Amidst the incessant attacks on Nigerians living in the North-east by Boko Haram insurgents, the National Assembly and notable Nigerians have called for the sacking of the nation’s service chiefs. But will their removal end rising security situation in the land? TOPE SUNDAY and BENJAMIN SAMSON ask in this report.
Nigeria is currently battling on all fronts at the moment to curtail the activities of Boko Haram insurgents who, in the last couple of days, have unleashed terror on her citizens that are resident in the North-east. On February 10, 2020, the insurgents killed 30 people in Auno community, on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.
According to Global Rights, an international non-governmental organisation (NGO’s) report released on the violent killings in Nigeria in 2019, a total of 3, 188 people were killed in the year under review.
The breakdown of the figure shows that 702 people were reportedly killed by the Boko Haram/ISWAP during the year; banditry – 1075; abductions – 117; extra- judicial killings – 27; communal clashes – 59; pirate attacks – 10; and electoral violence – 605. As it appears that there is no end in sight to the cruelty of the insurgents who are killing on the daily basis, and there is growing call on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the service chiefs, who by estimation, have spent two years and six months in office having been appointed in 2015.
The two chambers of the Nigerian National Assembly had while debating the rising insecurity in the country passed a vote of no confidence on the service chiefs as well as other security heads in the country.
They called on President Muhammadu Buhari to sack them on the grounds that they had outlived their usefulness.
This followed a motion by the Senate leader, Yahaya Abdullahi.
The lawmakers lamented that underfunding of the nation’s security architecture, service chiefs overstaying their tenure, as well as inadequate staffing were some of the issues that have contributed to the lack of security in the land.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, in his contribution to the debate said the country’s security architecture was no longer effective.
Omo-Agege lamented that the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) was over-stretched; hence can’t curb the country’s insecurity challenges.
“The security architecture of Nigeria is over-stretched and is no longer effective. Talking about NPF we were told the current strength of the police about 300, 000 to police about 200 million people. With this number, there is no way they can do this job combating insecurity in Nigeria,” he said.
Similarly, the House of Representatives urged President Buhari to show sincerity of purpose on the rising spate of insecurity. The lawmakers decried the insurgency, killings, banditry and kidnapping in various parts of the country. The issues were raised when the lawmakers debated a motion moved by the member representing Mangu/Bokkos Federal Constituency of Plateau state, Mr. Solomon Maren.
The motion, which was unanimously adopted, was titled: ‘The Need to Stop Further Killings in Mangu/Bokkos Communities – Death Toll Has Risen to 32 and Increasing Daily Unabated.’
The lawmakers urged President Buhari “to show sincerity and commitment in dealing with the matter, match words with actions and save the country from deepening into anarchy.”
Northern elders’ concerns
Less than three weeks after members of the National Assembly called for the sacking of the service chiefs, the Northern Elders Forum (NGF) also lent its voice to the call by demanding a total overhaul of the nation’s security architecture, in a bid to competently tackle all the security challenges confronting the nation.
The convener of the NEF, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, said in a statement that the current government led by President Muhammadu Buhari had failed to secure the citizens from incessant attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, bandits and other criminal groups.
NEF’s statement issued by the Forum’s director, Advocacy and Engagement, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmad, shortly after a meeting convened by the chairman of the Forum, read in part, “Northern Elders Forum has refrained from comments on major developments relating to management of national security and governance because it is convinced that these are times which require the highest levels of responsibility and circumspection in the manner elders and leaders in the nation contribute to the search for solutions to the multiple problems which face the nation.
“It has become necessary and appropriate, however, to make public, the position of the forum on important matters that affect the manner Nigerians live, and the future we must address.
“The Forum regrets that by any standard of judgement, the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari has failed the nation in the vital area of improving its security. Poverty, particularly in the North, and massive social security have worsened under this administration.
“The Forum demands a thorough overhaul of the leadership of our security and public safety agencies, and the injection of higher levels of competence, integrity and accountability in the manner our troops and the police and security agencies deal with security challenges. We appeal to our religious leaders and fellow citizens not to fall into the trap of insurgents to set us up against each other.
“We condemn the tactic of targeting Christians and publicising their executions by an insurgency seeking to exploit our different faiths.”
In his defence, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai, said President Buhari should not be pushed into sacking his service chiefs “because he knows where the problems are.”
Buratai, who spoke in a special interview with TheCable and THISDAY/ARISE, said while not questioning the wisdom of the National Assembly, the solution is not the removal of service chiefs as Buhari “knows where it pinches” and is the right arbiter.
He said, “I am tempted not to comment on this particular issue because I am directly involved. However, I want to believe that whatever happens, the commander-in-chief is the right arbiter, and he knows where it pinches; he knows where the problems are. I think the decision should be left to him. He should not be pushed or prompted in this regard.
“We are into a very serious issue which should not be taken lightly. This is why when you say a particular crop of leaders in the military should be removed for whatever reason, it sounds very odd because we are not addressing the issues. I am not saying this because I am the chief of army staff and I do not want to leave. No, that is not the issue. It is beyond that because this is a national issue, an issue of national pride and national interest. Those who would cry loudly against the service chiefs are within, and they are the ones who should be more vocal in the things that are not going right.”
Security expert’s take
Also, in a chat with Blueprint Weekend, a security expert, Col. Yusuf Lawan (retd.), queried the call for the removal of the service chiefs in a hurry.
He said, “For President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired General of the Nigerian Army, he has worn the shoes of war and knows exactly where they pinch. And whereas millions of compatriots could afford to play politics with the war against terror, he is one of the last set of people to do so.
“If he who knows what war in real terms means, who also knows more than everyone else the challenges the Nigerian military is facing in fighting the war against terror; if he insists on retaining the current crop of service chiefs, then there must be a reason. And knowing President Buhari very well, any dispassionate Nigerian could attest to the fact that the reasons must be very cogent.
“If also, as President of Nigeria or any other country, you keep changing security or service chiefs on account of being asked to do so by mostly the opposition, then, in a four-year tenure you would end up with perhaps a hundred service chiefs. You can then be sure of reaping tons of chaos.
“Many of us identify that something drastic has to be done; there’s 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 air force are outfits set up to tackle external aggression. It is the police that are set up for internal security, such as we are all witnessing.
“As far as the issue of security if this country is concerned, we believe that it is imperative that we are able to provide those necessary equipment and welfare for the armed forces of this country and the police, to ensure that they are able to operate and perform efficiently and effectively.”
CSOs state position
Similarly, some civil society groups, Conference of Civil Society Organisations for Peace, Security and National Development, faulted the National Assembly and other pressure groups for the military chiefs’ sacking saying the call was ill-timed and diversionary “considering the achievements the military has recorded in securing the nation.”
The conveners, Mike Msuaan and Comrade Adamu Kabir Matazu, who had addressed a press conference in Abuja, told Blueprint Weekend that the military deserves support from all strata of the society considering the complexity of fighting insurgency.
According to them, “We were all witnesses to the reaction that greeted the pronouncement by the federal government of plans to withdraw the military from the North-east. The whole nation was unanimous on the need for the military to stay longer in the troubled region. This is a testimony that significant feats have been recorded in the fight against insurgency.
“There is no denying the fact that the criminals seem to be regrouping and restrategising as has been reports of rise in criminal activities in the north east in particular leading to loss of several lives and destruction of property. However, the call for the head of security chiefs is not the solution. The least expected of patriotic citizens at the moment is to show solidarity with the military.”
According to them, all hands must be on deck to solve the problem.
Addressing a joint press conference in Abuja, the chairperson of Conference of Civil Society of Nigeria (Civil Society Centre for Leadership and Followership), Comrade Adams Otakwu, said, “Even if you change and replace a hundred service chiefs without strengthening the security infrastructure and addressing the challenges in a holistic manner the insecurity will subsist.”
“Members of these terrorist groups are faceless and sometimes dwell within this civil populace, therefore making the war very unconventional and irregular for the military.
“This theatre of operation is very vast, and has very poor roads and communication infrastructure, which greatly encumber the success of security operations, hence the need for equipment to put the military in top shape.
“In Nigeria, owing to many years of poor leadership and followership, corruption and poor governance, our economy deteriorated and created huge unemployment. Despite efforts by the current government to ameliorate the situation, some jobless citizens still find a trade in terrorism, insurgency, banditry and kidnapping that place a serious burden on internal security.”
On the way forward, they said, “Nigerians must acknowledge that security is our collective responsibility; the government, the military and all citizens must demonstrate more sincerity of purpose and commitment to ending this insecurity.”
Jonathan’s aide reacts
Despite the various voices in support of the service chiefs to stay back in office, the aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Reno Omokri, alleged that the service chiefs were appointed to serve the president.
Omokri, in a tweet on his official and verified twitter handles @ renoomokri, said: “Those calling on General @MBuhari to sack the service chiefs for failure to perform have no understanding. The service chiefs were not appointed to ensure national security. They were appointed to ensure Buhari’s security. In his eyes, they have been very successful at their job.”
A varsity teacher’s take
In his contribution, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Landmark University, Omu Aran, Kwara state, Mr. Femi Fayomi, in an interview with Blueprint Weekend, said they have overstayed their welcome.
He said, “It is my candid opinion that the service chiefs have overstayed their welcome. The military is structured along hierarchical progression with expected years in service. The current service chiefs, particularly the Chief of Army Staff, has his tenure extended, this will not only demoralise the officers who would have benefited if he has been retired. This can also lead to ‘conspiracy’ in the discharge of their functions.
“Apart from this, while credit should be given to them in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency, the spate of insecurity with incessant killings across the country would have ordinarily necessitated their removal in other climes; however, the reverse has been the case in Nigeria.
“I strongly believe that it is high time the president relieved the service chiefs of their appointments so as to re-jig the fight against insecurity in the land.”