Sunday, 3rd December 2023

National security and appointment of service chiefs

By Editorial Board
05 July 2023   |   4:20 am
As a move towards improving, or better still, changing the direction and seriousness of the government’s national security effort, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s appointment of new service chiefs did not come too soon.

As a move towards improving, or better still, changing the direction and seriousness of the government’s national security effort, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s appointment of new service chiefs did not come too soon. This is not to derogate from the recognisable achievements of the immediate past officers; it is simply and realistically to assert the urgent need for fresh ideas and new hands in the all-important assignment to make Nigeria safe – rightfully – for its citizens.

The new service chiefs appointed by Tinubu include: the Chief of Defence Staff, Major-General C.G. Musa; Chief of Army Staff, Major-General T. A. Lagbaja; Chief of Air Staff, AVM H.B. Abubakar; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ikechukwu Ogalla; acting Inspector-General of Police, DIG Kayode Egbetokun; and Maj. Gen. EPA Undiandeye as Chief of Defence Intelligence. The officers are to serve in acting capacity pending confirmation of their appointment by the Senate.
Of course, for a president whose working paper, ‘Action Plan for a Better Nigeria’ begins with the acknowledgement that ‘national security is the bedrock of a democratic and prosperous society,’ it is not unexpected that the commander-in-chief of the armed forces will move quickly to actualise his documented commitment.
The personal quality and commitment of the service chiefs, on the one hand, and the resources available to them for the task to accomplish are altogether crucial to their success. It will be recalled that, in response to a call on him to form a so-called ‘government of national unity’, Tinubu made it clear that “my aim is higher than that… a government of national competence.” And that is how it should be if he is to take this country to the destination of ‘prosperity and safety’ that he envisages.
In respect of personal competence and professional capacity, the credentials available in public space are solid enough to say that they merit, unreservedly, their appointments. Nigerians have good reason, therefore, to grant the appointees, as the public comments have generally indicated, the initial confidence that they are not only up to their respective and collective tasks, but will quickly prove this, given, we must quickly add, the necessary resources. The president has promised in his Action Plan to ‘recruit, train, and better equip additional military, police, paramilitary, and intelligence personnel.’ Very well. Nigerians will hold him to his words. In order to strengthen public trust in his government, Tinubu should get on with these without delay.

It is trite to say that security is the first constitutional obligation of the Tinubu government.  To achieve this goes far beyond the appointment of high level ‘round pegs in round holes.’ New security architecture is required: one that accords the Nigeria Police Force in an appropriately central role. The Police Force is the first line of state agency against criminality in every nook and cranny of Nigeria. But it is too command-centralised to be responsive, efficient, and effective. No modern democracy runs a somewhat unitary Police system such as Nigeria’s. As the saying goes, all effective policing is local. This government must move quickly to decentralise the Police system such that personnel, who know and understand respective territories, take charge at state and local government levels. 
Tinubu’s All Progressives Congress (APC) party promised in its manifesto as far back as 2015 to ‘amend the Constitution to enable states and local governments to employ state and community police to address the peculiar needs of each community.’ In 2018, an APC committee on restructuring headed by Nasir el-Rufai included among 24 recommendations that ‘Police should be moved from the Exclusive to the Concurrent List in the Constitution. To this end, ‘police should be both federal and state.’ In the eight year of the Buhari administration, he did absolutely nothing about these. Meanwhile, the United States, from which Nigeria practically copies her system of government, operates many levels of policing – federal, state, county, even educational institutions.
It is noteworthy, even gratifying that Tinubu’s action plan promises to explore flexible and adaptive measures as local realities and challenges demand. This measure includes ‘the establishment of more formal locally-based law enforcement institutions.’ There is no time to waste, because terrorists are increasingly active; Nigerian lives are wasted by the day, and kidnapping and arson are rife in the land.
The appointment of Malam Nuhu Ribadu, AIG (rtd.) as National Security Adviser (NSA) has attracted public interest and comments one way or other.  It is necessary to say that, as many commentators have eloquently explained, first, it is the constitutional prerogative of the president to appoint whosoever he deems fit as aide and in any position. Second, as defined in the National Security Agencies Act, the NSA serves as ‘Coordinator on National Security’ in which capacity the NSA, among other related functions,  receives, coordinates, collates, evaluates, and advises the President on matters of intelligence from the security agencies. Third, the NSA position is necessarily a high-level  public office, but Ribadu who retired as Assistant Inspector-General of Police years ago and has over time garnered knowledge and experience in many areas cannot be deemed unqualified.
The point must also not be lost that he is not the first senior police officer to be appointed NSA. Ismailia Gwarzo held the post between 1993 and 1998.  Third, it is arguable that Ribadu’s widely acknowledged work in the EFCC will also be a major asset to assure transparency in military spending. Fourth, from the United States where Nigeria has borrowed the extant system of government, Dr Henry Alfred Kissinger, a Harvard political scientist and foreign policy specialist with experience in military intelligence was appointed National Security Adviser by President Richard Nixon and served from 1969 to 1973.
Tinubu recently charged the service chiefs to share intelligence and collaborate for effectiveness. The NSA must ensure that this presidential instruction is carried out faithfully and consistently. Nonetheless, as ‘Chief Executive of the Federation and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation,’ Tinubu is ultimately responsible for the performance of the service chiefs that he, in his wisdom, appoints. This being so, he must keep a close watch on how they go about their duty. It is in both his and Nigeria’s interest.
Again, this is where Ribadu must live up to the high office he occupies. The bottom line though is that, in a manner of speaking, the buck of ‘security and welfare of the people’ stops at the desk of the President. Nigerians certainly deserve a permanent respite from the killings, physical and psychological damages to which they have been helplessly subjected by common criminals buoyed by weak or non-existent security architecture.