Last week, President Goodluck Jonathan appointed new service chiefs, a new Director General of the State Security Service and a new Inspector General of Police, perhaps his boldest act of self-assertion since he assumed office as President; this was a day after the announcement of the 2011 election time-table, and barely a week to his declaration of interest in the 2011 Presidential election.
This move, it would appear was designed to consolidate his hold on the military and security apparatus of the country, one that appeared on the cards since he was elevated from the vice-presidency to the top job in May 2010 upon the death of former President Umaru Yar’Adua.
Given the nature of the intense power struggle that took place with allies of the late President Yar’Adua that nearly brought Nigeria once again to the precipice; it was not unexpected that at some point he would need to affirm his control over the security system.
The deft move on a day before the Eid-il-Fitr holiday has been described by many a commentator as a strategic attempt to ensure that the country’s security services are manned by his own men, ahead of the election season. The reshuffling of the top security brass in a nation with a long history of military intervention in politics occurred as renewed clashes with armed insurgents in the volatile North East highlighted the continuing risks of instability ahead of the polls. The President’s men have explained the development however, as a ‘routine change of guards.’ Two of the former service chiefs- Marshall Dike and Abdulrahman Dambazzau -were in any case due for retirement after more than 35 years in service. Still, to remove all the heads of the security services at once can only suggest two things: it is either the President is completely dissatisfied with their performance, in which case he considers them incompatible to his vision for the offices they hold or he doubts their loyalty. Either way, the security services are so strategic to national stability, they are so much a part of the integrity of the state and the people’s security that they ought to be insulated from politics or the whims of the highest political office holder, even personnel movements have to be carefully managed in order not to shock the public and the troops.
It is instructive to note that every new Nigerian President however feels obliged to change the security chiefs, particularly the Inspector General of Police. Former Inspector General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo probably anticipated his own removal: during the crisis of the abduction of journalists in Abia state he had appealed to his kinsmen to help him save his job by ensuring the release of the journalists. He has been quoted also as saying that the recent Boko Haram incident in Bauchi state nailed the coffin of his career. But if performance is the issue, is it not curious that the same AIG who held sway in the Eastern zone where kidnappings became the order of the day is now the new Inspector-General of Police? Besides, the service chiefs were removed a day to the Eid el fitri holiday, so there was no proper transition until this week. Was it wise to leave the country without effective service chiefs for a few days, the declaration that the appointments took immediate effect notwithstanding? Questions of this nature are bound to arise when appointments throw up issues of politics and loyalties, even when these may be unintended.
From a national brand perspective, what is the wisdom in removing the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau from office while he was on official duty in the United States, representing the country? One would have expected such military-type behaviour to have been consigned to our past. News of Dambazzau’s removal got to him while he was attending a meeting with the UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations. The former Chief of Army Staff, according to newspaper reports could not attend any other function after he got the news of his removal, including a cocktail party organized by the Nigerian Mission. Only recently, President Barack Obama had to remove the head of US Forces in Afghanistan but he waited for him to return to Washington, arranged for a replacement and managed the event carefully to avoid ridiculing not only the man but the institution and the country. It is not enough to say that it is the Nigerian tradition to treat public officials shabbily. In the past, public officials were removed, “with immediate effect,” from their positions through radio announcements. Professor Bolaji Akinyemi was removed as Minister of Foreign Affairs on Christmas eve! Former Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was in London attending an official meeting as Minister of Finance when she was moved to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Dambazzau probably needed to be removed, even if he was not due for retirement. It was under his watch that troops smuggled a dying President Umaru Yar’Adua into the country under the cover of darkness, without any regard for the then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. His command also proved incapable of managing the crisis in Jos and elsewhere when the army’s intervention was required, thus exposing the administration to a lot of embarrassment. In a democracy however, appointments need not be made an act of vendetta or punishment. Dambazzau could have been recalled from the US trip ahead of the announcement. Outsiders are likely to look at our methods and wonder.
There has been so much emphasis on the ethnic identities of the new service chiefs. The Ekiti state government has found it necessary to thank President Jonathan for making a son of the soil, Oluseyi Petinrin, the new Chief of Defence Staff. The Imo state House of Assembly has passed a special resolution thanking the President for appointing an Igbo, Onyeabo Ihejirika, the Chief of Army Staff, the first time in about 40 years that an Igbo will occupy that position. People should stop insulting Onyeabo Ihejirika by suggesting that he has been made Chief of Army Staff for the political reasons of quota or as compensation for Igbos. He is eminently qualified for the job and he will be leading the Nigerian Army. That is what should matter. The son of the soil syndrome which has defined public appointments since independence has created the more serious problems of clientelism, nepotism and needless tension.
With the handing over ceremonies done this week and the new security chiefs now in the saddle, the more important task for the Federal Government, in the absence of a policy framework for the recent changes, is to embark on a review of the country’s defence and security needs, thus turning personnel changes into an opportunity for more fundamental interventions. Such a review is long overdue; it is something Nigeria must do sooner or later. Recent security challenges in the country suggest the urgency of this task; few Nigerians have any faith in the capabilities of the security services. The Police are famous for their inefficiency. IGP Hafiz Ringim says he intends to check electoral fraud and abduction. How? Does he have the men and equipment? The State Security Service has routinely disappointed the country in terms of its intelligence gathering function. Nothing could be more scandalous than the recent Boko Haram attack on the Bauchi prison.
The insurgents not only served notice of the attack, they actually carried out their threat and undermined state security, and disappeared into thin air. The three services: army, navy and air force are strategic: but do they have the infrastructure that may be required for managing future conflicts, including participation in regional or continental conflicts where Nigeria may be required to play a military role? And what could be the nature of future conflicts? Is there any attempt to anticipate the nature of global security and Nigeria’s place in it? The overall objective of the review of the security services which we propose should not be another committee work for. consultants as is the usual practice, but a well-reasoned effort to ensure the security of the state, and the well-being of citizens. To do this, the structure of the security services which has been altered by the new appointments must be re-examined, the various services also need to be well-equipped and this will require increased funding and spending, to enable them handle not only routine tasks but also unforeseen shocks, and the challenge will be to separate this audit process from partisan politics.
There may be no immediate external threat to Nigeria’s territorial integrity, but there are serious security challenges which could affect the country’s vital interests. Our borders have become so porous that anyone could bring into the country, caches of arms and ammunition without check. The country’s coastline is so open, it has been taken over for the most part by oil bunkerers and pirates; in other parts of the country, there have been reports of criminals from neighbouring countries (Niger, Chad, Republic of Benin) crossing the border into the country to commit atrocities.
There may be many combat officers in the armed forces who have risen to the position of General in the course of the last 30 years who have never seen combat action, still that should be no reason not to embark on a review of the country’s defence and security machinery. How many boats, vessels, and frigates can the Nigerian Navy boast of? How many of them are functional? How many tankers and aircraft can the Air Force mobilise at short notice? How many battle tanks and artillery pieces do we have in the Nigerian Army? How rigorous is Nigeria’s defence policy? How modern is the Nigerian national security system? No serious nation trifles with national security because of the implications for stability and the need to reduce vulnerability. Fifty years after independence, there is need for clarity and rigour in Nigeria’s security arrangements. What is the quality of President Jonathan’s commitment in this regard? These are more serious questions rather than the excitement and the power politics over the displacement and promotion of security chiefs.