Opinion: Nigeria’s service chiefs and why Buhari’s apple is sweeter! by Richard Murphy

Opinion: Nigeria’s service chiefs and why Buhari’s apple is sweeter! by Richard Murphy

Editor's note: Richard Murphy, a Calabar-based security expert writes on the outrage over the continuous stay service chiefs since President Muhammadu Buhari's administration resumed office in 2015.

Murphy suggests that the service chiefs like every other appointee of the president need time to institutionalize their reforms and for them to take firm roots in the system.

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I have maintained intentional silence since the nauseating confrontation between the National Assembly (NASS) and President Muhammadu Buhari, as well as service and security chiefs (SSCs), shuddered the nation. In a rare disarming display of insensitivity on bubbling tensions on insecurity in the nation, NASS did the unthinkable.

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At the plenary of both chambers on January 29, 2020, while debating on separate motions over a renewed spate of attacks and killings in parts of the country, lawmakers went on the offensive. The parliamentarians called for the resignation of President Buhari; dubbed security Heads as failures; canvassed for the voluntary retirement of SSCs or their immediate sack together with all other Heads of the nation’s security architecture.

I found the hastiness of the extreme decisions unthoughtful and the condemnations completely outlandish. I may not necessarily be right in my presumptions, but I feel strongly about it. NASS appears to have retraced its apparently faulty steps after an indoor meeting with President Buhari.

Nevertheless, what has refused to free my psyche and keeps lingering in my sub-consciousness is the blatant display of lack of knowledge about security matters and a near arrogant sycophantic pandering to forces antithetical to national interests.

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In truth, I am not bothered by their refusal to see the positive changes in the management of the country’s litany of securities. Our people say, you can only force a horse to the stream, but cannot compel it to drink from its waters.

Though tension has been doused in this regard, it is good to straighten the records for posterity’s sake. Everywhere, security issues especially when it affects the soul of a nation, like a case with Nigeria now is treated with a lot of circumspection. Its delicateness demands caution, consistent actions or policies from all actors and stakeholders if the pursuit of peace is genuine and streams from the heart.

It has been the passion of President Buhari from the outset of his administration. It took the President a diligent search, energy and time to constitute the leadership of his security team because he met Nigeria deeply burdened by choking and multifarious security breaches. Those who were appointed leaders of the various arms of the Nigerian Armed Forces and other supporting security agencies were thorough breed, tested and trusted officers.

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The Nigerian Military particularly has undergone an impressive reformative metamorphosis. The SSCs met a debased military whose personnel shirked at their own shadows in public and at the war front; they were objects of roadside gossips and ridicules. Therefore, the SSCs ensured the institutionalization of reforms and innovations in the Nigerian Armed Forces to reposition it, berth stability, entrench professionalism and reclaim the lost glory of this revered institution.

And Nigerians began to experience and feel the positive impact of a rebranded Nigerian Military, which posted results in courageous gallantry at the frontlines and blight of the multiple insecurity challenges which assailed the nation.

We instantly saw it decimate and defeat Boko Haram insurgents; crippled armed bandits and cattle rustlers, castrated violent separatists’ movements and turned the blazing swords of mercenary killers into ashes.

Let’s ignore partisan interpretations of Nigeria’s security challenges, and assess the situation on its strength and impartially. Opposition unusually spins anything on insecurity and brandish before the public. I call it opportunistic opposition because most times their comments on matters of security are flat, fluid and mendacious.

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But no rational Nigerian can look straight into the face of whatever he holds dear to his heart and be emboldened to claim, there is no progressive change and results in the security management of Nigeria under President Buhari and the serving SSCs. These are not conjured tales, but verifiable realities and facts domiciled in the public domain for years.

I consider it very egregious for anybody to seek to topple the leadership of Nigeria’s Security architecture on the simplistic presumption and idiosyncratic excitement that SSCs and other Heads of Security agencies have not performed. Incidents of resurgent attacks and killings in parts of the country alone are not enough motivation to pass such a damning verdict on the President and SSCs.

Service and security chiefs are not political appointees. And since they function as apolitical appointees of the government, it harms immensely to decide their fate based on political expediency.

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As apolitical entities, the SSCs belong to different political persuasions in the exercise of their civic rights and such rights should be respected in scrutinizing their stewardship. Sending the SSCs to Golgotha incited by political undertones as done by NASS days back amounted to rocking the boat for insane political permutations at the detriment of national security.

If we expect the best professional Military in Nigeria, then we must necessarily understand that the stability of its leadership is very crucial to repositioning our Armed Forces. It mocks wisdom to crusade for the sack of SSCs because there is a surge in instigated armed criminalities. Nigeria is going through uneasy times, no doubt, but the panacea cannot and would never be sacking or changing the Heads of Security.

The world is replete with the finest examples of how a stabilized Military leadership nurture reforms to a level of deep entrenchment and excellence.

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And by this consistency, the Military is formidably honed to surmount seemingly intractable security challenges.

The instance of America’s war veteran and diplomat, General Collin Power comes handy for illustration. The Powell Doctrine was instituted during America’s most turbulent times with wars.

Powell’s headship of various top military commands saw him prosecuting 28 crises including the Persian Gulf War. In the crises era, he served variously as National Security Adviser; chairman, joint chiefs of staff and commander US Army Forces.

It is certain that America never had its upsets in the wars it fought, but it did not warrant the calls for Powell’s sack or claims that he was ineffective. He eventually won the wars for America.

So, the retention of SSCs by the President in war times is the best practice anywhere and a jurisdiction backed by antecedents in other climes.

So, I do not subscribe to the obnoxious view that Mr President has done something untoward or insecurity has resurged in Nigeria because the SSCs have overstayed in office. From whatever prism and nuance of consideration, the President or Commander- In- Chief looks at loyalty and usefulness of his SSCs to the country.

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This prerogative should not be violated by anybody.

Equally important is the need to realize that proper reforms can never be fully implemented in any organization within a span of four years as some have argued. Nigeria renders itself to this example in several agencies. To date and after four years, President Buhari is still finetuning the IPPIS in the federal service.

That our Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has approximated perfection today; the Computer Based Test of Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) is taking shape and the African Development Bank (AfDB) is spreading its reach and meeting its core mandate is a product of the quality time availed the appointees of Mr President.

The service chiefs like every other appointee of Mr President need time to institutionalize their reforms and for them to take firm roots in the system.

In the Nigerian Army specifically, the COAS and leader of the counter-insurgency operations, Lt. TY Buratai has raised the bar in reformations/innovations in the Army.

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There are ongoing reforms targeted at full professionalism in the Army, such as Army Female Corps, Human Rights Desk, creation of additional Army Divisions, resuscitation of Nigerian Army Artillery schools, Army Aviation School, the Nigerian Army University, Biu and introduction of numerous unique combat strategies in battling Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists.

The Army is also experimenting with innovations, as Gen. Buratai has embarked on Army agro-investments, welfare and empowerment schemes for soldiers, post-retirement housing schemes, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives for host communities and lots more.

These are not a day’s job. He needs more time to consolidate on these reforms /innovations and to finish the job. Therefore, sacking him or others now as wished by some Nigerians implies termination of these laudable projects mid-way.

Security is a vital aspect of our national life. It is as important as the oxygen we breathe. Therefore, it spares no room for trial and error. Truth be told, it is not everything done by the Service Chiefs to curtail the insurgencies have worked. But it is also an outright falsehood to claim none has ever worked. The scenario is constantly monitored and improvements made for better performance as field operations intensify.

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In life humanity perfects from experience. That’s why there was a time IDPs camp in Rann was mistakenly bombed by an Air Force jet. Lessons were learnt from the detestable incident and in the last four years, the Nigerian Military has not repeated the mistake. It means, the Military helmsmen have improved on the job.

We must discern clearly that what Mr President has done to fish out these men and women as his SSCs must be exceptional and he deserves our commendation. I have no modicum of doubt that it is one area Nigeria has got it right under the Buhari administration.

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