By Tonnie Iredia
Loud calls in the last year for a change of military service chiefs in Nigeria appear to have ended with the announcement, a few days ago, of a new team. An aggregation of the numerous reactions to the new team to be led by war veteran, Lucky Irabor shows that the idea of bringing the team on board at this point in time is propitious and well received.
However, a few people including this writer are still apprehensive of the efficacy of Nigeria’s security architecture. To start with, our leaders erroneously imagine that national security begins and ends with defence and military might. While not doubting the reality of civil strife as a daily feature of Nigeria’s heterogeneous and disparate communities, national security must be better understood to include other crucial areas such as job security and indeed food security; otherwise, a national security policy would be of no use to the unemployed, hungry and poor citizens that constitute the majority of our people.
Our primary error is the belief that the nation’s several challenges can be resolved through weaponry and warfare. A secondary one is the expectation that General Irabor’s group is so solid that it will shortly stabilize Nigeria. As a resource person to many manpower development programmes of the military, I can testify that the top hierarchy of our armed forces is occupied by many exceptionally brilliant and pragmatic fellows.
Indeed, the outgoing team of service chiefs is not inferior to the incoming one in knowledge, skills and professionalism. They are all well trained. But I wholeheartedly support the change of guards because of my strong persuasion that no one is indispensable and that an overstretched actor, ought to give way to a new one for the purpose of policy refreshing.
I am however unable to agree with those who think the problems of the Nigerian military are located only in their leadership cadre. Those who belong to that school of thought are akin to junior military officers who are currently rejoicing leadership change simply because they are not sufficiently tutored enough to know that leadership is a dependent variable.
As ample research has shown, the ability of leadership to perform any function is conditioned by several factors such as the nature of followership as well as the relevant organizational environment. In the Nigerian environment, for example, top officeholders face by far, too many unnecessary distractions. In the case of the ‘new’ service chiefs, they have to pray not to be exhausted before they are sworn in.
First, are they really the new service chiefs? If so, how come they are yet to be cleared by the legislature? Although our National Assembly is currently married to the Executive, a few rascally legislators may frustrate the clearance of any of the nominees. Is such a thought not capable of diminishing one’s zeal? Second, while many are congratulating them, social media is already replete with negative but fake stories about them.
Interestingly, none of the things published about General Lucky Irabor, the incoming Chief of Defence Staff either about his origin or religion is true. Will the authors of such reports not utilize other tools of blackmail if the social media option doesn’t work? Yet, Irabor is the same war hero whose appointment if it were in other climes would have been celebrated across board.
Besides, in recent times, no societal institution has been more distracted than our military. What are their real functions? A rational answer is that today many of their assignments are not in any way close to what the military does elsewhere. A cursory look at their prevailing functions would show that in the last decade, they have been fighting an unconventional war with insurgents.
With cries over banditry in parts of the country, they were asked to also control that. Suddenly kidnappings on our highways became rampant, so we called them in immediately. At a point we called them into the#EndSARS protests because the excellent organization put up by Nigerian youths beat everyone hands down so, some of our leaders thought only the military could match the chaps.
Lest I forget, they are now and again called to get involved with elections even though the current ruling party now calling them to do so, won a court case before coming into power in which it was decided that the military must never be called into an election process. Lastly, as part of general duty, the military especially the army now show up at checkpoints along with the police!
In the process of this yeoman’s job, the military especially soldiers have had to conduct several coded operations in different parts of the country. A national newspaper, Daily Trust which had followed the development was able to list over 40 such coded operations. As the newspaper revealed,”despite giving various operations or exercises different names, the approach, manpower and equipment being deployed were almost the same; hence the outcome hardly makes any difference.”
It is not only the share number of operations that is worrisome, the image of our armed forces is also substantially derogated from by the titles of the operations. The most obvious of them are ‘Crocodile smile’ and ‘Python dance.’Even if the use of coded names is a professional strategy, the failure to end the insurgency in the North east always instigated public ridicule for an army that was visibly dissipating energies in operations within civilian areas instead of the Sambisa forest.
One amusingly wonders what our soldiers were doing with ‘Operation positive identification’ among local people- an operation that can easily become harmful because of disparity in military and civilian dispositions.
From the names of some of the coded operations, the military was certainly undertaking functions of other societal bodies, the most obvious being the police. Some of the coded names were: ‘Operation Sharan Daji’ designed to clear the bushes where criminals were hiding, ‘Operation Egwu Eke’ put in place to fight crimes like cultism,‘Operation 777’ aimed atdealing with kidnapping, robbery and related criminal activities and’Operation Atilogwu’ which literally means ‘Operation Dance for Peace.’
A continuation of these operations by the military would not just reflect a distraction to their main job, it is capable of rendering other bodies redundant. For some time now there have been calls by many citizens including the #EndSARS protesters for government to improve the conditions of service of police operatives. Only last week, the Police Service Commission (PSC) announced the promotion of twenty thousand, three hundred and fifty-six, (20,356) senior Police Officers.
Among them Nine Commissioners of Police promoted to the next rank of Assistant Inspectors General of Police (AIG) while another nine, were promoted from the rank of Deputy Commissioner to Commissioners of Police (CP). So, why do we need the police if their functions are being done by the army?
While wishing that Generals Irabor, Attahiru, Gambo and Amao, would be the lucky team of service chiefs that would stabilize Nigeria, they no doubt need to halt the distractions of coded names for ancillary functions by the military whose success in their main functions have, in more than a decade, remained inchoate.