On Thursday, the presidency announced a change of guard in the top military echelon. For many who have been watching the below par performance of the military in the war against the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East region in recent weeks and wondering when the government will do something about it, this came as no surprise.
But beyond the bungling showing of the military, President Goodluck Jonathan is making a clear statement of loyalty and authority by this decision. And by its own admission, the presidency is also using this appointment to correct a rather embarrassing legal sloppiness in the appointment of the last set of service chiefs.
After routing Boko Haram insurgents in the few weeks following the declaration of a State of Emergency in four states in the North-East, forcing them into a retreat, Boko Haram has overcome the shock of the overwhelming pounding from the military and its fighters have now regrouped and are beginning to give the military some embarrassing spanking in recent weeks.
The Boko Haram resurgence started last April, when the insurgents attacked security bases in Gashua town in Yobe State, engaging security forces in a shootout for several hours. Certainly the most embarrassing attacks on the military happened in December. On Decenber 2, more than 500 Boko Haram terrorists attacked several army facilities killing scores of soldiers and civilians. Then 20 days later, the terrorists launched a brutal attack on a military barrack in Bama town, killing 17 soldiers, ransacking the barrack and carting away two trucks loads of ammunition, burning at least 29 tanks, and freeing 18 terrorists held in the barrack.
According to a military source, the immediate past commander of the 7 division of the army, Major General Obidah Ethan, ignored intelligence on an impending attack on the barrack. The source told Premium Times that the terrorists that attacked the barrack actually gathered for the attack in a village only three kilometres away from the barrack. Mr. Ethan was transferred to a non-combatant posting six days after the attack.
Although the army has denied that his transfer has anything to do with debacle at Bama, It is hard to ignore such terrible shortcoming. For one it was a good PR for Boko Haram – a clear statement that goes against the grain of government propaganda that the insurgents have been dealt a devastating blow.
The recent failings of the military have precipitated calls for a change in strategy in the fight against the insurgents. With morale at an all-time low amongst troops and laxity in intelligence gathering, Mr. Jonathan decided it was time for fresh set of hands to take the fight to the insurgents, reliable presidency sources said.
Mr Jonathan isn’t joking with 2015 and his bid to remain in power till then and after. If anyone was still in doubt about that, his decision to replace the new service chiefs should correct that immediately. True, perhaps one of his strongest support-base is the Southeast where the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, General Ihejirika comes from but Mr Jonathan, it appears, wants more than mere broad support to quell would-be trouble makers in the military.
By these appointments, President Jonathan is either buying new loyalty or strengthening old ones. The fact that the new Chief of Army Staff, Major General Tobiah Minimah is an Ijaw like the President speaks volume. The new Defence Chief, Alex Badeh, is from Adamawa State. The Chief of Naval Staff, Adesola Nunayon Amosu, is from Lagos State. The Chief of Naval Staff, Usman Jubril, is from Kogi State.
These appointees are either from minority religious group/ ethnic group within their states (Alex Badeh is a Christian from Adamawa State; Adesola Nunayon Amosu is an Ogu errorneously called Egun minority from Lagos State), Usman Jubrin is from the Middle Belt. President Jonathan is clearly asserting his authority as the Commander-in-Chief by virtue of these appointments and his sticking his loyalty with officers from minority ethnic groups just like himself. One will need to watch the reshuffling these men will make with their arm of the military in the next few week to get a better picture of what is at play here. This could be very interesting.
It also does appear that the president might have decided to replace the service chiefs at this time following what seems the unconstitutional nature of their appointment. Following their appointment in 2012, Lawyer Festus Keyamo, went to court challenging the appointment of the officers without their confirmation by a two-third majority of the National Assembly.
Last June, Justice Amadu Bello of a Federal High Court in Lagos ruled that their appointment was unconstitutional and therefore null and void. The government showed no interest in appealing the decision of the court, triggering speculations that the government was planning to sack the officers.
In the statement release by the media aide to the President, Reuben Abati, the government acknowledged its mistake in the last appointments. It promised to send the names of the new service chiefs to the national Assembly for confirmation.