An army of retired active generals: Still recruiting…
It is a known tradition in the disciplined forces that senior officers routinely suffer the fate of early retirement whenever the leadership lot falls on a junior officer. But at what cost is the exodus of crème de la crème of the armed forces and in a country battling insecurity on all fronts? ODITA SUNDAY reports.
The Armed Forces of Nigeria has serially witnessed an early compulsory retirement of senior military officers after subsequent appointment of their subordinates by successive governments.
It will be recalled that President Olusegun Obasanjo upped the ante when on assumption of office in 1999, caused mass retirements across the board in the armed forces of all officers who held political office in the past and were still in uniform.
Indeed, there is an unwritten tradition in the armed forces, which states that you do not salute your junior, and therefore, once your junior colleague is promoted ahead of you, you must quit the job.
With fidelity to the culture, dozens of top military officers were retired recently in the wake of appointment of the new service chiefs, with attendant queries about the huge investments in their training, exposure, and their combat experience – which the country will never fully get its value worth.
Apparently pained by the flawed tradition, some experts, including senior military officers, have routinely murmured reservation against the compulsory retirement of military generals whenever junior officers emerge as service chiefs, urging the Federal Government to review the status quo.
Although this practice is not constitutional, some of them believe that Nigeria loses her senior military officers after millions of dollars had been expended in training them, describing the practice as a waste of money and human resources.
High cost of early retirement
Recently, no fewer than 100 military generals from the three branches of Navy, Army and Air force were retired with the change of batons in the disciplined forces.
The courses that were retired are Courses 36, 37 and 38, except for Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Musa. While the Chief of Defence staff is of course 38, the three other service chiefs are of course 39.
The retirement benefits of the newly replaced service chiefs and other senior military officers compulsorily retired following the appointment of their juniors as service chiefs will cost Nigerians an estimated sum of N3 billion naira yearly.
An analysis of the combined costs of their emoluments and benefits, asides from pension, of the four outgoing service chiefs including the Chief of Defence, General Lucky Irabor; Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Farouq Yahaya; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Gambo and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal IsiakaAmao revealed that the retired service chiefs will benefit about N345.08 million yearly, which includes the annual salaries of personnel attached to them, vehicle purchases and healthcare cost.
Other military generals with seniority on commission above that of NDA Regular Course 39, who were forced to retire, will also get vehicles, health benefits, and personal staff.
The Guardian learnt that over 100 affected senior officers will cost over N2.82 billion every year, aside from their monthly pension. The lump sum, among others, have caused some stakeholders to describe the practice as a waste of scarce finance and human resources for officers that are still in their prime.
The Defence Headquarters had allegedly ordered senior military officers with seniority on commission above that of the current service chiefs to retire latest by July 3, 2023.
Their action allegedly followed a report that some senior officers, who were not comfortable with the appointment of Service Chiefs by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, were refusing to retire to give room for command and control.
President Tinubu had on June 19, 2023, retired service chiefs who served under former President Muhammadu Buhari and replaced them with new ones. In 2021, no fewer than 20 members of courses 34 and 35 proceeded on retirement as the President, Muhammadu Buhari, removed service chiefs and appointed a new set of officers to replace them.
The appointed service chiefs then were Chief of Defence Staff, Major-General Lucky Irabor; Chief of Army Staff, Major-General I. Attahiru; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral A.Z Gambo, and the Chief of Air Staff, Air-Vice Marshal IsiakaAmao.
According to a top retired General who pleaded anonymity, “The Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) can’t be separated in totality from Nigeria. It is therefore expected that the AFN would to some extent be affected by the contradictions of our nation.
“Wastage has become the new normal and a culture for us as a nation, so that should not be an issue. Also, in every stage and endeavors of life there would always be the good, the bad and the ugly, so also there would also be the best in every intake of the AFN capable of taking the lead.”
The Nigerian Armed Forces are a body made up of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. At independence, Nigeria inherited from the British colonial administration a military force which comprised the Army and Navy. There was no Air Force until 1964.
The Nigerian Army started as an amalgamation of relatively small constabularies established by various British administrations and commercial interests in the years preceding the military conquest of Nigeria by the British.
In the military, it takes five years to train a complete officer. Five years to undergo all the required courses, arms handling, combat training, among others. During their career, millions of naira are expended on their refresher training and foreign upskilling.
Recruitment into the Nigerian military can be into either the officer cadre or the other ranks, better known as ‘recruits’. The officer cadets are usually trained at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in Kaduna, while recruits are trained for nine months at the Nigeria Army Depot in Zaria, while navy recruits are trained in Naval Training College, Onne, Port Harcourt.
The total number of armed forces personnel in Nigeria is around 223,000, while the army accounts for 125, 000, its largest component. This is still small compared to an estimated population of 200 million. China has the largest military in the world with a total strength of 2.18 million active personnel for its 1.5 billion population.
It is also argued that it is not appropriate to retire military generals with their vast knowledge and experience when the nation is in a state of war.
A security expert and CEO of Security Watch Africa, Patrick Agbambu said: “It is not good to just retire experienced and good hands prematurely, but as you know, the Military is a disciplined and regimental organisation. The challenge is that retirement takes place because it will be extremely difficult to instill discipline when your former seniors are now your juniors, serving under you.
“It is a waste of scarce resources, but when you look at it, the effect of the indiscipline and rancour it will bring, it is better to retire them. But again, you don’t let them go totally out of the system.
“The government must establish the Nigerian Defence Reserve Force (NDRF). The retired officers who are still well and able should be enlisted in the NDRF to continue serving the Nation.”
Security analyst, Christopher Oji said: “The practice of retiring senior officers because of newly appointed service chiefs, including the Police Force is unfair and should be stopped by this present administration.
“This is wrong because if you waste colossal amounts sending the senior officers for training abroad and you go ahead and retire them before their retirement ages is a waste of resources and talent. That is the reason we have incompetence in our agencies.
“The reason is that the junior appointee is always afraid that his senior colleagues may not be loyal to him, but that is false, because the service has a rule of engagement and every officer must key in.
“The president should put into consideration how many senior officers will be affected before appointing new service chiefs. It is wrong to retire senior officers prematurely. In advanced countries, they know how important education, knowledge and experience are to the service.”
Retired Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Taiwo Lakanu said: “It is a convention the military had adopted several years back, and other paramilitary agencies have also followed suit.
“It’s purely a military affair and it suits them. Apart from the etiquette of senior ones saluting the junior ones, which the military abhors, it also prevents stagnation and allows the introduction of fresher ideas and vibrancy.”
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