Replacing Service Chiefs; Why Nigerians must speak with one voice

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In the wake of killings, banditry, kidnapping and terrorism in Nigeria, the change of security tactics, strategies and leadership are cardinal.  For over 10 years now, the fight against the scourge of insurgence is far from seeing the finishing line, especially with the resurgence of attacks in the North East. From the continued carnage meted on the Country by terrorism, it seems the current Service Chiefs have run out of ideas on viable ways in combating the bane of insurgence in the Country. This appears enough reasons to exert a conundrum on the issue of replacing the Service Chiefs, a matter which recently has become a controversial debate.

Lawmakers, leaders and Nigerians across board have called for the retirement of Service Chiefs as possible alternative to ending the bane of insecurity.  Here, the impending necessity to change the Service Chiefs either through sack or retirement has garnered detribalised supports.

Reasons put forward in justifying the call for the sack and retirement of the Service Chiefs, are primarily based on the prescription of the law on the terms of service of Armed Forces hierarchy and the need to explore new leadership tactics in winning the war against terrorism.

Record has it that the Nigeria Service Chiefs include the Chief of Defence Staff, Abayomi Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, and Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar. They were all appointed on July 13, 2015, by President Muhammad Buhari. He had said he considered merit and track records in choosing them for their assignments. Meaning according to him, their records gave them the job. Interestingly, section  Eight  (8) of the Public Service Rules stipulates that the compulsory retirement age for all grades in the service shall be 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service, whichever is earlier. “No officer shall be allowed to remain in service after attaining the retirement age of 60 years or 35 years of pensionable service whichever is earlier,” it says. Also, section 4 of the harmonised terms and conditions of service officers (2017) states that military service of an officer is a period of unbroken service in the armed forces of Nigeria from the date of commission to the date of retirement from service.

This is not unconnected to the position recently advanced by Femi Fallana, human right lawyer, who threaten to sue the federal Government for breaching the constitution over the continued stay of Service Chiefs.  Putting this into perspective, according to records, Mr Olonisakin, who is 57 years, has spent 38 years in service. Buratai and Ibas, both 59 years, have been in service for 36 years. Air Chief Abubakar, 59, has spent 40 years in service.

This is two years after the abduction of Leah Sheribu one of the abducted Dapchi girls and the release from captivity of the remaining Chibok girls are still bleak.  In one of the recent incidents, on Sunday, February 9, 2020, while commuters in their hundreds were waiting for the dawning of the day in Auno village in Borno State,  about 30 persons including women and children were burnt to death by Boko Haram. Earlier 13 people were killed in a Plateau community. Also there was the kidnap and killing of a seminarian, Michael Nnadi.  Cases of senseless killings are replete in the country. This is evident, inspite of the seemingly all talks-without-results claims from the Service Chiefs that Boko haram have been ‘defeated’.

More than two weeks after the fundamental resolutions raised by the two Chambers of the National Assembly has gone by, there is yet no result.  While on one hand, the House of Representatives urged the President to sack the Service Chiefs and appoint new ones, on the other hand the Senate sought the  imposing of  a state of emergency on insecurity.  Little wonder the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido, speaking  recently at the event organised to mark Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s birthday, said about the state of insecurity in Nigeria that ‘the truth is nobody related to Northern Nigerian today can afford to be happy’.

The Senate president, Ahmed Lawan, at the same event, stated that  ‘Nigerian is at the crossroad’  and that ‘Nigeria is on the tipping point’. All these statements have remained national calls for solution on the Nation’s state of insecurity.

On Tuesday, Boss Mustapha , the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) said “this is not the right time to sack heads of security agencies”. He disclosed this in Abuja at a book launch while fielding questions from journalists. “You don’t sack people like that”, he said. Defending the Presidency, Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser on Media to the President, said amidst the insecurity, Nigerians “have reasons to be grateful as the security situation is better than it was before Mr. Buhari assumed office. We know what the situation was as at 2015 and we know what it is today. Despite the reversals in security, it is still not as bad as it used to be in this country.”

Also Garba Shehu, Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari, said that heads of security agencies would remain in service. Shehu had said, “Removal or sack of service chiefs does not stop all of what we are experiencing. Whether we like it or not, we are in a war situation. The President and the Commander-In-Chief is seeing things that others cannot see. This is why he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

“How can they say the President does not care? His heart is there on how to secure and protect this nation. He is being briefed adequately by the Service Chiefs and others and he gives directives as the C-In-C. It is people who don’t know what the government is doing that are saying the President does not care. They think security is like a market place where everybody is an expert. The President is a military man; he has been working very hard with others on multiple solutions to the challenges at hand.”

However, Nigerians must note that in matters like this, the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is critical. In some climes, the National Assembly as an organ of Government is a pivotal institution in solving issues of insecurity with veritable resolutions and laws. This found expression in the recent United States’ House of Representatives’ war power resolution approved on 9th January 2020 to restrict President Donald Trump’s actions against Iran.

All indications is showing that the attempt of the   National Assembly (NASS) to do something similar is failing. Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila, weeks ago had held a crucial meeting with the President  in the wake of it resolutions on the state of Nigeria’s insecurity.  It is disheartening that what was viewed as a potent move by  both Chambers to provide ease to the canage of insecurity in the country,  the President is yet to act on the advice of the National Assembly. It would be recalled that immediately after the meeting, Mr. Gbajabiamila said there was the concern for a “knee-jerk” decision regarding the Service Chiefs, and also whether the prevalent security problems fall under their job description.

On the path of the Senate, when asked if the issue of Security Chiefs came up, Lawan simply emphasised the need “to provide those necessary equipment and welfare for the armed forces and the police”; and when asked about Buhari’s reaction, he said the President is “more worried than anybody else.” Weeks after the  resolutions  of the leadership of the National Assembly  on insecurity and call from many Nigerians, the situation still lingers.  Away from the refusal of the Presidency, on whose hands  reside  the power to hire and fire the Service Chiefs, Nigerians need to be more united than ever in the struggle towards putting an end to the menace of insecurity. This trails the line of the advice of Gen. Abubakar Abdulsalami expressed recently in Port-Harcount  where he urged Nigerians that the “fight against insecurity is a collective responsibility”. In his call, he said: “It is high time we stood up to fight this insecurity in the country.”

While Nigerians must yield to this call, the government should stand by the constitutional principles of the laws on every issue.  The Presidency should abide by statutory provisions by effecting the replacement of Service Chiefs and men of the Armed Forces who are long due to be retired on the basis of section  8 of the Public Service Rules and section 4 of the Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service Officers (2017).

There is no need to apply different rules for different folks especially in relation to security.

Incubating overdue-for-retirement Service Chiefs is possible morale killer for military rank and file.

Rejigging the Nigeria’s security architecture cannot be over emphasized.  World over, restructuring military leadership is an important tactics in securing victory against insecurity and insurgence.

Bringing new Service Chiefs will no doubt avail the military fire-brand ideas, tactics and strategies that will enable the Armed Forces to crush the insurgents with boosted morales. The Nigeria Military is urged to dispose any garment hindering the fight against terrorism. This will make a case for families’ victims of the insurgence in the North East and Nigerian at large, who are waiting to see light at the end of the tunnel

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