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Buhari has failed to change military chiefs in five years. Why we might have a problem

Buhari and service chiefs

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Buhari has failed to change military chiefs in five years. Why we might have a problem

On the 13th of July 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed the current crop of Nigeria’s Defence and service chiefs — the Chief of Army, Naval and Air staff in line with the normal practice which gives the President the liberty to choose whomever they want at the helm of affairs. 

Two years after this appointment, the President extended the tenure of the service chiefs for about six months which was meant to elapse in the month of December 2017. The tenure was again extended but this time without any timeframe given. 

Ever since, the issue of the military chiefs tenure has remained in the realm of speculation from the words of self-acclaimed insiders to articles by people in the media. 

Why it matters

Although the constitution does not clearly define the tenure of the military chiefs, they are expected to stay in the position for two years — with the President and Commander in Chief having the powers to retire, extend or appoint new chiefs. This position is backed by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria [218 (1&2)] and the Harmonised Terms and Conditions for Service for officers (H-TACOS) (2017) Revised. On this basis alone, the President cannot be wrong. Whether he keeps them beyond the stipulated two years, or 35 years of service or 56 years of age remains his prerogative.

As it stands, all the service chiefs except the Chief of Army Staff General TY Buratai, all joined the service in 1979 and have spent 40 years in service.  Buratai is the youngest of them, having spent 39 years in the service which he joined in 1981.

However, among the rank and file of the Nigerian military and the public, there has been palpable uncertainty and anxiety concerning the lack of clarity about the tenure of the service chiefs. This unprecedented tenure elongation proves to be quite consequential than imagined. As one of the service chiefs might have rightly observed, the morale of the base is low and people are demotivated. 

The big picture

Given the state of the military and the current range of operations against a wide range of threats, including Boko Haram, a demotivated service is too grave a risk to bear. In spite of the legalities of its actions, the government (Presidency) has shown weakness by failing to communicate its position on the issue of tenure elongation. The only indication that Nigerians could see another tenure elongation was in December 2019 when a Buhari ally, who is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, gave reasons why the president cannot afford to change or appoint new service chiefs. Valid reasons or not, the President must now effectively communicate to the troops and the public, the reasons behind his retention of the service chiefs beyond the expected tenure span. This will go a long way to boost eroding public confidence in the Armed Forces and the national security strategy of the administration

What Nigeria needs now is a sustainable investment in enhancing the capacity and capabilities of our military and not the crushing of the morale of our troops. 

Murtala Abdullahi is a climate security expert and analyst at the Global Initiative For Civil Stabilisation (GICS).

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