The Nigerian Armed Forces came under fire over the weekend for the umpteenth time when Asari-Dokubo, the leader of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, NDVF, unleashed a barrage of allegations against them.
The Military was again accused of sabotaging the country’s security architecture, and Asari-Dokubo called it “shameful.”
The Niger Delta militant leader also termed the claim that the Nigerian military lacks sufficient weapons to battle insurgents as a “lie.”
Asari-Dokubo’s revelation re-echoed such allegations in the past against the military as a key beneficiary of Nigeria’s insecurity.
Shadows of Doubt:
For most Nigerians, the sorest point during the eight years of the Muhammadu Buhari administration was not only his government’s inability to curb rising insecurity across the country but the worrisome accusations from many quarters that the Nigerian military, rather than crush the bloodthirsty insurgent groups and herdsmen, was colluding with those terror gangs as they unleashed mayhem and perpetuated ethnic cleansing in various parts of the country.
These scary allegations started brewing right when Buhari stepped into power in 2015. His pattern of appointments fueled accusations of bias in favor of the North.
For example, out of the six service chiefs appointed, the North produced four appointees, while the South produced two. Also, appointments into key leadership positions of national security institutions like the National Security Adviser, Inspector-General of Police, Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Air Staff, Chief of Defence Intelligence, Director-General, Department of State Services, and Comptroller-General, Nigerian Customs Service, were skewed to favor the north. Other positions pocketed by the North are the Comptroller-General, Nigerian Immigration Service, and the Chairmanship of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Many Nigerians, particularly in the South, were concerned about the one-sided military. Their concerns were justified because establishing a lopsided army may erode service chiefs’ neutrality and encourage them to support particular groups or individuals over others.
However, the then-Buhari-led federal administration attempted to assuage anxieties by stating that the nominations were made on merit and to achieve the best possible results in combating the escalating insecurity in the country. As a result, Nigerians gave him the benefit of the doubt for this unbalanced selection.
However, to the chagrin of Nigerians, years into the Buhari administration, insecurity remained insurmountable. Terror bombings, banditry, and herdsmen attacks did not only become more brazen, ruthless, and widespread in the north, but bloodletting and ethnic cleansing also began to happen in the southern part of Nigeria.
And despite promises by the government to stop the rampaging gunmen from further terrorizing innocent communities, the ease with which the killers continued to attack helpless people across the country remained a shocking mystery. Fears were rife among Nigerians, as many were befuddled and wondered why the Nigerian army could not seem to crush these small, ragtag insurgent units.
With the killings continuing unabated, there is a growing suspicion that the government is protecting the murderous herdsmen. Some commentators ascribed the seeming inability of the army to tame the herders to the fact that individuals in charge of the military are from the north and may sympathize with the bandits and herdsmen. This posture created severe concerns about the military’s integrity and adherence to its principal mission.
Disturbing Allegations of Bias
The outburst of the Former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Theophilus Danjuma (retd), on March 24, 2018 during the Taraba State University convocation in Jalingo was the first time a prominent personality openly accused the military of complicity in the killings that happened in Taraba, Benue, and other riverine states in the country.
General Danjuma revealed that the military was not neutral and was covering those behind the attacks, which had claimed scores of lives.
He said, “There is an attempt at ethnic cleansing in this state and, of course, in all the riverine states of Nigeria. We must resist it. We must stop it. Every one of us must rise up.
“The armed forces are not neutral; they collude with the armed bandits that kill people, kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement. They cover them. If you are depending on the Armed Forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one.”
The allegation riled up the country and ruffled the feathers of the military. And responding, the Defense Headquarters denied General Danjuma’s allegations of bias but assured that they would investigate the claim and punish any personnel found guilty.
But after the army’s response, nothing was heard again. The military made no effort to state the findings of their investigation into the allegations of bias. The carnage and brigandage were reported in states such as Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Kaduna, Ekiti, Delta, Nasarawa, Kwara, Kogi, Ondo, and Enugu.
Calls were made for a shakeup of the service chiefs but were ignored by the government.
The disturbing allegation of bias was repeated by another former army officer, Navy Commodore Kunle Olawunmi (Rtd).
Commodore Olawunmi, during an interview on Channels Television on August 25, 2021, hinted that the Nigerian government knows those behind the insurgency in the country but has chosen to look the other way, refusing to prosecute them.
Before his allegation, the then-Buhari government told Nigerians in April of that year that they had arrested 400 Bureau De Change (BDC)-related people who were sponsoring Boko Haram. The presidency said it would publish the names of those behind Boko Haram, but years after that promise, the long-awaited list has never been made public.
Another shocking disclosure of military alleged connivance with bandits was made by the Methodist Church Nigeria Prelate, His Eminence Samuel Kanu Uche, after he was abducted and later released by the kidnappers. The cleric was kidnapped in May 2022 around Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State. And after paying a $100 million ransom, he regained his freedom.
Narrating his ordeal in a press conference in Lagos, the cleric revealed that their abductors were Fulani and that they were operating right behind army checkpoints. He said military personnel of Fulani extraction were aiding the kidnappers, who disguise as herders in the daytime but are kidnappers at night.
New Phase, Renewed Hope?
These and many more were the sorts of nasty allegations that stained the reputation and questioned the integrity of the Nigerian military under the Buhari administration.
However, the newly installed government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu seems poised to reinvigorate the army with the service chiefs’ appointments he made on Monday.
Unlike the previous administration, President Tinubu’s appointment was not only acclaimed for the pedigree of the personalities he chose but also for respecting the principles of federal character.
In his tweet, former Kaduna State Senator Shehu Sani praised the new administration’s appointments and policies, which he said have revived the hope of Nigerians.
“Wherever he is, the former President is watching how power can be effectively used to reawaken and reinforce the spirit of a nation. This is a contrast to his boring era, which was characterized by a deficiency of vision, subservience to a parasitic cabal, and was notorious for its emptiness.
“He called all the previous Governments ‘kwarapt’ while he cultivated, incubated, and harbored the most larcenous and opaque Federal Cabinet in Nigeria’s history,” Sani wrote.
Also, rights activist Deji Adeyanju, while applauding the new service chiefs, advised the President and all the other appointed officials to move fast and halt the rot experienced by Nigerians.
He said, “As Nigeria gradually exits a period where political appointments, once made, were retained for the duration of their term, irrespective of the appointee’s incompetence, it is important to remind President Tinubu that military appointments are not to be made as political patronage.
“If the new service chiefs fail in their duty, they should equally be sacked without much ado. Only through this means can we have service chiefs whose loyalty is to the Nigerian state.”
Adeyanju also called on the new service chiefs and the acting Inspector General of Police to eschew inter-agency conflict and corruption.
In the same vein, a faction of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, an Igbo socio-political organization, applauded President Bola Tinubu for appointing an Igbo man, Rear Admiral Emmanuel Ikechukwu Ogalla, as the Chief of Naval Staff.
A chieftain of Ohanaeze, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, told the Daily Post that Ogalla’s elevation as a Service Chief is cheery news.
“We applaud Tinubu for making an Igbo man the Chief of Naval Staff, which is one of the things that fuel agitations in the Southeast. Ohanaeze commends the president for respecting federal character by ensuring that all the political zones are represented in his appointment of Service Chiefs.
“This appointment has given a sense of belonging, and the Southeast appreciates this, and he has proven to be a progressive president, and we expect more infrastructural revolution. The appointment is the right step in the right direction to arrest oil theft and all the corruption seen in the military.
“We applaud Mr President for giving Ndigbo this sense of accommodation and honour for finding our beloved son Ogalla worthy of being the Chief of Naval Staff. We are expecting more appointments to come our way,” Isiguzoro said.
High expectations from Nigerians and the international community are already before the new service chiefs. And all eyes are on them to not only curb insecurity and restore calm in the country, but to rebuild the damaged reputation of the Nigerian defence structure.