Poor service chiefs!

President Muhammadu Buhari addresses a gathering during his visit to troubled Taraba State on March 5, 2018. PHOTO: SUNDAY AGHAEZE


Despite a presidential appointee’s numerous enviable privileges, there are persons who don’t wish to become one today under President Muhammadu Buhari. A few even pity his aides. This is not because contractors will not build houses or buy cars for them because of the anticorruption stance of the man. It is also not because they detest being referred to as usurpers, hyenas or jackals by the first lady whose outspokenness could sometimes be more critical of the government than that of a spokesperson of the rival political party. Neither are those who feel this way nursing presidential ambition come 2019 general elections. Rather it is because of the shortcomings of the government for which, whether out of fear or reverence for the President, the aides are always being blamed.

For instance, the exasperating ineptitude if not sleaze that plagues the Ministry of Petroleum Resources which the President has appropriated for himself despite his enormous responsibilities are never attributed to him. It is the Junior Minister and the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company that always take the flak for everything including the frequent scarcity of petrol all over the country especially at Christmas/New year periods. They are the ones always made to explain to the public what they are doing to end such scarcities and as their promises rarely improve the situation, they have earned a bad name for themselves. They are now seen as bungling incompetent men full of lies and deceit. No amount of blame they shift on independent petrol merchants or hoarders for these scarcities will erase this perception. They will be seen in this light for life if the scarcities continue to reoccur before they leave the scene. This is what those unwilling to serve under Buhari want to avoid.

It is not only in the petroleum sector that the appointees of the President are being unduly blamed. As if the aides are on their own, many vocal personalities have been hectoring him to drop all of them and to rejig his administration with young blood. The aides, it is claimed, have failed to perform and top on the list of those the vocal public is baying for today are the security chiefs. Nowadays, no day passes without a commentator on TV, radio, in the papers or the social media urging the President to sack them. After every killing of innocent Nigerians by nomadic Fulani herdsmen, no session of the National Assembly is complete without this call being made by some agitated legislators. And as the lawmakers file out after every session, no address to pressmen by some is complete without the call being repeated. The crime of the security chiefs is their inability to stop or to reduce appreciably the incessant killings of farmers in almost every part of the country by these obdurate herdsmen.

The supposedly enlightened crowd calling for the sack of the security chiefs seems to have forgotten that it is these same men that have drastically decimated the Boko Haram terrorists in the northeast. They also seem to have forgotten that the security chiefs have a President (commander in chief) whose orders they must obey. Nobody will believe the senators and House of Representatives members if they claim not to know the President’s stand on this issue. For, it is not just the President’s body language but his inactions and pronouncements including those of some of his aides are in defence of the herders, not their arrest and prosecution.

Though it is the herdsmen that move long distances from God-knows-where to the farming communities, they are never referred to as attackers by the aides of the President including even the vice President. They always call the killings as farmers/herdsmen clashes and some have actually been making statements that are disturbingly pro herdsmen. The Minister of Defence for instance, has openly criticized the Anti-open grazing law enacted by the legislators of Benue and some other states and went on to cheekily asked for their suspension! If the Defence Minister who is the immediate boss of the security chiefs including the Police is of this mindset, will it not be safe to conclude that he is speaking the mind of his master the President? One of his aides on media has even warned that resisting the nomadic grazers was stupidity because both life and land would be lost by those doing that!

And has the President himself not made it plain that he supports the Stone Age practice of his kinsmen just like his aides? For instance, during the visit he reluctantly made to Benue State where the bloodletting reached genocidal proportions early this year, his message to the indigenes was that they should accept the killers into their communities. He even set up a committee headed by his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, to reconcile the farmers and the herders. Even if they were not secretly asked to do so, this stance alone could make some unit commanders who mistake pleasing the boss for patriotism to provide cover for the killers herdsmen as alleged by no less a person than a former service chief. To expect the poor security chiefs to apprehend the herdsmen when the commander in chief is pleading for reconciliation is tantamount to disobedience and in the military it is a grave offence. It reminds one of a fable about knights…

For those who are yet to read much about other lands, knights were the forerunners of what we call soldiers today. In medieval Europe, kings and other powerful men were allowed to have their personal knights. Firearms were yet to be invented then and battles were fought with swords, spears, arrows or axes. Most of these knights were usually in groups sometimes known as Orders and they fought mostly noble causes.

The knights of the Order that is our concern here were ordered to stop attacking a fire spitting dragon that had been killing the inhabitants of one community. This was after several knights sent to kill it had been killed in the process.
Maduku, a retired Nigerian Army Captain (Infantry) and novelist, lives in Effurun-Otor, Delta State.

But after the order to stop had been given, one knight on his own began to study the beast and to practice secretly how to kill it. He discovered that the under belly of the dragon was the only part of the body that a sword or a spear could penetrate. Using his dogs as decoys, he was one day able to kill the beast. But instead of being commended, he was dismissed for disobeying orders!

The laws of most modern armies including the Nigerian military are similar to that of the knights. Our security chiefs cannot on their own, apprehend the killer herdsmen until they have been ordered and equipped for the task. Any service chief that does that could even face a punishment worse than dismissal from the service. The best any of them could do was to resign but in Nigeria, one’s garri comes first!

Only one senior officer is known to have flouted the order of his Commander in Chief and gotten away with it in Nigeria. This was in 1969 when both sides were making no progress whatsoever during the Civil War (1967 – 1970). The Commander in Chief then had ordered that all divisions were to pin down and defend the position they already held. But this senior officer who was a rookie division commander did not heed the order. He informed the other division commanders that his men were secretly going to advance. And they did and it brought the war to an end! Unlike the knight that killed the dragon and was dismissed but later reinstated for humbly accepting his fate without protesting, the then Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo who flouted his Commander in Chief’s order was probably not even reprimanded for he did not mention it in his book: My Command.
Do we want the service chiefs today to act like Obasanjo?
Maduku, a retired Nigerian Army Captain (Infantry) and novelist, lives in Effurun-Otor, Delta State.

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