Monday, 24 February 2020 04:43

Much ado about Service chiefs... - Bolanle Bolawole

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...and his bishoprick (office or charge) let another take – Acts 1: 20.

The jury is in: A preponderant number of Nigerians want the Service chiefs dismissed from office. When we say “Service chiefs”, we mean Chief of Army Staff; Chief of Air Staff; Chief of Naval Staff; and the largely ceremonial, administrative and make-up-the-number Chief of Defence Staff (a General who commands no troops in the real sense of the word but sits in a big office behind a laptop and move memos). That is my own understanding; so pardon me if I am not totally correct as I am always ready to learn. In our own very special Nigerian situation where what works elsewhere fails here and where appearance camouflages substance; the Chief of Defence Staff position, more so under the retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari civilian regime, appears more a political post meant to give a semblance of fairness and equity when, in actual fact, there is absolutely nothing fair or equitable in the way Buhari has distributed military commands amongst the various ethnic groups that compose Nigeria. Nothing said here is personal to the gentleman who occupies the CDS position at the moment and nothing impugns on his integrity and professionalism – none at all. If the CDS position is of relevance elsewhere, let it also be made relevant for all to see here in Nigeria. The current holder of the office is from Ekiti state; I await the largesse and goodies he will use that exalted office – if truly it is – to bring to Ekiti – just like some other Service chiefs below him have done for their own place of origin. But I digress!

There are many reasons why Nigerians want the service chiefs dismissed so that other officers can take their place. One is that many, if not all, of them are said to have been due for retirement. They have either attained the mandatory age for retirement as stipulated by extant laws and Service requirements or they have spent the required number of years in service, whichever comes first. Why do people retire from service? They do so as to create space and opportunities for those coming behind. If those before them had not retired or left office, they, too, would have been marking time on same spot. They moved forward because others moved out. Staying put in office is selfish and self-centred as it denies those coming behind the opportunity to realise their own legitimate ambition as it stunts career growth and progression. Frustration sets in for those who are sat upon by sit-tight leaders. The system is poisoned and cannot work effectively and efficiently. Disgruntled officers cannot be expected to give their level best. Many officers will reach the mandatory retirement age and retire without fulfilling career goals while the sit-tight Ogas remain on their seat. The sit-tight Ogas are what the Yoruba call “a-j’eni-m’aiye” meaning someone who uses up his own opportunities and seizes/adds those of others. Can this be one of the reasons why the Services are said not to be performing optimally at the moment?

Why do people retire? They do so that fresh ideas can come in. Fresh brains, fresh hands, new ideas, new innovations, new ways of doing things are the way society renews and re-invigorates itself. Civilization would long ago have become extinct had fresh ideas not been injected into it. Once upon a time it was thought that our world was round but new discoveries came that proved conclusively that it was spherical, Thank you, Pythagoras-cum-Aristotle-cum-Eratosthenes! Even football clubs understand that fresh hands bringing in fresh ideas can turn around the fortunes of a fumbling team. Ideas go stale and people lose touch with reality; they get complacent and fall out of tunes with critical actors and or sectors indispensable for progress or success to be made. Circumstances change and not everyone can cope at all or with the frenetic pace required sometimes. Like drugs, every idea has an expiry date. William Shakespeare who advised actors to leave the stage when the ovation is loudest is nobody’s fool. Today’s hero can become tomorrow’s villain. “Hosanna” today may become “Crucify him” tomorrow.  That, exactly, was what happened to Buhari on his recent Maiduguri visit where he was booed by a people that used to idolize him. Did presidential spin doctors say the crowd was rented or bought? Granted but not conceding that, that was the case, the fact they could be bought or rented against Buhari speaks volumes. O, how are the mighty fallen; and the weapons of war perished! Our people have a saying: When the dog that sees you and dances sees you and begins to bark aggressively, know that something serious is amiss. Insensitive visitors can overstay their welcome. Anyone can overstay his relevance. For the Service chiefs, this appears to be the case. Buhari himself, no less!

Nigerians want the Service chiefs dismissed because they have not performed. They are deemed to have failed in their task of securing the country. At no time in peace time has the country and its people been as unsecured as we have it now. Even in war time, the problem of insecurity was limited to a section of the country ravaged by war; today, the entire country has become a theatre of war, so to say. The military is not winning the war against insurgency; contrary to all their rigmaroles and technical jargons of “degrading” and “defeating” Boko Haram, the terrorists appear to be waxing stronger. The military have not even deflated Boko Haram. The insurgents move at will, levy war at will, ambush and slaughter soldiers at will, kidnap at will; mock at our military commanders and their commander-in-chief at will; hoist their flag at will, and invade, conquer, hold and administer Nigerian territories at will. Such that Nigerians are now tired of the sophistry, propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, playing on words, and playing to the gallery of presidential spin doctors and the military themselves telling cock-and-bull stories fit only for the Marines. Tell me, insurgents and terrorists – what is the difference? Both are two sides of the same coin. They are different fingers of a leprous hand. Saying you defeated one and not the other is sheer sophistry and pulling the wool over our eyes.

Nigerians also want the Service chiefs dismissed because they have lost total and complete confidence in their ability to deliver – even if you give them the entire national budget and 1,000 years to get the job done! The situation is that bad. And this pessimism is neither an opposition business nor is it limited to one group or section of the country but cuts across. Even the rubber-stamp National Assembly has been vociferous in calling for the dismissal of the Service chiefs because many of the law makers from the North especially have tales of woes to tell. How many of them can still visit their constituencies? Even some of the Service chiefs, military commanders, and top presidential aides are said to have lost their home town to Boko Haram. Law makers from the South are also not excluded, even though their own headache is not Boko Haram - for now! Murderous Fulani herdsmen, said to be the fourth most bestial terrorist organisation in the world, have run amok in the entire South, killing, maiming, raping, looting and destroying life and property. They are lords and laws unto themselves as they have powerful backers and patrons. When they are arrested, which is rare, they are quickly released and the pogrom continues. Powerful and influential office holders in the North have declared Nigeria the heritage of the Fulani who are encouraged to come from all over the world and converge on Nigeria to make it their eternal home. In the face of the onslaught by Fulani herdsmen, the military, police, DSS, Civil Defence, etc have also been helpless. To one-time Army chief and Minister of Defence, retired Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, the military are even complicit.

Another reason many are calling for the dismissal of the Service chiefs is the belief that Buhari’s security architecture is unusually, unfairly, insensitively, nepotistic-ally and myopically loaded in favour of Fulani/Muslim/North against Christians/South/Middle Belt. There is no way such security architecture can work in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural country like Nigeria. Buhari’s is the most insensitive, deaf and dumb regime this country has ever had. Virtually all top level positions in the military, and now the economy, are in the hands of Fulani/Muslim/North to the near total exclusion of the other religious, ethnic and interest groups. Can’t they understand that they may hold all the posts but there is no way they can make it work? They may sit atop the offices but there is no way they can make it deliver the goods. They just can’t make things happen. Agbajo owo l’a fi n so’ya; enikan ki n je awa de.Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, told his in-law: You cannot do it all alone. The day Buhari and his minders realise that the Fulani cannot do it all alone is the day they will begin to be wise. It beats me hollow that they can look at a country like Nigeria bristling with talented, independent-minded, culturally-endowed and freedom-loving peoples and think they can hold it down. By what means – it is by their "superior" intellect, subtlety or brute force? Nigeria’s security architecture must be re-jigged to give every section a sense of belonging. That is non-negotiable. Otherwise, no dice! The security architecture must also be sanitized by allowing those who should retire to do so. We need fresh ideas. We need fresh hands. That is the minimum reducible for the war against insecurity to receive fresh fire.

That done, the country will then brace up and brave up to climb the most arduous mountain – which, unfortunately, is Buhari himself! That is the coded message that those who are saying dismissing the Service chiefs is not the answer to our insecurity have been stylishly passing across. They are saying that the Service chiefs are, like the biblical Centurion, men under authority and cannot over-reach themselves. They take orders from the Commander-in-Chief. The recent leaked memo from the National Security Adviser abouts the Chief of Staff to the President reveals so much. Those who claim to know the Service chiefs have vouched for their competence. So, if you change them and the same circumstances that have thwarted their best efforts persist to haunt their successors, what can the new helmsmen do? The proverbial K-legged man was told the load he carried on his head was tilted in one direction and could fall. He thanked the unsolicited sympathiser but invited him to note that the actual problem lies downstairs and not upstairs. The elders say when a child slips, he searches around where he fell for an answer but when a similar thing happens to an elder, he looks backward to find the cause. Trace our insecurity to Buhari himself – that is what they are telling us.

Did you ask in what way – like the children of Israel asked in Malachi 3: 8? In Buhari’s body language; in his antecedents; in his spoken words; in his actions and inactions; in his policies ad infinitum! We do not intend to inflame passions by repeating them here. Therefore, it is only if Buhari wants the insecurity problem solved, Service chiefs or no Service chiefs, that it will be solved. Do I, then, mean that the current Service chiefs should remain in office? Capital NO! They have overstayed their welcome already and have outlived their usefulness; they must go. Their dismissal affords us the opportunity to get new hands on board with fresh ideas so we can have a new lease of life. It also affords us an opportunity to re-jig the entire security architecture and make it more equitable, representative and just; thus, giving everyone a sense of belonging.

It is instructive that the Buhari regime has acknowledged the widespread demand for a change of Service chiefs. While saying the time is not NOW; they have not, however, said when will be appropriate. They are only trying to buy time. By now they must be shopping for the “right” replacements. May they get it right! A glance at the names of the in-coming Service chiefs, their religion and region will be the first quick assessment that many Nigerians will do to decide whether or not to invest any hope in them. You can see I have already concluded that the present Service chiefs are goners, as they say! In saner climes, they would have since resigned voluntarily, seeing they have lost the confidence and support of the very people they purport to serve. There is no better measuring rod of how terribly combustible the National Question has become in Buhari’s Nigeria than that qualifications other that merit and competence determine appointments and assessments. But as the proponents of quota system or federal character have themselves begun to come to terms with, the North is not helped thereby. Everyone is a loser.  Ironically, the North itself more than the others!