Exit of the ‘partisan’ Service Chiefs By Gbade Ogunwale

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/

At last, President Muhammadu Buhari sacked the service chiefs. Many had expected the President to have relieved them of their appointments shortly after he was sworn-in on May 29. But for reasons known to the Commander-in-Chief, their ouster was delayed till yesterday.

The affected military chiefs are the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alexander Badeh; the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah; the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Amosun; and the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Commodore Usman Jibrin. Also affected was the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd). Replacements for the sacked service chiefs have since been announced. They are Major-Gen. Gabriel Abayomi Olonisakin (Chief of Defence Staff); Major Gen. Tukur Yakubu Buratai (Chief of Army Staff); Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas (Chief of Naval Staff); Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar (Chief of Air Staff); Air Vice Marshal Monday Riku Morgan (Chief of Defence Intelligence); and retired Major-Gen. Babagana Mongunu (National Security Adviser).

Appointed by former President Goodluck Jonathan on January 16, 2014, the erstwhile service chiefs failed to draw a line between loyalty to the Nigerian nation and protecting the political interest of the former President that appointed them. There was so much hoopla in the polity then over the alleged partisan role, or fear of complicity of the nation’s Armed Forces in the run the up to the general elections. This peeled the skin off the nose of political watchers, particularly the then opposition camp of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The then service chiefs were soon to confirm such fears when they started donning partisan garb, fashioned by the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This took the sleep off the brow of the opposition and other well meaning sections of the public. Damning the consequences of such misadventure, the erstwhile service chiefs sacrificed their personal reputation and the integrity of the Armed Forces for political stakes.

They failed to understand that first and foremost, the loyalty of the military under their watch was to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That loyalty to their Commander-In-Chief ought to come next. In the first place, the C-In-C derives his powers and legitimacy from the Constitution. Put differently, the Constitution is the source of the powers and legitimacy bestowed on the President and the Commander-In-Chief. In a layman’s language, the Constitution ought to be the father, while the President and Commander-In-Chief is the son. The Badeh and his subordinates however, failed to appreciate the fact that the father takes precedence over the son and not the other way round. That is the line of command.

The erstwhile Service Chiefs also failed to acknowledge the tradition in democratic setting that the interest of the Commander-In-Chief must not be at variance with that of the Constitution, which is the source of his powers and legitimacy. By the foregoing, the sacked military chiefs failed to realise that they were bound by their oath of allegiance to take sides with the Constitution. In a professionalsed military, such officers ought to have known that it would not amount to disloyalty if they subordinated their loyalty to the C-In-C to that of the Constitution. To do otherwise is to diminish the source where the C-in-C derived his authority in the first place. In democratic tradition, refusal to carry out unconstitutional order from the C-In-C does not necessarily amount disobedience to the spirit of the Constitution.


Partisanship of the Forces


The perceived partisanship of the then service chiefs led to a situation where former President Olusegun Obasanjo accused Jonathan of trying to use them to frustrate the 2015 general elections and elongate his tenure. The military authorities had responded by describing Obasanjo, also a former military head of state, as “an embarrassment to the military”.

Shortly before that encounter, the military authorities had descended on a section of the media intercepting and confiscating publications of newspaper houses perceived to be antagonising the Jonathan administration. Distribution vans and vendors were also arrested and detained for days by soldiers acting on “orders from above”. It was done under the guise of searching for “explosive materials” in the distribution vans and in the underpants of newspaper distributors and vendors.

Perhaps the most unbridled partisanship on the part of the then military chiefs was the controversy surrounding the West African School Leaving Certificate of President Buhari. The military authorities, after having admitted that the certificate was intact in the records of the Military Board, had turned around to deny having it at all. This national embarrassment was primarily meant to provided ammunition for Jonathan and his PDP to ridicule the credibility of the then candidate Muhammadu Buhari of the APC.

The military authorities have remained silent on the whereabouts of the certificate even after Buhari had won the election. And when it became apparent that the then ruling PDP was going to be trounced in the 2015 general elections, the lot fell on the military chiefs, led by the then NSA Dasuki, to announce to a befuddled nation that security of election materials and personnel in certain local governments in the Northeastern part could not be guaranteed.


Postponed elections


On their prompting, the elections were shifted for six weeks, from February-March to March-April ostensibly for the military to rid the region of the menace of the Boko Haram insurgents before the poll. The drama in that shift in poll date, aimed at shoring up the electoral fortunes of the PDP, was claims by former President Jonathan that he was not in the know of the plans to shift the election dates.

“I was not informed. In any case, they did not have to inform me,” Jonathan had stated on national television. Not a few were alarmed by the former President’s claims that the security chiefs unilaterally shifted the  election dates without his input. This underlined the unholy collaboration between Jonathan and his service chiefs in their failed attempts to undermine the electoral process. By pandering to the whims of the then President, the service chiefs left no one in doubt that they were ready to float or sink with their Commander-in-Chief in blind loyalty. Military analysts had argued that the security chiefs ought to have protected the apolitical nature of the military under their watch and that the Armed Forces by preventing the military from being pushed into the fatalistic fancies of the former President.

“The military chiefs ought to have demonstrated to the world their understanding of the power, authority and the will of the people. In this case, a democratically constituted authority is a trust in which the Commander-In-Chief is a holder of this trust with the Nigerian people (electorate) being the trustees. By implication, the trustees (the people) can decide to withdraw the trust (authority) from the holder of the trust (the President) and give it to whoever they may choose through the ballot. Any attempt to block or hinder this transfer of trust through the ballot amount to a subversion of the constitution”, the analyst said. Commendably, the military was able to push the insurgents down the fringe during the six-week shift in election dates with determined onslaught on the insurgents’ enclaves. Curiously however, Boko Haram had intensified its bloody campaign shortly after the poll, leaving many to wonder where the cord snapped. Under the watch of the sacked military chiefs, the insurgents became more daring with suicide bombing and armed attacks on vulnerable targets in parts of the Northeast. The bloody campaign is gradually spreading to other parts of the country, particularly in the neighbouring towns and cities in the Northwest. There were also reports that the Jonathan administration had to rely on mercenaries in the counter insurgency campaign ahead of the 2015 general elections.


The botched arms deal


The case of an illegal arms deal involving about $9 million is still pending between the Nigerian government and the South African authorities. Till date, the last administration has failed to provide sensible explanations about the botched deal while the money is still being trapped in South Africa.

A private aircraft belonging to the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsajeafor was used in ferrying the raw cash to South Africa. The cleric turned political has not been able to offer any convincing explanation regarding his involvement in that obviously untidy affair. Military analysts are of the view that the Armed Forces suffered untold credibility crisis under the watch of the sacked service chiefs. According to them, the ex military chiefs dragged the Armed Forces deep down the morass of dirty politicking.

But what could have prompted an otherwise sacred institution of the military into delving so deep in partisan politics? Observers said the military chiefs could not have done otherwise under the circumstances in which they found themselves. Defence budgets under their watch can hardly be reasonably accounted for, hence it was in their enlightened self interest to ensure the return of their paymaster, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, they are leaving behind a highly demoralised military owing to extreme politicisation of that highly respected institution.

This, analysts observed, must have accounted for the poor operational coordination and lack of commitment on the part of troops in the ongoing counter insurgency campaign. The incoming helmsmen would have an arduous task re-inventing the military and instilling discipline which has been eroded by political gladiators in starched military uniform. dent Muhammadu Buhari yesterday appointed new service chiefs. For many, this marked the exit of ‘partisan’ service chiefs.