Will the change of guard in military leadership make the difference in the war against terror?
The appointment of four new military service chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, January 26, came to many critics as an anti-climax in the war against insurgency and banditry in Nigeria. The replaced service chiefs had atrophied on the job and the law of diminishing returns had set in. Most stakeholders had asked for their replacement. Both arms of the National Assembly had passed motions advising the President to replace them but obviously knowing better, he stuck to his guns, till Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he braced them up for the onerous responsibility facing them. “We’re in a state of emergency. Be patriotic; serve the country well, as your loyalty is to the country. There’s nothing I can tell you about the service because you are in it. I was also in it, and I will pray for you. I also assure you that whatever I can do as Commander-in-Chief will be done so that the people will appreciate your efforts. You know the stage we were in 2015; you know the stage we are now, and the undertakings we made. We promised to secure the country, revive the economy, and fight corruption. None has been easy, but we have certainly made progress.”
Buhari charged them to be concerned about the morale of their officers and men, and make them to feel physically and professionally secure. On his part, he pledged that government would do its best in terms of equipment and logistics.
The stagnation in the military brought about by the non-retirement of overdue former military chiefs had lowered the morale of officers and men, according to our sources. The announcement of new service chiefs immediately raised the morale of the soldiers who successfully took out four Boko Haram hideouts in Sambisa Forest. It was a spontaneous reaction to the change of guards, which they had yearned for.
What changed to convince Buhari to sack the service chiefs seen by most Nigerians as having failed in the war against insurgency and banditry? Despite the insistence of government’s spin doctors that Boko Haram had been defeated ‘technically’, the insurgents continued to wax stronger and stronger, posting significant gains against the Nigerian military. Bandits grew stronger and could kidnap and keep 344 school children comfortably without intervention by the military. Banditry is slowly creeping southwards through the Fulani herdsmen and Nigeria was steadily moving towards complete breakdown of law and order. It was time to make changes, and hope for the best.
Three appointments, Major General Lucky Irabor, from Delta State, as chief of defence staff; Major General Ibrahim Attahiru, from Kaduna State as chief of army staff; and Air Vice Marshall Isiaka Amao from Osun State as Chief of Air Staff, are immediately relevant to the military campaign in the North. The three are veterans of the war against Boko Haram.
Ideally, insiders say Irabor should have been made the Chief of Army Staff; but not being from the North may have counted against him, in spite of his competence. Chief of Defence Staff is not a command position; it is more or less an administrative and ceremonial position. A soldier with his abilities should have been allowed to turn things around as Chief of Army Staff.
A member of regular course 34 of the Nigerian Defence Academy, he was the Chief of Training and Operations, Defence Headquarters, until his elevation. He attended Ghana Armed Forces Staff College, Ghana, the National Defence College, Bangladesh, and Harvard Kennedy School of Government Executive Programme, USA. He has an engineering degree from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and two Masters Degrees from the University of Ghana, Accra, and Bangladesh University of Professionals, Dhaka.
Irabor was a former Theatre Commander of OPERATION LAFIYA DOLE, North-East Nigeria, and the Force Commander, Multinational Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad Basin Area, which focused on Counter-Terrorism/Counter-Insurgency from May 2017 to August 2018. He won medals from his excellent performance in the Economic Community of West Africa Monitoring Group, ECOMOG and United Nations peace keeping operations.
Major General Attahiru Ibrahim, from Kaduna State, replaces Tukur Buratai as Chief of Army Staff. He was until his appointment the general officer commanding 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu. He was a member of Regular Course 35 of the Nigerian Defence Academy. He was the Theatre Commander of the Operation Lafiya Dole, but was sacked in 2017 for alleged incompetence under what was seen as controversial circumstances. Burutai had reportedly given him 40 days to capture Boko Haram leader, Ibrahim Shekau, which he could not do and was replaced. It was alleged that his time as theatre commander witnessed remarkable reversals for the operations as the insurgents attacked military formations and capped it with an attack on Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State.
If this senior officer was selected by Buhari as the replacement for Burutai, it suggests that his removal by Burutai has been found to be wrong. It means he was not incompetent after all as theatre commander, as alleged. It also suggests that Burutai was either wrong in his assessment of Ibrahim, or the political establishment decided to overlook his failings as theatre commander. Whichever be the case, his performance henceforth will speak for him.
Air Vice Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao, like Ibrahim, is a member of 35th Nigerian Defence Academy Regular Course. He was commissioned as a pilot officer on December 20, 1986. He has a Master of Science (MSc) degree in Defence and Strategic Studies from the University of Madras, India; a Master of Military Science and Strategy, (MMSc) and Advance Diploma in Defence and Strategy Studies from National Defence University, (NDU) China; a post-graduate diploma in International Relations and Diplomacy from Kaduna Polytechnic; National Diploma in Freshwater and Fisheries Technology from Federal College of Freshwater and Fisheries Technology, (FCFFT) New Bussa, Nigeria, and Nigerian Defence Academy Certificate of Education.
Until his appointment, he was the Commandant, Armed Forces Resettlement Centre, Lagos. Prior to this, he was Chief of Policy and Plans, Nigerian Air Force; Chief of Training and Operations, Nigerian Air Force; Air Officer Commanding, Tactical Air Command, Makurdi; Director of Operations at the Headquarters, Nigerian Air Force; Director of Training at Headquarters, Nigerian Air Force; and Director of Policy at Headquarters, Nigerian Air Force.
He was an important part of the military campaign against insurgency in the Northeast. He was Deputy Theatre Commander, (Air) Operation, LAFIYA DOLE, and Air Component Commander, Operations ZAMALAFIYA and LAFIYA DOLE, (North East Nigeria Operation). He was also Commander of 75 Strike Group, Yola, Nigeria, and Commander of 99 Air Combat Training Group.
These three are seen as round pegs in round holes in the quest for total defeat of Boko Haram and banditry in the Northeast.
Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, from Kano State, replaced Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe Iba as Chief of Naval Staff, CNS. He is the 23rd CNS of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As a member of Regular Course 36 of the Nigerian Defence Academy, he is the youngest of the four senior officers elevated to service chiefs.
He is an Underwater Warfare specialist with a sub-specialization in Intelligence. Prior to his appointment, he was Director of Procurement at the Defence Space Administration. He holds a PGD in Transport Management, and a Masters Degree in Transport Management (Logistic Option), both from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, Oyo State.
Gambo is a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management, NIM; Fellow of the Certified Institute of Shipping; Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Administration of Nigeria, as well as a fellow of the National Defence College, South Africa.
He has not held any command position prior to his appointment. However, he will test his competence in the turbulent waters of the Niger Delta with its challenges, away from the theatre of war in the Northeast, which has no naval component.
Put together, Buhari regime’s epitaph will be written by the success or failure of the CDS, COAS and Chief of Air Staff in the Northeast operations. The trio is conversant with the Northeast operations and its challenges and is expected to hit the ground running, if they can raise the flagging morale of their officers and men.
As they left the State House on Wednesday, the voice of the Commander-in-Chief must have echoed in their hearts, and will continue to echo until their duties are done.