Changes in the military: Is Jonathan now a general?
Sometime ago, President Goodluck Jonathan, while attending a military ceremonial function, had remarked that he was not a military general. Many analysts wondered if the president really understood the enormity of the power of the office he occupies. How on earth can a man who is constitutionally recognised as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria claim that he is not a general? If Jonathan is not a general, how come he is commanding other generals? Never mind the president's humility and candour, which have become the defining features of his persona. Even his opponents do not begrudge him of this unassuming mien which has been mistaken for weakness by little minds farting all over the place.
If there is any doubt that Jonathan is perfectly on top of things, the clinical and noiseless manner he most recently effected changes in the top hierarchy of the military has put all that to rest. In a sweeping change, Jonathan had removed the former chief of Defence Staff, Ola sa'ad Ibrahim, the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Azubuike Ihejirika, and his counterpart in the Navy, Vice Admiral Joseph Ezeoba. The only survivor of what the Daily Sun sensationally termed “Hurricane Jonathan” is the former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, now appointed Chief of Defence Staff. In the recently announced appointments, Major General Kenneth Tobiah Jacob Minimah was named the new Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral Usman Jibrin takes over from Ezeoba as the Chief of Naval Staff; while Air Vice Marshal Adesola Amosu now steps in as the new Chief of Air Staff.
The changes, although a military affair, appear to be well received not only in the barracks but also across the civilian population in the land. Feelers coming in suggest that the president, in making the recent appointments in the top echelons of our military structure, had exhibited a high sense of equity and balance in the plural society that our country is. Whether it is viewed from the religious prism of Christians and Moslems, the balance speaks for itself in the appointments. From the geopolitical perspective, the list of the new service chiefs shows exemplary balance between the North and the South. In other words, it is safe to argue that Jonathan, in reshuffling the top military positions, paid serious attention to the most important fault lines of our political architecture, which are religion and the North-South divide. It is reassuring that our president is not ignoring the touchy issues of our national unity.
Similarly, the appointment of the new service chiefs satisfies the provisions of the federal character as the directive principle of state policy embedded in our constitution. The whole idea of the federal character principle is to forestall the domination of one group over others in the government so as to give every group in the plural Nigerian state a sense of belonging. And indeed, as the Constitution provides, it is easy for every group to see a little of itself in the recent appointments in the military made by the president.
But beyond the issue of ethno-religious balance in the recent appointment of the service chiefs is the emphasis on operational effectiveness and professionalism. The records of the new service chiefs, as made available, really inspire renewed confidence in the ability of the Nigerian armed forces to defend the people against external aggression and internal insurrection. The former service chiefs have done a marvellous job in containing the threats to national security especially against the terrorist insurgency of the Boko Haram sect. Particular mention must be made of the sacrifices of the Nigerian Army under Ihejirika.
However, from all indications, apart from the attainment of the mandatory retirement age by almost all the former service chiefs, it is quite clear that they had given their best to their fatherland. It is also very discernible that the tactics and the stratagem of terror have changed, thus requiring new response patterns and offensives from the military. And it was fitting for the president to retire the former service chiefs, these patriots, honourably after completing their period of service to allow for fresh ideas and hands in the management of our national security.
As if to underscore the point being canvassed above, the new Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, has given a marching order to his staff in the military to end the Boko Haram terrorist activities within three months. This is a welcome development and a sweet song that all Nigerians want to listen to over and again. Although, there are many naysayers out there who see the directive from the newly appointed chief of defence staff as a mere product of sensational excitement of a new office, Jonathan knew full well, as commander-in-chief, what he wanted to achieve with the rejigging of the top military hierarchy. Without saying any word, the president knows that the war on terrorism has passed the tactical phase of containment and is, therefore, ready for the final onslaught to dislodge the insurgents and any other group who would want to test the might of the Nigerian state.
Finally, it is even more reassuring that in effecting the recent changes in the top military hierarchy, Jonathan did the noble thing of forwarding the names of the new service chiefs to the Senate for ratification in line with a recent court judgment obtained by human rights lawyer, Festus Keyamo. It is on record that Jonathan is the first president to do so, thus underlining his ardent belief in the rule of law and due process. Given the deft manner and tactical manoeuvring with which he has handled the changes in the top brass of the military, who would argue again that President Jonathan is not a General or even a Field Marshal?
Ainofenokhai contributed this article via [email protected]