Tasks before the new COAS
President Muhammadu Buhari’s choice of Major-General Farouk Yahaya, 55, as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) has been criticised in various circles for various reasons.
This is not unexpected as Yahaya, (Regular Course 37) automatically supersedes his superior officers of Regular Courses 35 and 36 and if the tradition in the Nigerian military establishment holds, quite a number of top-ranking army officers will have to retire from the service, regardless that they may not be tired yet. This is a pity for, being public servants as defined in Part IV Section 318 of the Constitution, they are, in turn, covered by Rule 020810 of the Public Service Rules (PSR).
The popular explanation for letting well and expensively trained, experienced and still, able officers go is that officers do not take orders from their subordinates. This is not good for a country even in peacetime, not to talk of Nigeria in these unsafe times. There has never been a more urgent need than now for all useful hands to be put to work to secure this country.
Gen. Yahaya comes into his new assignment at a very challenging time for the army he leads in particular and the country the army service in general. It is trite to recount the pockets of insurgency all over the country, the widespread incidents of banditry, kidnapping and other heinous acts of criminality all over the land. The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) that is statutorily the first line of civil defence is overwhelmed by these, necessitating, inevitably, the deployment of the Nigerian Army to restore peace and order. This is in line with Section 217(2) (a) (b) of the Constitution which charges the Armed Forces of the Federation (of which the Army forms a substantial part) with defending Nigeria from external aggression, maintaining its territorial integrity and securing its border from violation on land, sea and air.
From his curriculum vitae, the general’s education and exposure to administrative and operational duties are impressive. He had been, among other posts held, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 1 Division, Military Secretary, Principal General Staff Officer (PGSO) to the Minister of Defence and since March last year, Theatre Commander of the Operation Hadin Kai Counterterrorism in the Boko Haram afflicted Northeastern part of the country. Yahaya is the recipient of awards and medals that include the Force Service Star (FSS), Distinguished Service Star (DSS), Passed Staff Course (PSC), Grand Service Star (GSS) and the ECOWAS Monitoring Group Medal. The COAS is expected to make a difference of his own as head of the Nigerian Army. And, as a soldier with a human side whose hobbies include listening to local music and cracking jokes, he should indeed be a soldier and a gentleman, so to speak.
It bears repeating that Yahaya takes on a tough job for which he will need all the support he can get from first, the Federal Government and second the Nigerian people. There are too many embarrassingly avoidable reasons that the Nigerian Army, ranked among the strongest on the continent, is performing at a sub-optimal level in the confrontation with the insurgency. First, while inadequate funding is blamed for the poor or even the outright lack of military equipment to effectively secure the country, there is also the opaque, inadequately explained application of huge funds appropriated by the National Assembly. Yahaya must ensure that under his watch, whatever is lawfully approved for the Army is received and expended for the expressed purpose. Weapons may not win wars but modern weapons play an important role to determine the performance of soldiers.
Second, the welfare of the officers and men need to be uppermost in the mind of the COAS. A poorly motivated soldier is a demoralised soldier lacking in the will to do his or her duty. In the wrong frame of mind, he is even a risk to the safety of his colleagues. The men and the families they leave behind to fight for their country must receive their monetary and other entitlements as and when due. Wars are hardly won by only military hardware, no matter how sophisticated. Patriotic, motivated and committed men and women win wars.
Third, if the Army under its new chief is to make a difference for the good in the ongoing low intensity wars North and South, East and West, intelligence gathering is crucial to its strategy. But this will only work, if it earns the trust and confidence of the local population that know who is where. Yahaya must reorient his officers and men to regard the civil populace not as contemptible ‘‘bloody civilians’’ but as fellow citizens and partners in the work of making the country safe for everyone. That is the way the military generally can earn the goodwill and cooperation of the people.
Fourth, corruption is arguably, the bane of the Nigerian society. The position of COAS is an exceptional leadership role. Personal integrity and leadership by example will go a long way to earn him a successful and remarkable tenure. As U.S. Gen. Colin Powell is quoted to have said: ‘‘The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever. But it is your personal example they will follow.’’ The COAS should go into his new role making sure that the Army is utilised not to carry out any individual’s personal agenda hidden or not but to achieve genuine peace in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.