By Tonnie Iredia
Many Nigerians who feel our current service chiefs should quit have loudly said so from all over the country – it is a call that is virtually unanimous – and for once, bipartisan.
It is probably the first topic about which members of our two main political parties are agreed. Of course, we are all tired of the unending insurgency whose collateral damage has been enormous – thousands of deaths with scores of people displaced from their homes etc.
But while we do not dispute the popularity of the call, we are however concerned that no one has provided credible evidence that the removal of the service chiefs would solve the problem at hand. We posit that if care is not taken, Nigeria may once again be dealing with the symptom rather than the cause of her problem. Put differently, if new service chiefs emerge now to operate in the existing convoluted environment, the required change would hardly come.
The call for a change of guards no doubt suggests a failure on the part of those in charge, but why are service chiefs the only ones to go? What about our Minister of Defence? Why is no one calling out the National Security Adviser? Do these have no hands in our dilemma? For those who are unaware that the service chiefs report to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), let’s recall an episode during the tenure of President Jonathan when the CDS declined to attend a meeting of service chiefs called by the then Defence Minister. His argument was that the Minister could not meet with them all but with only himself while he relates the issues raised with Heads of the separate military forces who are answerable to him. On this score, it appears proper to first remove the boss – the CDS before removing any service chief. It would be a different ball game if a panel finds him and all other heads wanting before they can all be removed together. Otherwise, it is only an officer who is proven to be underperforming that should be asked to quit while one who is known to have done well should be commended and retained.
In any case, if our pain is that the war against the dreaded insurgents has been poorly prosecuted, we cannot fault just one group. Government itself must take a large chunk of the blame. To start with, no one showed interest in the strident calls by our soldiers, who against all odds, found unorthodox ways of publicising their poor living conditions and inadequate equipment. The National Assembly which duplicates in both chambers, a multiplicity of oversight committees on the different arms of the military, neither confirmed nor denied the veracity of the calls. Thus, the only logical implication of ignoring those calls was that the nation did not mind a fitful performance at the war front making the present yelling sound like crocodile tears. This is more so as we have in the last couple of years, had an overburdened military. Rather than allowing them to concentrate on the onerous challenges of insurgency, the same service chiefs have been distracted now and again with the task of tackling other things including electoral malpractices; in breach of a judicial pronouncement against involving the military in elections.
Apart from the main ‘Operation ‘Lafia Dole’ the Nigerian armed forces have had to institute other campaigns like ‘Operation Safe Haven’ to among other things quell ethno-religious conflicts and other criminal activities in the North Central. Can the Police not handle that? In addition, military campaigns are simultaneously on-going in other parts of the country. Instead of apprehending arms smugglers, the Navy four days ago, proudly announced the arrest of 13 suspects and their 2,053 bags of rice smuggled into Akwa Ibom; along with the earlier arrest of 54 suspects and 3,378 bags of smuggled rice in October 2019. As at today, the Nigerian military is fully involved in so many police duties. Even if such duties were usurped by the military, is there no one that can call them to order? The logical answer is that they are doing what the nation demands of them which makes it illogical to hold only them liable for the rising insecurity in the land.
Even the call by Senator Abaribe for government to resign is not spectacular. What those who countered him failed to realize is that Abaribe’s call also concerns the legislature which is part of government. Is anyone in doubt that the insurgents find easy followers from our millions of unemployed youths? It is not only that jobs are not there; the few vacancies are filled through the back door by relations and friends of senators and other top political office holders who have poor credentials. This tells well qualified Nigerians that they can never be employed thereby encouraging them to use whatever methods including their intellect and youthfulness to find a living.
If Nigeria wants an end to insurgency, then the war must be comprehensive; it must be approached from all ends as was done with the Ebola calamity. Retirements in the military that we learn from the media must stop. This is the wrong time to ask military operatives to disengage because they have passed the age specified for certain grades. We are certainly in an emergency when things cannot be done as in normal times; instead, the military should be expanded because we lose nothing having hundreds of generals in the military until the war ends. This is one way of arresting the apprehension in the military that the continued stay of certain officials might truncate the career of their erstwhile juniors. Indeed, all ex-military personnel who are still agile ought to be recalled to the battle-front in line with the saying that once a general always a general.
We can also not leave the fight to the military alone. Civil authorities, the Police SSS, NCDC etc. should man all recovered territories rather than leaving them fallow for future attacks. All citizens particularly those in affected areas must be mobilized through non-stop public enlightenment strategies which dwell on the evils of waging wars against the fatherland. This would hopefully dissuade new entrants into insurgency just as it could propel everyone to become the conscience of the nation. Thus, no one should envy the military for attracting huge subventions for a capital-intensive-venture. It is not enough for legislators to deprecate the trillions of naira that have allegedly gone to the military in a number of years without showing us how such trillions were misappropriated.
So, before we sack the current service chiefs, let us adequately fund the military and stop them from being able to only eye the superior weapons of their opponents. Our federal legislators can lead the way by ceding to the military, the billions appropriated for repairing their beautiful National Assembly- an edifice whose contrived defects have remained invisible.