Service Chiefs, the National Assembly and public decorum
Uneasy, so goes a popular saying, lies the head that wears the crown. Never has this saying been more apt than in the case of the current Service Chiefs of the various Services of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. More than ever before, there have been calls for the removal of the Service Chiefs on account of the perceived failure of the Armed Forces to decisively put down the Boko Haram insurgency and other emerging threats in the country. The other often stated reason is that they have exceeded their constitutional tenures. If previous calls for their removal were ignored, the latest call, from the Senate, is seen by some as the height of legislative activism.
Frustration over the activities of the insurgents in the North East as well as the emerging threats posed by armed bandits and other criminal elements in the North West, North Central and other parts of the Country is understandable, for several reasons; the most prominent being the loss of innocent lives caused by these criminal elements. The displacement of thousands of people, the dislocation of economic and social life as well as the spill-over effect on other sections and segments of the society, further fuel the agitation for a change of strategy and, as has been the case, in the leadership of the Armed Forces.
However, in order to put the situation of the country in proper perspective, we must first critically appraise where we are coming from and juxtapose it with the situation today. Prior to the coming on board of the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration in 2015, the security situation in the Country was quite dire. Attacks by the Boko Haram Sect spread beyond the North East even up to Abuja, where the United Nations Building was attacked by suicide bombers. There was also a bomb attack at a Catholic Church in Madalla on the fringes of the Federal Capital Territory. In addition, the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters in the Central Area and Banex Plaza in Wuse 2 Abuja were also bombed, while the Nyanya Motor Park was attacked with improvised explosive devices on 2 separate occasions.
Outside Abuja, the former Emir of Kano was attacked in Kano while Kaduna equally experienced its fair share of bomb attacks. Indeed, the President (then Presidential Candidate) Muhammadu Buhari himself narrowly escaped death as his vehicle was targeted by Boko Haram suicide bombers while on a trip to Zaria. Similarly, the Bauchi Prison was attacked, with several prisoners freed and others killed by the insurgents.
At a time, the three States of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa were under a state of emergency. Furthermore, as at early 2015, the Boko Haram Sect was in control of over 14 Local Government Areas in the North East of the Country. They had established a Caliphate with Headquarters in Gwoza, where they had killed the Emir and abducted his wife. Furthermore, Bama and other prominent towns were under their total control. This was after they carried out devastating attacks in Baga, where 185 people were killed and over 2,000 homes destroyed; Banki; Benisheik as well as in Maiduguri where Giwa Barracks and the Nigerian Air Force Base/Maiduguri Airport were attacked with many killed and equipment, including aircraft, destroyed. Yobe and Adamawa States also suffered similarly; recall the horrible attacks on the Government Secondary School in Mamudo and the Federal Government College Buni Yadi, Yobe State that resulted in the death of 25 and 29 children and staff, respectively, subsequently leading to the closure of all schools in the affected States. Maiduguri was like a ghost town at that time; hardly were prayers held in Mosques, while routine celebrations, like weddings and naming ceremonies, that could have occasioned large gatherings, were suspended for fear of suicide bomb attacks.
Since the current set of Service Chiefs took over the helms of affairs, the Armed Forces, supported by other security agencies, quickly took action to dismantle the Caliphate and ensure the liberation of virtually all territories hitherto occupied by the Sect. Bombings have now become a thing of the past and the activities of the Sect mainly curtailed to the fringes of Lake Chad and parts of Sambisa Forest. As a result, many formerly displaced persons have been able to return to their ancestral homes, as peace returned to the hitherto war-torn areas.
Consequently, one can safely say that while we are not yet where we want to be, we certainly are not where used to be and the credit must go the current crop of Service Chiefs. They have been able to do this in spite of the fact that the insurgents have been buoyed in manpower and technology by new entrants into the fray following the crisis in Libya and the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq, which led to an influx of experienced, battle hardened terrorists who injected new tactic and vigour into the ranks of the Boko Haram insurgents.
One must of course understand the feeling of exasperation, especially given the emerging internal security threats in other parts of the country such as the activities of the new set of gun-wielding herdsmen whose modus operandi is seen by many, as the greatest, post-civil war, threat to the unity and stability of the country. However, it would be necessary to look at these threats holistically within the context of how the threats have emerged and consider, in a comprehensive manner, what must be done to deal with them. Hence, it is necessary to dispense with the belief that once the Service Chiefs are dropped, the insurgency and other criminal activities will suddenly end. Sadly, such a position is not supported by either our history or by logic.
Granted, nobody is indispensable. However, nothing will be gained by falling victim of the fallacy of monocausal explanation. We need not look too far into history. The changes in Service Chiefs in the past did not bring about the much-anticipated decisive defeat of Boko Haram; nor did it check the mushrooming of militants in the northern axis of the country. What this means is that, to find the answers to the problem, we must look beyond the Service Chiefs and indeed, the several variables that play up, in the web that has buoyed the insurgents, undermined our military and placed our society in peril.
First, there is the challenge of consensus building in our society. The Bible tells us that a house that is divided against itself cannot stand. Any keen watcher of Nigerian events will agree that never since the end of the Civil War, has the country found itself so divided. Sadly, the political elite, the group looked upon by the society to rally consensus, is guilty of aggravating the divisions that plague the country. How do we expect our military to perform wonders when those they are fighting to protect, divulge their every move and plan to the adversary, resulting in the carnage that often happens after every ambush of our soldiers? Are the informants who betray every move of our military not from the constituencies of our legislators? What have the legislators done to rein in on the saboteurs in their constituencies? Who is fooling who?
Second, the military is a microcosm of the society. It depends on the quantum of budgetary allocation and the speed of delivery, to effectively drive its processes. This is particularly so in combat readiness which includes acquisition of military hardware: tanks, aircraft, weapons and spare parts; motivation of servicemen and women; intelligence gathering and collaboration with sister services of neighbouring countries. Unfortunately, while military operations require speed and adequate supplies, the Services are also subjected to the negative fallouts of budgetary and bureaucratic delays.
From my inquiries, since 2015, there has been a gradual reduction in funds appropriated to the Armed Forces. This is especially worrisome when compared to the amounts allocated in 2012, 2013 and 2014. In 2012, N921.91 billion (18.90 per cent) of the N4.877 trillion budget went to the Defence Sector, and in 2013, N1.055 trillion (21.16 per cent) of the N4.987 trillion expenditure went to Defence. In 2014, Defence was allocated N968.127 billion or 19.51 per cent of the N4.962 trillion appropriated for the year. Curiously, the figure came down to N388.459 billion (7.67 per cent) of the N5.068 trillion budget in 2015. For 2016, it was N429.128 billion for the sector, that is, 7.08 per cent of N6.061 trillion budgeted; and for 2017, Defence received N465.87 billion or 6.26 per cent of the final N7.444 trillion budget. In 2018 the budget was N9.12 trillion, of which the Armed Forces got N580.145 billion or 6.26 per cent of the budget.
For 2019, the Nigerian Army got a total allocation of N228.415 billion, out of which N208.792 billion (91.41 per cent) was assigned as Total Recurrent, while just N19.623 billion (8.59 per cent) was allocated as Total Capital Expenditure. In like manner, the Nigerian Navy in the 2019 budget got a total of N101.391 billion, with N74.240 billion as Total Recurrent, leaving a paltry N27.151 billion as Total Capital allocation. Also, in the 2019 defence budget, the Nigerian Air Force was allocated a total of N114.835 billion; of this sum, N69.784 billion was provided for Total Recurrent Expenditure, leaving N45.051 billion as Total Capital allocation.
As my investigation revealed, a more worrisome question is: were these budgeted figures actually released in each of these years and were they released timeously to the Services? For instance, my investigation reveals that the 2019 capital releases only began as late as September – 4 months to the end of the year. For the current year, 2020, sources indicate that not a single penny has been released from the capital budget to any of the Services. Under such circumstance, how do the lawmakers expect the Services to acquire the needed military hardware with insufficient budgetary allocations that are not fully backed by cash and that trickle in so late in the year? Who is fooling who?
Third, as we are all aware, internal security ought to be the primary responsibility of the Nigeria Police. But a Police Force that has only about 350,000 officers and men for over 200 Million people is grossly understaffed. Burdened by the spate of internal crises mushrooming all over the country, I have it on good authority that the military has been deployed in 32, out of the 36 states of the Federation, to support the Police. Unless we want to be hypocritical about it, this constitutes a major distraction to a military that is confronting one of the deadliest and well-armed insurgency groups in the world. One certainly knows that it is not tanks or aircraft that are most effective in tracking small groups of cattle rustlers or kidnap gangs. No! This falls within the purview of the Nigeria Police Force. Evidently, the Nation needs a stronger, better equipped Police Force structured in a manner that elicits confidence among the component units of the Federation. What is the legislature doing to shore up the strength of the Police Force to deal with these internal security threats?
Worse still are the numbers in the Armed Services whose manpower is grossly below what is required to deal with the current challenges. For example, the Nigerian Air Force, by establishment, ought to have a strength of 40,000 but still only has about 20,000 personnel. This is another area our lawmakers have to address in order to ensure that Nigeria has a more effective and efficient Armed Forces.
Fourth, ought we not seriously to interrogate the conditions that throw up these criminal elements and give rise to these festering conflicts in the first place? Although some of us hate to hear the truth, we cannot continue to shy away from the fact that, as a result of decades of neglect, our country gestates too many ungoverned areas. Nor can we wish away or continue to treat with levity, the loud protests by some segments of the society, against what, in their view, amounts to the absence of inclusion. By eroding confidence in the system, the attendant agitations for self-determination often climax in security challenges that distract the military from its core responsibility of effectively engaging recalcitrant threats of the hue of Boko Haram. Consequently, despite the bold efforts by the current Federal Government to emplace infrastructure such as roads, rail lines and bridges as well as initiate social investment and other programmes to alleviate the sufferings of the most vulnerable groups, guaranteeing internal security is bound to remain a mirage so long as there are still so many Nigerians living on the fringes of existence or who hold strong aversion to the union is presently organised. Some of these citizens are merely seeking for more cost-effective means to evacuate their produce from their farms, while others are simply looking for such basic amenities as boreholes for potable water. These people, because of the failures of some State and Local Governments, barely know that Government exists and are sometimes forced into a life of crime. Can the NASS, in all honesty, claim that it has lived up to its mandate in ensuring that the benefits of good governance reach such people, thereby dousing the tensions in these areas? Who is fooling who?
We are reminded of the statement of former President of the United States, John F. Kennedy to the effect that, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich”. The National Assembly should stop living in denial: the chickens have come home to roost and it is incumbent on our legislature to rise to the challenge of redressing the unacceptable gap between the haves and the have-nots; the imbalances and inequities that instigate and sustain challenges to the existing moral order. Kennedy did not have Nigeria in mind when he declared that “those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable”. But from all indications, we are stubbornly bent on testing out the hypothesis at the risk of our own survival as a nation. What a pity!
The National Assembly can and should douse the tensions that have rendered our society violence-prone and our military over-exposed and vulnerable. We were taught in strategy that when you have many adversaries, you make peace with some. Can the National Assembly provide the much-needed panacea to Nigeria’s internal security challenges thereby freeing the military for its historical role of defending the country’s territorial integrity?
Fifth, our legislators ought to be aware that the vagaries of international politics have profound impact on the ability of the Services, to procure the equipment and spares they so desperately require, to prosecute the counter-insurgency campaign. It is common knowledge that, very often, the various restrictions imposed by one country in dealing with another have made it extremely difficult to get what one needs when one needs them. Of course, Nigeria has been a victim in this reality. An example is the purchase of the A-29 Super Tucano Attack Aircraft, from the United States of America (USA) which Nigeria had hoped would radically enhance the firepower of the military against the insurgents. Although payment has since been made in full to the US Government, as was widely reported in the media, the aircraft are not likely to be delivered till 2022. Our law makers cannot simply close their eyes to these realities that have significant impact on the fighting capabilities of the Services. In other climes, we know how their legislatures reach out to their counterparts elsewhere, to gain benefits for their countries. What are our legislators doing to assist, in the present circumstance?
Sixth, the dependency syndrome depicted above is a direct consequence of the country’s retarded technological/industrial base, an area that has not received significant legislative insight and focus. Are we not ashamed that though our Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) started the same year as that of Brazil, Nigeria is still a net importer of military hardware considered rudimentary products of its Brazilian counterpart? How do our legislators feel when our airlines flaunt second-hand Embraer aircraft manufactured in Brazil? It will be nice for the National Assembly to display its track record as an advocate of rapid transformation of Nigeria’s technological capacity, either through R&D-focused Acts of Parliament or substantial budgetary provisions; the type that would have saved our Armed Forces the ordeal of perennial dependence on foreign suppliers, for military hardware and spares. It is to the credit of the Services that, despite obvious lack of political interest and will, they have substantially improvised, to get things going.
Seventh, another factor that has had a significant impact on the capability of the Services, especially in their ability to obtain much needed equipment and spares this year, is the COVID-19 global pandemic. This, without doubt, has affected the global economy with direct consequence on the exchange rate of the dollar. As a result, the process of obtaining needed items has been made extremely difficult. This of course has been further worsened by the ban on international flights which has made logistics processes tremendously complicated. The legislators cannot claim to be ignorant of these factors.
In view of the prevailing circumstances and challenges, it goes without saying that the Armed Forces has acquitted itself creditably in holding the Boko Haram insurgent group at bay. While it is not yet “uhuru”, it can safely be said that things are much better than they used to be; gone are the days when even in Abuja people slept with one eye open, while parts of the North East had been overrun by Boko Haram. It is doubtful if the successes recorded could have been possible without the leadership of the current Service Chiefs. It also goes without saying that it will amount to a miscarriage of justice to blame the Service Chiefs or other heads of the security agencies for security challenges that are within the province of civil authority, to avert, if only the political will existed.
If the lawmakers are troubled by the number of casualties that have been recorded recently, that is perfectly understandable. Nigeria can never forget these valiant men and women under arms who have paid the ultimate price for the country. While our hearts go out to members of their families, it is important that our legislators understand that the Nation is at war on multiple fronts, including the North East, North West and the North Central, covering approximately 705,000 square kilometres of difficult, largely unmotorable terrain with rivers, gullies etc, which has further stretched an already overburdened military. It is however a painful reality that, in war, you are bound to record casualties. Hence, while it is regrettable that some Armed Forces personnel have paid the supreme price in service to their Nation, it will be wrong to conclude that the fight against insurgency has been lost or that the Service Chiefs have totally lost control. Far from it! What the law makers ought to have done before rushing to hasty conclusions was to interface with the military to understand their challenges with a view to fashioning out a comprehensive way forward.
Finally, no matter the level of frustration, our National Assembly should not be counted among those who denigrated and hounded out of office, these officers whose years of unblemished record of service, loyalty and continuing sacrifice stand out for national recognition and honours. They will eventually leave when Mr President deems it expedient. Until then however, I believe we, the legislature and indeed all Nigerians, owe them a duty to continue to support them, in every way possible, for improved security and development of the country.
• Emma Agu, Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) was Chief Press Secretary to Head of the Interim National Government (ING) in Nigeria, in 1993