntled’ personnel who left the armed forces at various ranks or felt were ‘pushed out’ when they thought they still had something to offer.
One of his tasks should be to give time line to operations and have exit strategy.
In line with global best practices, he must look at simulations and war-gaming by various services to anticipate future battles.
To be on track in achieving the task before him, the minister must always take note of the mission of the ministry and his schedule of duties which include: maintaining a mission-ready military on land, sea and air; maintaining a proper balance in arms and men to meet the needs of internal and external security; making provision for the welfare of the men of the Armed Forces in terms of training, accommodation, health care and other benefits aimed at boosting their morale; enhancing the capabilities of the country’s Defence Industries in order to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign sources of supply; ensuring security in the African continent by promotion of a collective defence system through bilateral, sub-regional and continental co-operation to ward off external aggression and to attain the African objective of the national foreign policy participation in peacekeeping missions through the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU) and the Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS).