Dear President Muhammadu Buhari,
This open letter was actually intended to be an appeal to the service chiefs to turn up their letters of voluntary retirement after they have served their mandatory two-year tenures, and another two years of extension, which expired last year.
Since their stay in office is at the discretion of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, I have rather decided to write this memo, appealing to you in the spirit of fairness, standard procedure and progression in the service, to allow the longest-serving service chiefs go after exceeding their run-out dates (ROD), which is the mandatory 35 years of military service, and the additional discretionary extension, which is generally time-bound.
As you are aware Mr. President, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Gabriel Abayomi Olonisakin from Ekiti was born on December 2, 1961. He enrolled at the Nigerian Military School, Zaria in 1973 and later joined the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) as a member of the 25th Regular Course. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1981.
The Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok Ete-Ibas from Cross River, was born on September 27, 1960. He enlisted into the NDA as a member of 26th Regular Course on June 20, 1979 and was commissioned a sub-lieutenant on January 1, 1983.
Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar from Bauchi was born on April 8, 1960 in Azare, Bauchi State. He joined the Nigerian Air Force as a member of the Cadet Military Training Course (CMTC 5) in November 1979.
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai from Borno was born on November 24, 1960. In January 1981, he attended the NDA as a member of the 29th Regular Course (29 RC). He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on December 17, 1983.
Meanwhile, the most senior military officer, besides the service chiefs, is Lieutenant General Lamidi Adeosun from Osun, who was born on August 22, 1963 and enrolled into the Army on July 4, 1983. He has also clocked 35 years in the service.
As you may be aware Mr. President, apart from attaining the ROD, the tenures of the defence and service chiefs have since expired, going by the revised Armed Forces of Nigeria Harmonised Terms and Conditions of Service (HTACOS) for officers.
In Section 09.08 of the said HTACOS, which is the authoritative and official service order in the military, it is stated that, “An officer appointed to the substantive appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Air Staff will hold the appointment for a continuous period of two years. The appointment could be extended for another two years from the date of expiration of the initial two-year period.”
The service chiefs were first appointed in July 2015 and their tenures were extended for an additional two years in 2017, which finally expired in 2019. It has always been the standard practice, since the return of democratic governance to Nigeria in 1999, for service chiefs to be in office for a maximum term of two years, except on a few occasions of discretionary extension by Mr. President, after which replacements are made.
The retention of the chiefs stagnates the careers of other senior officers and induces unfair early mature retirements, in the absence of vacancies at the topmost echelons of the services.
As in the practice in the past, the exit of a service chief automatically impels the departure of their course mates from the service, such that officers who are next in seniority, such as the chiefs of various corps and departments at the service headquarters; general officers commanding; commandants; brigade commanders; and directors then experience an upward movement in their careers.
As it is now, at least five sets, and generations of regular course (RC) members, including those in the 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, 31st, 32nd and 33rd courses, with the exception of Lt. General Adeosun, have left the service without any of them attaining the highest military positions in their various services. There is likelihood that those of the 33rd and 34th courses may also not have the privilege of producing a service chief among them if this trend continues. With limited vacancy, only a few officers can be promoted, while several other brilliant officers would be forced to go on retirement.
Meanwhile, after staying for more than four years, with adequate resources provided to the military chiefs for procurements, recruitments and the training of personnel, they have performed to the best of their abilities, yet recent developments call for more strategic thinking, fresh ideas and a change in the administration and style of managing generations of military talents.
The international community has been raising concerns about disturbing trends from the end of last year into the beginning of the new year (2020) pertaining to the steady reversal in the fortunes of our troops in the hands of terrorists.
The European Parliament, the legislative branch of the European Union (EU), observed that there has not been any significant progress in the fight against the Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists. The Parliament, in its resolution of January 16, 2020, remarked that the security situation in Nigeria has deteriorated significantly, with insurgents turning the Maiduguri-Damaturu and surrounding routes into an extended death zone.
In the same vein, the United Nations (UN) had expressed outrage over the scale and intensity of the attacks carried out by the suspected insurgents against its facilities and other targets in parts of North-East Nigeria. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon strongly condemned attacks on its humanitarian hub.
There is also the alarming Global Terrorism Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which ranked Nigeria as the third country with the highest level of terrorist activity in 2019, after Iran and Afghanistan.
Some of these reports are not only distressing in terms of the upsurge in the insurgency but have been very embarrassing, as terrorists are not only going for soft targets but staging ambushes against our gallant troops while attacking military facilities. In some instances, civilians, as well as soldiers, have been either abducted or killed by the cowardly but deadly terrorists.
In other climes, including Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad and the Niger Republic, such incidents usually necessitate the replacement of service chiefs under whose leadership there are repeat assaults and losses of lives of troops in the hands of terrorists.
While I believe the service chiefs have good intentions and have done their best, I suggest they leave when the ovations are loudest and in order to allow fresh ideas to come into the management of our national security, whilst encouraging progression and the promotion of deserving officers in the armed forces. This will also inspire in a coming generation of officers, the hope of their finding ultimate career fulfilment in the armed forces, after decades of sacrifice.
The President can even promote any one of the military chiefs to the position of Chief of Defence Staff since the current CDS has remained the most senior and older officer in the military in the last four years.
*Yushau A. Shuaib
Founder PRNigeria and Author “An Encounter with the Spymaster”