GEORGE AGBA writes that President Muhammadu Buhari has the support of security experts and other stakeholders on his decision to extend the tenure of service chiefs.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday exercised his powers contained in section 218 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution as well as section 09.06 of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions for Service for Officers (2012) Revised, to retain Service Chiefs in the country.
A lot of dust was generated within the week when the presidency announced the extension of the tenure of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas and the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar.
Against the backdrop of growing disquiet within the military circle, some stakeholders who spoke to LEADERSHIP Sunday argued that in exercising his constitutional powers, President Buhari also made the right choice at this point in the country’s checkered history.
According to them, it not in contention that the team retained by the president has some of the best, brightest and finest officers that many can attest to the fact that they have given their all to secure and stabilize a country that has been simultaneously engaged in all manner of unprecedented conflicts and threats never recorded since the end of the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War.
Not a few of the stakeholders agree that none but the president who is also a living war veteran feels the pinch more than anyone, taking into account that indeed the nation is currently in the throes of war. They argue that the raw exigency of the moment lays on his shoulders the responsibility to do the utmost to wrest the nation from the jaws of chaos.
The thinking is that this is the best plausible context to place the president’s decision to keep the service chiefs as a winning strategy to sustain the tempo of the war on terror in the North East as well as consolidate on the military’s successes in containing threats to national security across the country.
Speaking on the matter, the Concerned Professionals’ Congress (CPC), civil advocacy group, while reacting to Buhari’s decision to retain the CDS and three service chiefs described it as a major step in consolidating on the successful strategy employed by the military high command against grave threats to the security, stability and unity of the nation.
The pro-democracy group said that the robust inter-agency synergy and collaboration driven by the CDS with the support of the service chiefs and heads of other security agencies went a long way to sway the president’s mind in taking the decision.
At a media briefing, which he jointly addressed with the group’s Northern Regional Rapporteur, Malam Baba Al-Kasim in Bauchi yesterday, Mr. Emeka Nwankpa, the Chief Media Strategist of CPC, maintained that the widely-acknowledged success of the counter-terrorism strategy by the CDS-led team in the war against terror in the North East weighted heavily for the tenure extension for the service chiefs.
Nwamkpa contended that since no one had so far questioned the president’s powers in taking the decision, the best explanation to offer is that the CDS-led team had earned the trust, appreciation and confidence of President Buhari, the Nigerian people and the international community in the way and manner they have collectively and professionally tackled threats to national security and stability.
He expressed dismay that some politicians had started reading political meaning to the president’s move against 2019 general elections, wondering why everything is politicized in the country.
His words: “Mr. President’s action will consolidate on the gains of the anti-insurgency operations and stabilize the military high command against distractions that may jeopardize national security objectives. It is on account of the overwhelming evidence of our military’s successful onslaught against terrorism and insurgency in the North East which has received high-scale global rating.
‘’Tell me, can you politick where there is insecurity? Can you hold elections where there is insecurity? The nation must first be safe, secure and stable before anybody can play politics. I believe the president has taken it upon himself to secure the country first by any means he deems fit.
‘’We should rally round him to support and encourage him. The nation must be made to exist first before we do politics. It is clear that he has bonded very well with the service chiefs hence his decision to retain them to deliver. You can fault the president for picking you for an assignment but you cannot fault him when you have earned his trust and confidence to deliver”.
Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State whose opposition to the president on issues is not new to many actually said that he had nothing against the service chiefs. But not unexpectedly, he introduced a sharp political angle to it, alleging that the tenure retention was part of the plans to spend the $1billion, which the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) had agreed to allow the federal government to withdraw from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fight Boko Haram in the North East.
Since he made the allegation, his colleagues in the NGF, particularly the chairman and Zamfara State governor, Addul’aziz Yari have faulted him, saying that the decision was unanimously taken by a majority of the governors who attended the meeting.
Similarly, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo gave more clarification on the money, noting that the governors approved the fund for security concerns in all parts of the country and not in the North East alone.
Further weighing in on the president’s rationale for retaining the service chiefs, Colonel Tony Nyiam (rtd), a former member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue under the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, said that Buhari might have taken the decision based on the trust he has in them, “which to some extent, I would support, on the premise that when the country was in crises, they held the nation together”.
In the same vein, Dr. Emmanuel Onoja, a scholar whose doctoral thesis was on the ‘Imperative of Military Operations in Combating Civil Disorder in Nigeria’, observed that the Nigerian military has creditably acquitted itself very well in effectively quelling civil disorder and other forms of armed conflicts in the country and has moved from the last to the first in the nation’s line of defense.
Dr. Onoja maintained that the recurring Internal security challenges in the country were a sad reflection of the complex Nigerian State, pointing out it is also a direct fallout of the nation’s diverse ethnic, religious, cultural and geo-political arrangement, which more often than not, have always threatened Nigeria’s corporate existence and her collective quest for national security and political stability.
He explained that where severe internal crisis in any part of the country had tasked the capacity of the civil Police to contain, the military had always been deployed by the president and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces in line with the military’s constitutional obligation to provide assistance in aid of civil authority in the restoration of law and order, peace and security.
He argued that the resort to the military had always ensured that emerging internal security threats do not degenerate or escalate to the point of consuming the entire country or any of its federating parts, pointing out that the President, Commander-in-Chief can invoke his constitutional powers to deploy the military accordingly
He said that with over 20 different military operations simultaneously conducted across the country, the president’s campaign pledge to tackle insecurity had been fulfilled by the pro-active military including its curtailment of emerging national security threats.
He congratulated the CDS and his team for exhibiting a leadership style that has promoted effective coordination of the Army, Navy and the Air Force, while also forging workable strategic partnerships with other security agencies to achieve common national security goals.
Going forward, Dr. Onoja foresees tougher days ahead for the remnants of Boko Haram terrorists and other non-state actors that are behind threats to national peace, security and stability, no thanks to the fresh marching orders by the president to the CDS and the service chiefs to continue with what they know to do best.
Also, Mr. Chidi Omeje, the National coordinator of Citizens Initiative for Security Awareness (NISA), a civil society organization engaged in creating and spreading security awareness among Nigerians, agreed that without mincing words, the Nigerian military is now the nation’s first and last lines of defence.
He argued that the armed forces have never been engaged in sundry internal security operations as it is now. He pointed out that on many fronts, it is assailed by crises and conflicts of different scope, shape and size, ranging from insurgency, terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustlers, farmers-herdsmen clashes, pipeline vandalism, electricity cable vandalism, oil theft, illegal bunkering, ritual killing, electoral violence, cultism, among others.
These, he said, are severe security threats to national security and political stability that are clearly beyond the capacity of the civil police to contain.
He praised the military for driving the strategic national defence policy initiative towards achieving a robust inter-agency cooperation among the armed services and collaborating seamlessly with other security agencies through synergy, intelligence and information-sharing to end the war against terror as well as tackle other security threats across the country.
Former defence chiefs whose tenures were also extended included Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike (August 28, 2008-2007 September 2010), Air Chief Marshal OO Petinrin (September 7, 2010- 2004 October 2012), Air Marshal AS Badeh (January 16- July 15, 2015).
Those in defence of President Buhari contend strongly that today, every inch of Nigeria’s territory is free because the resilient Armed Forces of Nigeria under the remarkable leadership of the Chief of Defence Staff, General Olonisakin, has been repositioned to deliver.
The idea is that the energetic Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Buratai; the inimitable Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibas; the cerebral Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Abubakar and the tireless commanders and troops of Operation Lafiya Dole in the North East have worked tirelessly to restore hope by securing and stabilising the region, paving the way for ongoing reconstruction projects in the war-ravaged region.
Observers believe that Nigeria is reaping the gains of the president’s diligent search for competent service chiefs. Their emergence has changed the focus of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
There is a congruence of opinion that Gen. Olonisakin’s vision of a well-motivated, professionally trained and strategically-equipped armed forces that is responsive to national security commitments has immensely boosted the synergy, intelligence and information-sharing style of the administration’s counter-terrorism strategy.
This formula, according to observers, has gone a long way in bringing down Boko Haram’s stronghold in the North East as well as robustly tackling the militancy and other security threats in the Niger Delta and other parts of the country.
Aside politics, President Muhammadu Buhari has unarguably fulfilled a campaign pledge to break Boko Haram in less than 18 months in office. This is because by December 22, 2016 the gallant troops of the Nigerian military’s Operation Lafiya Dole had captured Sambisa Forest, the sect’s base.
Only recently, a 2017 Report on Global Terrorism Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) revealed that the Nigerian military have recorded the largest decrease in terrorism-related deaths which the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, described as a major proof of the Nigerian military’s sustained prosecution of the anti-terror war under what he called President Buhari’s visionary and dogged leadership.
The global report which showed a drop in the number of deaths arising from the war on terror displayed a trend which revealed that Nigeria, compared in 2015 with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, which were most endangered by terrorism, recorded 33 per cent fewer deaths thereby decreasing the scourge of terror-related deaths with a 13 per cent year-on-year decline in two successive years.
The executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace, (IEP), Mr. Steve Killelea, authors of the report, noted that the impact was being felt in the major neighbouring countries- Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
“The decline of Boko Haram in Nigeria is having a positive ripple effect, with Cameroon, Chad and Niger collectively recording 75 per cent fewer deaths”, he said.
Noting that the fight against terror since 2015 has been phenomenal, the CPC told LEADERSHIP Sunday exclusively that Nigeria’s novel counter-terrorism strategy has largely dislocated Boko Haram terrorists, leading to their defeat and prompting a high-powered study group from the prestigious Royal College of Defence Studies in the United Kingdom to understudy the strategy at the Defence Headquarters in Abuja.
It said that Nigeria’s giant contributions to global order, peace and security were being appreciated globally due to President Buhari’s zeal and diligence in selecting the present crop of the highly professional and patriotic service chiefs led by the CDS, Gen. Olonisakin.
The group noted that the CDS-led team has left none in doubt about Nigeria’s role as a leading military force in Africa and the sub-region manifested in the victory over terrorism and insurgency in the country thereby reducing some of the world’s most endemic security challenges.
‘’The Nigerian military under Gen. Olonisakin and the service chiefs have used synergy, intelligence and information sharing to secure and stabilize the nation in the manner it has tackled national security threats particularly terrorism and insurgency’’, Nwankpa said.
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