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Fear of massive retirement grips officers as army gets new chief

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Six days after the tragic death of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant-General Ibrahim Attahiru, in a plane crash in Kaduna State, the Nigerian Army got a new chief, Major-General Farouk Yahaya, following his appointment as the new COAS yesterday by President Muhammadu Buhari.

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The announcement followed the end of three-day mourning after the Federal Government directed public buildings to fly the national flag at half-mast from Monday in honour of Attahiru and 10 other military officers that died in the crash.

Prior to his appointment, Yahaya was the general officer commanding 1 Division of the Nigerian Army and the incumbent theatre commander of the counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency outfit in the northeast.

The newly appointed army chief indicated that his hobbies are cracking jokes, travelling, reading and listening to local music, according to his curriculum vitae released by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu.

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According to the CV, Yahaya speaks four languages, including English, Spanish, Arabic and Hausa. The general, who was commissioned in 1985, has attended nine courses in his career, including the National Defence Course in Chile. He served as military secretary and then General Officer Commanding before his latest appointment.

About 10 Major-Generals may have to retire from the service following the emergence of Yahaya, a member of the 37 Regular Course as the 22nd COAS, as serving members of Regular Course 35, 36 and 37 in the army, airforce and navy may be forced out of service. This is in line with military tradition since the affected Generals cannot serve under a junior officer to them and must mandatorily go home.

Although the exact figure of Generals that may be forced to resign was not known at the time of filing this report, it was also unclear if the Minister of Defence, Major-General Salihi Magashi (rtd), will allow a chunk of senior military officers to go in the middle of terrorism war.

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A senior military source explained that the senior officers may be asked to voluntarily resign for ease of administration or be posted out to head tri-service institutions depending on the discretion of the Military Council.

The late Attahiru was from Course 35. There are at least 10 Major-Generals from the 35 and 36 Regular Courses still in the Nigerian Army according to records. Some of the senior military officers from Regular Course 35 include the current army’s Chief of Policy and Plan, Major-General Ben Ahanotu, from Anambra State.

Also, the army’s Chief of Administration is Major General A.M. Aliyu of Regular Course 36, from Gombe State. There are also Yahaya’s course mates, such as Major-General Ibrahim Yusuf of Regular Course 37 from Yobe State. He is the army’s Chief of Operation and former Force Commander Multinational Joint Taskforce.

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The late COAS, Attahiru was appointed in January 2021, alongside other military chiefs, after years of mounting criticism over spreading violence by Islamist insurgents and armed gangs. When Buhari appointed the present crop of service chiefs, no fewer than 20 Generals from the three services who were members of courses 34 and 35 were retired to pave way for them.

According to a military source last night, “there is going to be serious shake up in the three services with the appointment of the new COAS.” Another senior officer who didn’t want to be mentioned put the figure of Army Generals that will go at over 30, including two serving members of Course 35.

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The President was earlier advised against going below Course 35 in picking Attahiru’s replacement for fear of unsettling the army, but sources said the decision may not be unconnected with the move to flush out old hands in the service to pave way for younger officers who can reinvigorate the counter insurgency war.

CRITICISMS have, however, trailed the appointment of a new army chief. The Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), yesterday, blasted the Presidency, accusing it of worsening disunity, tension and fuelling ethnic distrust among Nigerians. The apex Yoruba association maintained that though the presidency always urged Nigerians to unite, its actions and utterances are in sharp contrast to what it is preaching.

While reading a communiqué after its meeting in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, National President of the association, Justice Demola Bakre (rtd) and the Secretary General, Dr. Kunle Olajide, took exception to the recent appointments made by President Buhari.

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They said: “President Buhari’s administration is grossly insensitive and talks down on state government who have the mandate of their people to govern them.”

Also, the Board Chairman of World Igbo Peoples Assembly (WIPAS), Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, said President Buhari was enthroning a dangerous legacy that negates the growth, development and unity of the country. The group stated that it was now clear that the President had something against Ndigbo.

Several Igbo had in the past six years of the Buhari administration canvassed inclusion of her people in the security architecture of the country. They had called on Buhari to respect the Federal character principles in his appointments in the interest of justice and unity of the country. However, the president on several occasions had not yielded to the request. Yesterday, he appointed another northerner to replace the immediate past Chief of Army staff.

Ibegbu, who expressed sadness with the development, insisted that the president’s negative attitude towards Ndigbo was fuelling agitations and unrest in the country, stressing that he was promoting a dangerous culture of hatred and ethnicism.

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Ibegbu said: “The Constitution is very clear. He is enthroning a dangerous legacy. He has refused to run an inclusive nation in the past six years. He has the right to appoint whomever that pleases him but with the mood of the nation, I had thought he would have tried to correct some of his nepotistic posture but he has continued in a culture that tends to sideline a section of the country.”

Also reacting, President of Coalition of Southeast Youth Leaders (COSEYL), Mr Goodluck Ibem, raised the alarm over the continued refusal of President Buhari to appoint a Southeasterner into the security architecture.

“The President has just told Ndigbo in plain language that they are not part of the country. The grand conspiracy to deny the Southeast its fair right is wicked and very unfortunate. His appointments smack of sinister motives. Ndigbo has really been treated unfairly in all sense of the word. To deny one of the tripod upon which the country was founded is unthinkable.”

Security expert, Christopher Oji, said this administration is solely promoting northern agenda. “Anybody who was thinking that President Buhari would act differently is not a student of history. This administration is solely a northern agenda and the benefits are for the north. Check out all the important positions, from Customs, Police, Immigration, Military, federal ministry and parastatals, including Civil Defence, EFCC, ICPC, NIMASA, and NNPC.

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“All the positions are for the North, so why should you expect the office of COAS to be different? This single act is setting us back, denying competent people of the opportunity to serve.”

U.S. Wall Street veteran and public commentator, Ken Iwelumo, said: “There is nothing new or surprising in President Buhari’s choice to replace the late Attahiru with another Northern General. The administration is in a siege mentality mode with a declining economy and serious national security challenge. A leopard never changes its spots. With all these factors coupled with incessant rumours of a coup, President Buhari has no other choice but to give himself an illusion that the army would be kept in check by a General from his own ethnic group. Tuesday night’s coup in Mali has only made matters worse. When you do not have anything to offer your country, you resort to self preservation.”

Former Department of State Services (DSS) chief, Dennis Amachree, said: “Appointment of service chiefs remains the prerogative of the president. However, this is another lost opportunity for the President to listen to the yearnings of a section of the country, who felt disenfranchised.”

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MEANWHILE, the President yesterday made other appointments, with Basheer Mohammed as the new Director-General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).

Mohammed will take over from Mrs. Imaan Suleiman who will also take over from him as the Federal Commissioner for the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.

Garba Shehu disclosed this in a statement titled: ‘President Buhari swaps heads of agencies under Humanitarian Affairs Ministry.’

Also, the President yesterday reappointed Dr. Garba Abari as the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA). Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who disclosed this in a statement in Abuja, said the appointment, which took effect from May 25, 2021, is for a final term of five years. Abari was first appointed to the position in 2016.

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