Buhari’s Service Chiefs and the Underlying Issues

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The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina disclosed in a statement he titled, ‘President Buhari Appoints New Service Chiefs’, the resignation of Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas; and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar from their various offices.

President Buhari thanks the outgoing Service Chiefs for what he calls their overwhelming achievements in our efforts at bringing enduring peace to our dear country wishing them well in their future endeavours. He congratulates the new Service Chiefs, and urges them to be loyal and dedicated in the discharge of their responsibilities.

Who are Service Chiefs? 

Military Chiefs otherwise known as Service Chiefs refer to the highest-ranking officers of the Army, Air force, and the Navy. In the chain of command, the Chief of Army Staff reports to the Chief of Defence Staff, who in turn reports to the Defence Minister who is ultimately accountable to the President. The newly appointed Service Chiefs are Major-General Lucky Irabor, Chief of Defence Staff; Major-General I. Attahiru, Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral A.Z Gambo, Chief of Naval Staff; and Air-Vice Marshal I.O Amao, Chief of Air Staff. Service Chiefs are saddled with the responsibilities of formulating and executing policies that guarantee national security and competence of the force.

The Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru was the General Officer Commanding 82 Divisions of the Nigerian Army, Enugu and was sacked in 2017 for alleged incompetence. Under his watch, suicide bombings and attacks on the Military were on the rise. The Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall Isiaka Amao until his appointment was the Air Officer Commanding, Tactical Air Command (TAC) while the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Auwal Gambo was the Director of Procurement at the Defence Space Administration.

The Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Leo Irabor was the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, from where he was deployed to the Training and Doctrine Command, TRADOC as Commander.

Why this matters? 

It is an understatement to suggest that there’s a national security problem. This stems from a diverse range of problems: the ongoing North East insurgency, the herdsmen crisis and the rise in criminal gangs specialising in abductions for ransom as exemplified by the December kidnap of 300 boys from a school in the North.

The retired service chiefs served for five years- making their tenure the longest since the 1999 return to democracy. While they earned credit for their initial efforts in the battle against Boko Haram, it has  become increasingly obvious that they have fallen behind. Coupled with the increased challenges, it is believed that these changes were long overdue as there have been longstanding calls for their resignation. In that sense, the changes are welcome but it also raises a larger question on the efficacy of the government’s efforts to equip the army for the battle ahead. A potential lack of sustained improvement could point to the existence of deeper rooted, structural issues.