BENJAMIN SAMSON in this report examines the gains of the interactive sessions with retired senior military officers in the six-geopolitical zones organized by Defence Headquarters (DHQ) amidst myriads of security challenges confronting the nation.
Every profession whether in the public or private sector, has its entry and exit point and the military is not an exception. While some retire after serving 35 years or attaining the age of 60, others retire voluntarily.
Whichever way they choose to exit the profession, retired military personnel or veterans as they are referred to, especially senior officers, are assets to the country given their wealth of experience and knowledge.
It is as a result of this wealth of experience that some countries develop institutional frameworks for productive engagement of retired military personnel, particularly the senior officers. This enables them to be on reserve, thereby contributing their quota to the security and defence architecture of the nation.
It is against this backdrop that the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) under the leadership of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Lucky Irabor, organized interactive sessions with retired senior military officers in the six-geopolitical zones of the country.
The security conference provided a platform where the military high command and its veterans brainstormed on issues of national security, with a view to get first-hand knowledge on the nitty-gritty of the reoccurring security challenges being witnessed in each of the regions.
The maiden edition of the parley was held in the South-west region on June 24, 2021 at the Headquarters 2 Division, Nigerian Army (NA), Ibaban, Oyo state, where the CDS tasked the veterans to be drivers of peace, unity and progress within their neighbourhood.
This was followed by the North-west region where Gen Irabor appealed to the senior citizens to show the same level of commitment and patriotic zeal which they exhibited while in military service and to be in-depth as well as forthright during the interactive session.
He pointed out that the retirees are part of members of the Armed Forces Nigeria (AFN) and security agencies, noting that they must play critical roles in national security as relevant stakeholders.
He said, “From our (AFN) assessment of all the stakeholders within our environment and nation, there is no other persons that is better placed to understand the nuances of not just the security threats, but of course, the containment measures than you (military retirees).”
Similarly, on 22 July, the train moved to south-east geo-political zone where the CDS described the engagements of the military veterans in the region as useful, noting that with their privileged and distinct positions, they could bring greater understanding to stakeholders in the region as well as disabuse the misconceptions and perceptions of Biafra agitators.
The next port of call was the Headquarters Tactical Air Command (TAC), Nigerian Air Force, Makurdi, Benue state, for the North-central edition of the summit.
The CDS in his remarks urged the senior citizens whom he described as military officers even in retirement to be open minded in proffering suggestions to the security threats, promising that there would be interventions in the security dispositions in the North-central and the entire nation.
At the North-east-edition on 24 August 2021 in Yola, Adammawa state, the Defence Chief urged the military veterans to take full advantage of the security parley in evaluating the various military operations, as their patriotic and constructive assessment of the general security situation would add value to the ongoing actionable military offensive clearance operations in the region..
“What remains very clear is the desire and will of the AFN to speedily turn around the fortune of the North-east to a state where everyone will be happy again,” he said.
The final edition of the interactive session was held on 27 August 2021 at the 63 Brigade, Nigerian Army, in Asaba, Delta state.
Speaking, the CDS acknowledged that the security parley which was flagged-off in the South-west, have been worthwhile, successful and beneficial to the AFN, as several topical issues emanated from all the geo-political zone.
This, he said, is guiding the military high command in reviewing its operational doctrines and plans.
According to Gen Irabor, “interaction is a continuous process, so much value has emerged from the interactive session with our retired senior officers, and we are going to leverage the success and benefit to improve on security and safety of lives and properties.”
Speaking on the benefits of the interactive sessions, security analyst Jibrin Ndace said the engagement will provide an opportunity for the military to harness the vast experience of the veterans.
He said, “the robust engagement of General Irabor with retired senior military officers should be seen as a deliberate step to tap into the wealth of experience of the veterans, curb wastage of national assets, give them a sense of belonging and make them powerful tools for changing public perception of the Nigerian Armed Forces, thus enhancing public support through their use of word of mouth as community and opinion leaders in their various spaces.
“The cross fertilization of ideas between the current leadership of the Armed Forces and its veterans will provide a platform for workable ideas in surmounting the contemporary security challenges bedeviling the nation.”
Similarly, various senior military officers who spoke at the parley highlighted the benefits of the engagements.
The Chief of Defence Civil Military Cooperation (CDCIMIC), Rear Admiral Fredrick Ogu said the CDS security parley with retired senior military across the six geopolitical zones is to identify the threats in terms of its intensity and peculiarities with a view to addressing the challenges.
He said as stakeholders in the defence and security sector, the retired senior officers are in a vintage disposition to understand the array of security issues in their domain. He added that they could offer professional counsel on likely strategies to adopt in tackling the security threats.
The CDCIMIC further disclosed that myriads of security issues in the nation and those specific to each geo-political zone were x-rayed, while adding that the outcome of the engagements with the veterans was rewarding.
Also, the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Maj.-Gen. Sani Mohammed lauded the initiative by the CDS in mooting the idea where senior serving and retired military officers were able to gather to brainstorm on a collective approach towards enhancing operational performance of the military in the country.
Likewise, the Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Tactical Air Command (TAC), Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Idi Lubo who acknowledged the critical roles being played by military veterans in the defence and security sectors, said critical issues bothering on intelligence gathering, information sharing and security management which dominated discussion during the close door session were adequately addressed.
Similarly, the GOC, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Maj.-Gen Taofeek Lagbaja said the forum would further shape and enhance AFN collective efforts at responding to the emerging security challenges.
Parley yielding fruits
Furthermore, a group, the Unity Advocacy Group (UAG) has said CDS interaction which is held across the different Geo-political zones is beginning to yield results.
Convener of UAG Ifeanyi Aigbedion, in a press release said that the revelation by General Irabor that the parley led in part to the rescue and safe return of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) fighter pilot, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo who was involved in air crash on Sunday was worth commending.
Aigbedion said the parley is timely and will ensure that stakeholders key into peace building efforts of the leadership of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
The statement reads, “We must commend the leadership of the Armed Forces of Nigeria for the parleys, which we are optimistic will bring the much needed peace to our country.
“We are sure skeptics would have doubted the need for the parley when it started, but the revelation that it played a role in the rescue and return of our brother, NAF fighter pilot, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo justified the need for it.
“Without doubt, the CDS has used this comment to express his gratitude to stakeholders who are quietly playing a major role to see to the return of peace.
“We therefore urge Nigerians, especially Retired Senior Military Officers to continue to support the AFN in the task ahead. We must not live it for the military alone.
“National security is everybody’s business. We must all throw our hat into the ring at this particular time and ensure enemies of the country are defeated. We must also remember the sacrifices of our military personnel.”
Beyond the summit, the AFN must imbibe an institutional way of engaging veterans so as to utilize their wealth of experience, especially now that Nigeria is facing myriads of security challenges.