By Mike Kebonkwu ESQ
It is a truism that change is the only constant thing in life. At last, the president has managed to find the will to change the service chiefs to everyone’s surprise after about five years. Nigerians feel generally relieved, and rightly so too because they have been clamouring for the removal of the service chiefs due to the vicissitudes and reverses in fortune in the fight against insurgency in the northeast and other acts of criminality in every parts of the country, and even for the good of the Services.
As it is customary with us, people have been sending congratulatory messages to the new service chiefs as if they have been appointed presidents of the Rotary Club International; some with the sense of right of entitlement that it’s our own. Their appointment is a call of duty of immense proportion and one, therefore, wonders if it calls for any celebrations. What lies ahead of them is not a walk in the park and they must be pretty mindful of this even though naturally, those appointed are bound to feel a sense of fulfilment in rising to the apex of their on a stiff pyramid. They need our prayers and support. Their ethnic origin and religion affiliations should be of less concern as some are already doing in social media with mendacious heresy that the Chief of Defence Staff, General Leo Irabor converted to Islam and his wife is a Muslim from Katsina State; that he built the biggest mosque in Agbor. This is libellous as it is defamatory.
The new service chiefs have inherited armed forces that are stretched to its operational limits with troops that have become battle fatigued with low morale, having to fight with unserviceable equipment. A soldier is as good as his equipment. The first task for the service chiefs should be to retool the armed forces and upgrade on their equipment holdings. What with the near failure of security in the entire country and bandits and kidnappers daring security forces and waiting for them in ambush, we need an offensive and aggressive force that is compact and mobile to confront the criminals with maximum firepower.
The Nigeria Police Force is overwhelmed by the internal security challenges and citizens have little faith in them not because they are not competent but because they are highly corrupt and easily compromised. The former service chiefs have played their part and people are happy to see their backs because they over stayed their welcome. At some point they were pre-occupied with having their eyes on the plum and a higher stake, relegating regimental and operational duties to the background while they competed in building schools and universities in their villages. How building universities in the midst of executing a war against insurgencies and criminality across the country becomes a priority is difficult to fathom. It became a game of rivalry and competition instead of focus on group goal of dealing with the insecurity in the country.
It is a general malaise that whenever a Nigerian gets to position of authority, he begins to see himself as the only competent person that can perform the function of the office. He becomes so attached to the office that he begins to personalize the office and to scheme to remain in office. This was what happened to the former service chiefs and they became so arrogant to the bargain.
Nigerians are going to be impatient with the new service chiefs because of the total collapse of security in the entire country and they would expect them to do magic. There is not going to be a quick fix in the security fortune in the country. We may, therefore, not deceive ourselves and set unnecessary targets for the new men in the helms of affairs. It will not be fair to do that just as we do not expect them to be carried away to start giving unrealistic and unrealizable timeline to deliver.
The entire structure needs overhaul from basic training to equipment. We are not going to solve the problem of insecurity by dumping money at it, it will not work. No doubt, they need money to buy equipment but over and above that, they need well trained and motivated soldiers to drive the equipment.
It is a cold lie to believe that insecurity and criminality in the country can be solved through political solution. It is when the state has weak links that it begins to see negotiation with criminals as a viable option. Our leaders have elevated bandits and kidnappers to state actors because they were the tools and vehicles they used to attain power. It is now time for the service chiefs to face the reality and step up their games, go after the criminals, collect the weapons from them and give them a bloody nose; no negotiation, no sentiments.
The former service chiefs were appointed at a time that there was the urgent need to confront the insecurity in the country especially the insurgency in the northeast that was slipping out of the hand of the security forces to the extent that we had to resort to engaging mercenaries. However, the successes recorded was not sustained as the Boko Haram insurgents soon regained momentum and became emboldened to carry the fight to the troops, inflicting heavy casualties on them on daily basis. The troops were losing grounds and equipment to them as they lost appetite to fight due to declining morale which was caused by a combination of factors including use of unserviceable equipment. This was the time to have changed the service chiefs but the presidency was struck by incubus like one under the spell of sorcerers.
The former service chiefs had long exceeded their mandatory 35 years of service and one expected that the president who himself is a retired general ought to have known that, for the good of the armed forces and its pristine tradition, it was time to search for and appointing new hands. People found justification for the inordinate stay of the service chiefs, advancing all dubious and baseless theories including that of not changing commanders during war which is balderdash. This theory has no place in military culture and security.
For the new service chiefs, they must be aware that expectations are so high and people are going to be impatient with them. They have a tough task, not forgetting that we operate a system that has internal mechanism of sabotaging itself. We have not been able to appreciate correctly the true security situation in the country as government prefers to live in denial about it and everyone is in silent mode for fear of harassment. The state of insecurity is staggering and only the proverbial grace and goodluck have sustained us as spiritual people. We now live in a state of siege everywhere. Armed robbers, bandits, kidnappers are as equally armed as members of the armed forces. The internal security situation has since passed the capacity of the Nigerian Police Force to handle; not even in the ability to gather intelligence in crime fighting. Nigerians have since abandoned the roads across the country. The only reason we are still leaving in our houses is because there is nowhere else to run to. The new service chiefs have their work cut out for them and so much is expected as we live in trepidation due to insecurity.
This is the time to re-organize the armed forces to what it used to be for effective command and control. The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) must be seen to take charge of the Armed Forces. His position is not ceremonial as perceived due to interpenetration of Nigerian politics into the armed forces. He is the number one soldier in the armed forces of the federal republic of Nigeria; he should be ready to breathe on the neck of the service chiefs for result. The armed forces of this country is supposed to be a guardian sentinel of our freedom. It should remain apolitical and maintain its pristine tradition; talking only when it is necessary.
We will begin to calibrate on the effectiveness of the new service chiefs when they put the insurgency in the northeast behind us. We will measure their success if the banditry in northwest and north central is completely eliminated and people can go back to their farms. We will judge their progress if people can travel without fear of kidnappers, killer herdsmen and armed robbers on Abuja-Lokoja roads to Edo-Delta. Until people in Ondo State down to Osun to Lagos can go to their farms and enjoy their parties without fear then, there is still insecurity. Until people in the Southeast and South-south can go home without negotiating with men of criminal underworld and cultists to provide them security, Nigeria is not safe. Until I can travel to Kaduna by road instead of train that has become congested, Nigeria is still insecure. To the new service chiefs, these are challenges before them; the matching order is for them to secure Nigeria. Who that cap fits let them wear it; we know they are equal to the tasks; change the narrative. We can only wish them goodluck.
Barrister Kebonkwu, the author, is of Koyen-Hi Kebonkwu Chambers, Wuse, Zone 5, the FCT, Abuja