Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nigerian President Removes Top Military Officers From Their Posts in Major Shake-up

Military Postings Stir Controversy .

Sunday, 26 September 2010 00:00
Nigerian Guardian
From Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt), Niyi Bello (Akure), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna) and Gordi Udeajah

FRIDAY’S removal of top military officers from their positions has prompted another round of controversy laced with political undertones.

President Goodluck Jonathan had approved what the Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade, described as “redeployment” of the officers.

The exercise saw to the sacking of the General Officers Commanding (GOC) the1st Division, Kaduna; 2nd Division, Ibadan; 3rd Armoured Division, Jos; 81st Division (Amphibious), Lagos and the 82nd Division (Airborne and Amphibious) in Enugu. The officers were immediately replaced.

Other officers replaced were the Commanders of the Army Headquarters Garrison; the Brigade of Guards; Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy; Chief of Training and Operations, Defence Headquarters; and the Commander, the Joint Task Force.

A few days after all the Service Chiefs, the Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General of the State Security Services were removed and new men appointed.The president on Friday announced the redeployment of all the military commanders.

The National Security Adviser (NSA), Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, has also resigned his appointment to contest for the president on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), bringing a completely new face to the country’s security leadership.

Brigadier-General Olukolade said the recent postings in the army, which affected all Principal Staff Officers, Formation and Corps Commanders as well as Commandants of training institutions and some staff officers of the Defence and Army Headquarters, led to the latest reshuffle.

But the redeployment of another group officers does not seem to have the support of several people, the same way the redeployment of the Service Chiefs was criticised early this month as being political.

Presidential candidate of the Hope Democratic Party (HDP), Chief Ambrose Owuru, said the sack and deployment of security chiefs “calls for concern ahead of 2011 general elections.”

He told The Guardian in Port Harcourt that Nigerians needed to be concerned about the president’s actions since no reason of a breach of security had been cited so far.

“We have not been told why the GOCs were removed. The president should come out and allay the fear of the opposition that this is not part of the strategy to manipulate the 2011 elections,” he said.

Owuru explained that in the past, security chiefs had been removed only prior to being replaced with loyal new officers that would primarily do the bidding of the presidency to alter the electoral process.

“That is how we see it particularly when it comes during elections and when we see no sign of insecurity.

“Though we heard that the president had to postpone his visit to the United States to adjust one or two things after he declared to contest in 2011, we are concerned and he should speak up,” Owuru said.

Octogenarian leader of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural and political group, Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, said he “smelled a rat” in the latest redeployment in the Nigerian Army.

He said, “the development may have shown that there is some danger in the polity.”

Fasoranti, initially hesitant to comment on the redeployments because “I don’t know the workings of the military,” later expressed fear that “this may have shown that all is not well with the country’s security.”

He, however, described “the sudden decision” as a pointer that “President Jonathan does not want to leave anything to chance in the conduct of next year’s crucial elections.”

“He definitely wanted to make sure that the national security situation is effectively under control,” he said.

According to the Afenifere chieftain, “the president must have been advised by people who should know before he took that decision. I am sure he had weighed all the options before he took that step.”

“It is his duty to make sure that the country is secured at all times and he has every power to do what he did as the Commander-in-Chief.

“But like many people have expressed, I smelled a rat, too. This sudden decision is coming at this time when we are approaching the election period and it may have shown that all is not well with the nation’s security,” he said.

Similarly, Professor Naanen, senatorial candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2007 for Rivers South East, said that though there had been deterioration of security situation across the country, “the president’s action has considerable political consideration ahead of 2011 elections.”

Naanen, who teaches History and Diplomatic Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, cited the appointment of a Chief of Army Staff of Southeast extraction, as part of the president’s grand political calculation ahead of the 2011 elections.

“Security personnel have always been instrument of political manipulation. We saw this in 1999, 2003, 2007 and there is very little to suggest it will be other wise in 2011,” he said.

Interestingly, prominent Northern Elders under the aegis of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) have disagreed over the changes effected by the Federal Government in the country’s Military formations.

National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Anthony Sani, said though Nigeria’s security issues must not be politicised, the ACF believes that President Jonathan giving approval to such changes was ill-timed.

Sani argued that when questions were raised about postings in the military, which is purely a security matter, “it suggests some perceived degree of politicisation of the management of our national security, and this is not right.”

“I don’t think it is in the place of the ACF, in the order of things, to help stoke any impression about politicisation of management of our national security by President Jonathan.”

He explained that the concern raised by individuals and groups on the issue, “is arising from the mistrust and crisis of confidence that have crept into the cockpit of the national politics.”

He stressed that “the current postings is a scion of the recent changes in the Service Chiefs, which the ACF had said was ill-timed, considering the statements not long ago by Mr. President that he had just resisted tremendous pressure to change them.”

He added: “The point being made is that, but for the whiff of mistrust and suspicion hovering over the polity, people are not expecting to ascribe political motives to routine management of national security.”

However, another ACF top notch and former secretary of the Forum’s political committee, Alhaji Abdulrahman Mohammed said that the changes in the leadership structure of the nation’s military establishment was a welcome development considering the threat by some unscrupulous elements to peace and security of the country.

Mohammed said: “It is very revealing of the character and attitude of the present political dispensation in Nigeria. What the military high command has done is the best for the sake of peace and tranquility.

“When our politics has been turned into religious and ethnic characters, and from what we read and what is happening in the political divide; it will be good to bring in new military commanders whose consciousness is on the issue of maintaining peace and security in our land.”

He argued that postings were to forestall any situation that could surprise Nigerians, and urged the military and the police to look beyond Boko Haram or Al Qaeda.

“All those text messages that are going around could have been done by politicians,” he said.

“Let the security forces check those people whose utterances look like a do-or-die matter; whose utterances mean, if we don’t have it, Nigeria does not survive.

“They must check such people. They are the people behind such text messages that sound like Al-Qaeda, just to destabilize the country.”

Meanwhile, Senator Uche Chukwumerije has dissociated himself from the Igbo Political Forum (IPF), which recent meeting criticised the appointment of an Igbo, Lt. General Onyeabo Ihejirika, as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

Chukwumerije, an avowed champion of the Igbo cause, told journalists in Umuahia that he did not attend the IPF meeting where such criticism of the COAS’ appointment was made.

He was reacting to the one-page advertorial in a national daily on Thursday sponsored by the League of Isuikwuato Patriots (LIP), expressing disappointment that he joined in the IPF criticism.

However, Chukwumerije described the allegation by the LIP against him, as published in its advertorial, as “two lies.”

He said: “I was not part of the meeting of the IPF which criticised the appointment of Lt. General Onyeabo Ihejirika as the COAS. I have not attended the IPF meeting since mid August. I read the offensive release like any other member of the public.

“This lie betrays a pathetic ignorance of my consistent verifiable stand against suppression and marginalisation of Ndigbo in Nigeria since the end of the Civil War.”

Besides, he distributed two copies of the release and his letter dated September 16, 2010 to the new COAS (Ihejirika), congratulating him on his well-deserved appointment, praying God to grant him the strength, courage and wisdom to faithfully undertake the enormous responsibilities ahead of him.

In his release dated September 17, 2010, Chukwumerije said: “The appointment of Lt.-Gen. Ihejirika as COAS has broken a jinx of forty years. I felt for the first time since the end of the Civil War that Nigeria’s profession of brotherhood and sisterhood could be real and sincere.

“In the context of the nuances of Nigeria’s politics and the long shadows of the Civil War, the decision was commendable and courageous; it was a major concrete step toward returning Ndi
Igbo to the institutional centre of Nigeria.

He continued: “ This singular action of has confirmed the place of President Jonathan in history as a great unifier in our plural society. And I am much more elated because the appointment, which is drawn from my constituency, has brought light to a rather obscure part of the nation. I am highly honoured.

“It is the expectation of Igbo that this wave of olive branch will be followed in 2015 with the accession of an Igbo to the office of president of Nigeria.”

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