By Abiodun Ladepo Los Angeles, California, USA
If it is true that the Chief of Defense Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, stood up the new Defense Minister, Lt. General Aliyu Gusau (rtd) for two days, and told Musiliu Obanikoro, the new Minister of State in the Ministry of Defense to "shut up", then discipline in our military is at the lowest abyss.
Saharareporters.com, citing unnamed sources, wrote: "…Nigeria’s top military henchmen kept Mr. Gusau waiting for two days after he summoned them to a meeting, with different military service chiefs making excuses for their inability to meet with him and his deputy immediately. Finally, the situation turned testy yesterday when, after keeping Mr. Gusau and Mr. Obanikoro waiting for several hours, the Chief of Defense Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, showed up alone for a meeting. When Air Marshal Badeh showed up, the Minister of Defense told him he was expecting all the chiefs of staff within the military, but Badeh reportedly told him there was no need…Badeh also told Mr. Gusau that he alone would be meeting with the minister as the Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), stating that this arrangement was the collective decision of military officers in the country…An attempt by the junior minister of defense, Mr. Obanikoro, to intervene was rudely brushed aside as Badeh asked him to ‘shut up.’ Air Marshal Badeh is said to have called Senator Obanikoro a ‘small boy’ and warned him that the military was not going to be taking orders anymore from bloody civilians like him."
When, in February this year, I wrote 'Air Marshal Alex Sabundu Badeh Is Too Fat To Head The Military', I berated Badeh for epitomizing indiscipline by being so grossly out of shape. The wider point I was making with his grotesquely obese physical appearance was that it took personal discipline to stay in shape; and that if you lacked personal discipline as a soldier, you would be lacking in professional discipline as well. It is sad to note that I have been vindicated. I also suggested that the appointment of someone like him was not only the shame of our military but that of the man who appointed him. On that point too, I have been vindicated. Badeh has embarrassed the President beyond belief.
Poor Goodluck Jonathan, how would he handle such a mess now? He listened to the likes of Edwin Clark who pushed him to spring Badeh up several rungs of the ladder to the CDS position, only for Badeh to disrespect him so blatantly and so publicly. This is not only disrespect of Gusau and Obanikoro, but that of the President for whom Gusau and Obanikoro work. If a Minister calls a meeting in his ministry, it is implied that he is doing so on behalf of the President. A disobedience of the Minister is disobedience of the President and by extension, that of the Senate (which confirmed Badeh’s appointment), and that of the rest of the citizenry; unless, of course, Badeh has the backing of some powerful people who are even more powerful than the President.
Could Badeh be thumbing his nose at Gusau because he has the backing of the military leadership? Remember, he reportedly boasted that his actions were "the collective decision of military officers in the country." We know it is an open secret within the ranks of the military that Gusau was instrumental to the new-found sophistication and bravery of the Boko Haram fighters. A lot of ordinary Nigerians have tied timing of Boko Haram’s resurgence to the death of Yar’Adua and the ascension of Jonathan to the presidency. They put two and two together and concluded that it was while Gusau was National Security Adviser that Boko Haram grew exponentially in dexterity and stealthiness. They have reasoned that even if Gusau was not directly involved in providing logistical and tactical support to Boko Haram, he did not do much to find out who their sponsors were. And this was supposed to have been his primary concern as National Security Adviser. Some have even gone as far as accusing him of having had a hand in the death of former National Security Adviser, Andrew Azazi. Azazi had reportedly fingered Gusau as one with ties to Boko Haram.
So, could the Service Chiefs disrespect of Gusau be their way of rebuffing the President for this flawed appointment? Or, could their action be a dangerously ominous sign that we, the civilians, should now be scared stiff of our military? Are we supposed to cower in fear and tremble in awe of our military officers in the Year of our Lord 2014…after having practiced democracy for 17 years?
But we should also wonder why Jonathan asked someone as controversial as Gusau to head the military in the first place. People like Badeh and the other Service Chiefs probably share the sentiment that Gusau, a failed presidential candidate, is not worthy of being their boss. And quite frankly, if I were in their shoes, I would feel the same way. But once the President has made his appointment, I would fall in line and carry out the "orders of those appointed over me". Badeh’s action is especially troubling considering the fact that Gusau was a three-star general far superior in rank to Badeh when he was still in uniform. If Badeh could not respect a former-Soldier Defense Minister, how would he respect a "bloody civilian" Defense Minister?
It is clear that the current military leadership does not want any type of oversight. The senior officers have been used to the many months of the absence of a substantive Defense Minister when they did whatever they wanted. They imperiously promoted themselves and their cronies, awarded phony contracts to themselves and their proxies, forgot to pay salaries and allowances of their men who were fighting Boko Haram, failed to plan training exercises for their soldiers and failed to present to the Commander-In-Chief a robust plan to defeat the Boko Haram enemies. Of course, such lazy officers, bereft of cogent ideas but steep in chop-make-I-chop mercenary soldiering, would resist any attempt to curb their excesses. It could be they knew Gusau was not going to be a pushover.
Gusau’s sudden resignation, if true, is also, at best, infantile. For a 71 year-old general who played a key role in ousting Shehu Shagari in 1983 and ushering in the Buhari/Idiagbon government; for someone who once served as Chief of Army Staff and repeat National Security Adviser, Gusau ought to have first gone in to see the President and inform him of the gross insubordination of the Service Chiefs. Better yet, before Gusau accepted to serve as Defense Minister (we know he was reluctant to accept and GEJ brought him in to assuage the feelings of those who cried marginalization in the PDP), he should have clarified with Jonathan the powers he would have. Would he have the authority to query his Service Chiefs, for instance? Would he have the authority to suspend them? Would he have the authority to sack them? If not able to sack them, would the President give a lot of weight to a recommendation for sack made by him? Would his opinions about promotions and reassignments carry a lot of weight? Would he have control of the budget and expenditure of his ministry?
If the answer is "no" to any of the questions above, anybody worth his salt should not have accepted to serve as Defense Minister. So, Gusau being a PDP foundation member, a party big-wig and a knowledgeable man on military matters, I assume he cleared his authority with the President before taking the job. In which case, he should have given the President a courtesy notification of his intent to discipline the Service Chiefs who disobeyed him. The President, without delay, should have backed him up and let Gusau make the announcement of the suspension or sack. This would have sent a clear message to the entire military that civilians are in charge.
President Jonathan must summon the courage to prove that Nigeria can be ruled (and the military too can be led) by civilians. Civilian leaderships all around the world respect the military and what the military does. They know that members of the military can be called upon to sacrifice everything, including their lives, for the protection of the country’s territorial integrity. They respect the military because, in spite of the lethality of the military’s might, its strength resides in its humility and subservience to the people and their elected representatives. Military leaderships all around the world are bastions of orderliness; they are custodians of discipline and gentleman’s behaviors, not the type of thug mentality and arrogance displayed by Badeh. Badeh is frittering away this universal goodwill for the Nigerian military. If I were the President, I would eat him for lunch today.
For Gusau to quit without first giving the President an opportunity to fix the problem he too was disrespectful to the President and he embarrassed the Commander-in-Chief. That the President even went over to his residence to "beg" him and he refused to reconsider is worse than betrayal. When you serve at that level of government, you are not serving a person; you are serving the country. If Gusau truly had anything to contribute to the re-organization and re-orientation of our military, he should not have allowed a few renegade officers to truncate his plans. He should have been bold enough to challenge the President to empower him to run the Defense Ministry in a way that would make the President proud. And quitting in the middle of the Boko Haram scourge is tantamount to fleeing the battlefield. In military lingo, it is desertion. It is punishable by court martial and a very long jail sentence.
This is what happens when boys are called upon to do men’s jobs. This is what happens when a neophyte is saddled with the responsibility of doing the job of a seasoned professional. Jonathan should never have appointed Badeh in the first place. But he did and we are where we are. The way forward is for the President to assert his authority by sacking Badeh and all other military officers who share his disdain for civilian supervision. Of course, Jonathan should first ascertain the veracity of the story quoted above and if it is remotely close to the truth, Badeh and the other Service Chiefs should first be demoted before being retired with immediate effect. Jonathan needs to fire all the Service Chiefs yesterday. I don’t care if it would suggest turmoil in our military; sometimes you have to break something down to fix it. An undisciplined CDS will infect the divisions, battalions, companies, platoons and squads with the cankerworm of indiscipline.
The President must not tolerate insubordination in the highest echelon of the military. This is not the time to convene a committee to look into the matter. This is the time to drop everything and take a decisive action. The President needs to do this for the sake of democracy. He needs to do this for the sake of the country. He needs to do this for Presidents after him. We did not sacrifice all those lives during the clamor for the enthronement of democracy only to have some bumbling, egotistic, arrogant and undisciplined barbarian call us "bloody civilians". Not in modern Nigeria. The President must send a clear message to the military that their permanent subordination to civilian leadership is non-negotiable and irreversible regardless of whether our President is a former military officer or not.
I know that if Gowon, Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida, or Abubakar had been our President today, Badeh would never have been appointed CDS. And if he had, he would have never done to the Defense Minister what he did to Gusau. If he was crazy enough to do it, he would have spent quite a few years behind bars. The President also should stop trying to bring Gusau back into his government, especially near the military establishment. His exit is good riddance to bad rubbish. One potentially good side to the whole saga ("potentially" because it is still too early to know for sure): For the first time in my life, a public officer in a plum portfolio resigns out of principle. Unbelievable!