One of the key appointments of an elected president and commander-in-chief in Nigeria, are service chiefs and other heads of security agencies. While this may not be a big deal in developed democracies, in emerging democracies such as Nigeria’s, it is a major strategic decision that reverberates across the land.
It symbolises the full taking of charge by the new c-in-c; panders to the Nigerian geo-ethnic and religious nationalism; and satisfies the aspirations of top professionals who would thus, have reached the zenith of their carreer ambitions.
Post elections, no contoversy has hit the public space and heat up the Nigerian polity as the continued retention of the various heads of the Nigerian security agencies by President Muhammadu Buhari. Every pundit or political commentator thinks he has found a solution to the nation’s intractable security challenges by advocating the removal of the service chiefs. The phrase “security architecture” though relatively new, has become hackneyed in our national vocabulary in recent times.
Appointment and removal of service chiefs, a prerogative of the chief executive, has become an all-comers’ debate replete with plenty of logic on the one hand, and often emotional, irrational outbursts on the other. This is no thanks to escalation of crime and the senseless exploits of terrorists which tend to lend credence to assertions that the security agencies need a different set of commanders.
Shadowy groups have emerged, addressing press conferences or holding public rallies to demand the resignation of the military high command. Opinion and religious leaders have been at the head of the fray, often unwittingly playing the terrorists’ game and dividing the polity against itself.
Those who see the prolonged retention of the service chiefs as a draw back seem not to see that insecurity has assumed subregional, continental and global dimensions with terrorists mutating and adopting new strategies faster than any organised resistance can cope. They imagine that a rash reaction such as replacing the security commanders will role back the tide of terrorism but this may not necessarily be so. In fact, any such reaction at the moment will be an immense psychological and military victory to the terrorists.
The debate has continued to rage on the removal of the current heads of the Armed Forces on the premise that they have overstayed their terms and must give way for fresh hands with new ideas to take charge. Other propositions advanced by those insisting on their retirement include: that they have run out of ideas to solve current security challenges; they have stunted the careers of officers who were likely to emerge as service chiefs and PSOs at various command headquarters; and a seeming lack of synergy between and among the security chiefs.
However popular, opinions remain divided but rational and strong, for and against.
If President Buhari had followed precedence, he would have changed the service chiefs at least twice since 2015. But in his wisdom or informed judgment, the president either has a level of confidence in his commanders which many people do not share, or is applying a strategy yet unknown and which his numerous detractors now use as a weapon to criticise him and his appointees.
The reality remains, as stated earlier, that changing them may not necessarily reduce or remove the security challenges. There are those who have contended that when a nation has peculiar security crises or is in a state of emergency, removing the heads of security agencies may lead to instability.
For instance, the Senate Committee Chairman, Army, Senator Ali Ndume, gave reasons President Buhari should not change service chiefs now: “We are in a state of war. And you don’t change service chiefs when a country is at war.”
President Buhari, himself a veteran of military strategy, has responded to the calls for him to sack the military high command by saying nations do not change service chiefs when in an emergency.
It is imperative to give the president the benefit of doubt and de-emphasise the campaign for the removal of service chiefs as the only solution to solving the current security problems. Nigerians must also realise that unless there is a constitutional amendment, the power to appoint or remove them lies squarely at the doorstep of Mr President.
Beyond the call for removal or rentention of service chiefs, therefore, there must be renewed vigour and collective resolve by all Nigerians towards building support base for the government and security agencies on the one hand, on the other hand, government and security agencies must also bring new approach that gives citizens hope and clear message to criminal elements.
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For the service chiefs, they owe Nigeria a great duty in loyalty and commitment, and must work extra hard to justify the uncommon confidence President Buhari has shown in retaining them against the tide of opposition, media and political and Boko Haram onslaught.