Red Card for Service Chiefs -By Dele Agekameh

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Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

 

…if Buhari must live up to his billing of fighting corruption, there is the need to scrutinise the books of the military and the Defence budgets under past governments since 1999.

Last week Monday, July 13, 2015, the top brass of the Nigerian Army converged on Abuja, the nation’s capital, for its annual ritual, the Chief of Army Staff Conference. There were banters and grandstanding all over the place among the red necks. Later they were engrossed in deep discussions over the prevailing security situation in the country. Suddenly, an earthquake occurred beneath their feet, throwing some of their commanders off balance. In a jiffy, all the Service Chiefs were gone, while new ones took over. The conference came to an abrupt end.

The change of guard at the top hierarchy of the nation’s military command follows a convention that had been established in the country over the years. It has become almost a tradition that as soon as a new government comes to power in the country, the first task is to sweep away the old service chiefs to pave way for new ones. But under the new president, it has not been so and people had been complaining aloud in view of the security situation in the country, especially the terrorism in the North-East, which has suddenly assumed a new, fearsome dimension in the last few weeks.

With the sweeping changes, the direction of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration appears to be beginning to unfold. Expectedly, the appointment of new service chiefs triggered off debates across the country. Many people wondered whether the new crop of service chiefs could deliver on their mandate, especially in view of recent increase in suicide bombings by the Boko Haram terrorists which have extended beyond their traditional battlegrounds in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states and spread to other neighbouring states. Others were concerned about the geo-political spread of the new appointments, with Borno state having the lion’s share with two appointments – the Chief of Army Staff and the National Security Adviser.

Femi Adesina, the presidential spokesman has defended the appointments. He said that merit was the yardstick used in making the appointments. Maybe. Maybe not. Considering the character of the president who appointed them and the current exigency posed by the rampaging Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East of the country, the seemingly lopsided appointments of two of the service chiefs from Borno State, to my mind, could be strategic. Borno State is the home base and operational headquarters of Boko Haram. What has now snowballed into a wider conflagration has its roots in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. This was where the late Mohammed Yusuf, the founder and leader of Boko Haram, ignited the rebellion in early 2009 that has now claimed more than 15,000 innocent lives.

…there are strong suspicions that money meant for troops’ welfare and armament may have grown wings in the past, which accounts for the lacklustre performance of the troops in the war against Boko Haram. I am quite sure that under the new dispensation, especially with the no-nonsense posture and body language of the incumbent president, the issue of some greedy senior military officers preying on funds meant for the troops’ welfare and armament will be a thing of the past.

But let us move away from the ethnic or tribal composition of the new appointments and instead focus more on the country’s ability and military capability to crush the current rebellion going on in the North-East and criminal activities in other parts of the country. Almost all the geo-political zones of the country are today confronted by one form of insecurity or another. All over the place, there is the prevalence of such crimes as kidnappings for ransom, violent robberies, deadly cult activities and gang wars, among many others. This is a serious security challenge to the nation which requires concerted efforts by our security apparatuses.

General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, the new Chief of Army Staff, has clearly demonstrated that he means business when, on the first day of assuming office, he opted to go to Yobe State, one of the hotspots in the North-East, rather than stay back in Abuja or going to his village to celebrate the last Sallah festival. Although his visit to Yobe State could not prevent the bomb blasts that rocked Damaturu, the state capital, on Sallah day with the attendant loss of lives that followed, nevertheless, his visit was quite significant. Not only this, the General’s reassuring words that he would see to the welfare and armament of the troops shows that he knows where the problem with the soldiers lies.

We are all living witnesses to the usual refrain from the battle front in the North-East where soldiers bitterly complain about the lack of equipment and adequate welfare as the two militating factors affecting the performances of the troops fighting Boko Haram terrorists. In many instances, some of the troops, including the officers, have had to vote with their feet at the approach of Boko Haram’s rag-tag fighting force. This way, many Nigerian territories were taken over without firing a single shot, while large caches of scarce arms and ammunition were also carted away by the terrorists. As a result of this, many soldiers and their officers have been court-marshaled and some are still facing investigative panels from time to time over their “acts of cowardice”.

Unfortunately, as may be unearthed in the days ahead, there are strong suspicions that money meant for troops’ welfare and armament may have grown wings in the past, which accounts for the lacklustre performance of the troops in the war against Boko Haram. I am quite sure that under the new dispensation, especially with the no-nonsense posture and body language of the incumbent president, the issue of some greedy senior military officers preying on funds meant for the troops’ welfare and armament will be a thing of the past. Even if this is not completely eradicated, at least, we expect to see a drastic reduction in these acts of embezzlement and thievery which have been going on from time immemorial.

I am quite sure the nation would be confronted with mind-boggling revelations of looting which characterised the tenure of service chiefs even pre-dating the immediate past ones.

Sometime last year when I engaged a senior official of a new generation bank in a discussion, I was shocked when he made a slip and said: “Oga, the way heavy deposits are now entering into the accounts of these senior military officers, is very surprising…” Obviously, he was carried away. I tried to prod him to say more, possibly to give any hint about the identity of these “billionaire” military officers. But then he suddenly realised that he was talking with a journalist. He exclaimed: “Ahh… Oga, let us leave that one. Many things are going on that we cannot talk about.” And then he switched the discussion to other issues. But the little he let out was quite instructive.

There are strong indications that the immediate past service chiefs, who were unceremoniously eased out last week, had in fact become stupendously rich before the hammer fell on them. Their ignoble role in trying to truncate the last presidential election was possibly to enable them to continue to milk the country dry. And when, in his maiden speech as president, Buhari ordered the relocation of the military command centre to Maiduguri, the heart of the war against terror and later approved new funds for them, it was like the party was not yet over for the service chiefs and their collaborators. As the president dithered in removing them, one or two ambitious ones among them started underground scheming for higher offices until the red card was suddenly flashed in their faces last week.

Now, Nigerians are relieved. But if Buhari must live up to his billing of fighting corruption, there is the need to scrutinise the books of the military and the Defence budgets under past governments since 1999. I am quite sure the nation would be confronted with mind-boggling revelations of looting which characterised the tenure of service chiefs even pre-dating the immediate past ones. Such an exercise must be total and entire, with special focus on the period of this anti-terrorism war which is being prosecuted at a whopping cost to tax payers.

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