New service chiefs and national security
Reports that the new service chiefs appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari have hit the ground running is cheery, although that will not take anything away from the enormity of work confronting them. The major focus naturally is the insurgency in the North West part of the country. But recent events have indicated that banditry, kidnapping, murder, rape and other dehumanizing atrocities across the rest of the country deserve no less attention from the new leadership of the Nigerian Armed Forces.
According to Defence Headquarters, the new leadership would usher in new methodology in the counter-insurgency war. As part of their resolve to hit the ground running, the service chiefs have conducted operational visits to the North East and other areas with a view to formulating new ways of tackling security challenges, explained the Coordinator of Defence Media Operation, Major-General John Onenche.
Almost simultaneously, the new Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru declared readiness to end insurgency; and to achieve this, he said he had concluded plans to partner with Camerounian and Chadian armies. The military chieftains need to quickly walk their talk, as insecurity has become the country’s number plague, indeed threatening to tear it apart. Also, Nigeria teamed up with neighbouring countries in Buhari’s first term; what happened to the coalition, and why did it disintegrate? These are relevant questions for the service chiefs. The real battle to be won remains the war against worsening insecurity in the country.
Given that this country has never been so brutally assaulted by murderous insurgents spoiling for the soul of the Nigerian people, and never has the military been so equipped, financed, publicised and repeatedly tested in their homeland as in these times, the expectations of Nigerians are high. Nigeria is probably the only country of its type that has been brazenly invaded by marauders from other countries to the aloofness and apparent incapacitation of security operatives. It is a country so insecure for inter-state commuting that even political office holders, who covet state protection, will not dare travel to their localities. Country homes, whether in the north or south, are no longer safe havens because of the massive infestation of the forests by criminal herders and immigrants wreaking havoc on lives and properties.
It is alarming that the security system has become highly politicised, while insecurity is thriving as business, and in fact undergoing a dangerous and virulent mutation in criminality. Consequently, the basic instinct of self-preservation has compelled Nigerians to establish their own equivalent of security outfits. This is a sad reflection of the distrust, which the people have for political leaders.
Against this background, nothing short of a united and purposeful response is expected from the new security chiefs. It is trite to state that in a civilian government under democratic rule, loyalty of the armed forces is to the country and people of Nigeria, and not to any single individual, or person, or institution however high they may be. In addition, they must ensure harmony and complementarities in their operations.
While the high qualifications of the new security chiefs are not in doubt (some have taken leading roles in the theatre of war against insurgency; others have excelled as high-flying tacticians and consummate strategists), the security situation today puts all these credentials to the test. For, as the classicist informs, the winning strategy of a soldier is tested not in peace time, but rather in the battlefield. It bears repeating, as this newspaper has posited on occasions, that “tackling insecurity demands a focused, united, vibrant and confidence-building military; one that collectively takes ownership of the war against terror without recourse to partisanship that could imperil the security of the country.”
The new service chiefs should shun ethno-religious and political partisanship and all forms of sectional allegiance if Nigeria is to achieve its goal of surmounting these harbingers of insecurity. When brought down to specifics, the new command structure should ensure that soldiers and security operatives in the trenches are adequately motivated to do their jobs professionally. They should be encouraged and treated as patriotic Nigerians on national assignment, and not routinised as hirelings for some political agenda. This will require the new military helmsmen to provide fresh ideas, build confidence and boost morale. They must treat soldiers with dignity and as persons, by addressing situations that encourage suspicions of sabotage, low morale and inclination to make insecurity a perpetual industry.
Treating the soldiers with the respect they deserve also entails that they get the necessary military platforms to judiciously carry out their assignments. In times like this, the government should foster relationships that will motivate countries to volunteer intelligence, lend technical assistance and supply the needed ammunition to complement local manufacture of weapons from Nigeria’s defence industries and partners. The service chiefs should collaborate with security theorists and consultants on the way forward. Such calls on the need for effective leadership and re-jigging the military architecture of the country should not be overlooked.
As key players on national security, they should be open to periodic intelligence reviews even as security experts should be encouraged to set agenda and outline the key performance indicators with timelines. By this collaboration, Nigeria will be able to reconfigure its national security system in order to build on the wins and re-strategise on the challenges. Above all, there is need for Nigerians to cultivate some cautious optimism irrespective of the daunting nature of security challenges.