For the third time in three months, Nigerians are mourning victims of Air Force plane crashes. This time, however, it is the Chief of Army Staff himself that was involved, along with 10 other souls. General Ibrahim Attahiru did not appear given to talking too much and was not as known as previous military chiefs. To get a better insight on him, Intervention approached Barrister Mike Kebonkwu, a retired Major from the Nigerian Army, now an Abuja based legal practitioner but a critic of his former profession except in this interview where he gave a very surprising high rating to the departed COAS whom he knew very well.
According to Kebonkwu, the late Gen Attahiru is the last of the core military professionals to lead the Nigerian Army. He compares him only to General Victor Malu, crediting the two as very professional, very disciplined and ready to drop the uniform if anything would compromise their loyalty to Nigeria, the Constitution and the Nigerian Army Doctrine.
He makes reference to Malu being removed for positions he took which some people were not comfortable with but that Malu didn’t care. As far as Kebonkwu is concerned, every other COAS since Victor Malu has been politically decided, a statement he said cannot be described as controversial but the truth of the matter. Politically decided COAS, he says, has had impacts on discipline in the army.
He is ready to swear that GenAttahiru was in the same category of Malu, a COAS he believes would stand up to his Commander-in-Chief if professionalism was being disregarded. He said he is sure that Gen Attahiru would not have taken positions based on political correctness or have given in to ethno-religious pressures, citing his days as Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole in the past. According to Kebonkwu, he was all out for victory, something he said some unnamed people didn’t want. “It was why he was removed”, he said.
Speaking on the likely mood in the army in the wake of the demise of the COAS, the interviewee suspects so many people would be sad because they have expectations that General Attahiru would perform. There are others he thinks might be indifferent to his demise, either out of loyalty to cleavages or alliances and networks.
Although he would not bulk at his statement that the departed COAS is the last of their set in terms of hard core military professionalism, he is hoping a replacement would be found who can even do better. “Unfortunately, we do not have so many officers in that group who will stand up to the person who appointed them, let’s still hope they can still get someone who can do something about the insecurity in the country”, he told Intervention.