By Chidi Omeje
A lot of Nigerians didn’t know what to believe about Gen Ibrahim Attahiru when he was appointed Nigeria’s 21st Chief of Army Staff on the 26th of January 2021 by President Muhammadu Buhari. In less than an hour after he was named new Army Chief, a number of online newspapers, out of deliberate mischief or willful ignorance, went agog with legends on how his tour of duty as the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole was cut short by the leadership of Nigerian Army then.
Some of the reports had it that he was relieved of duty because of non-satisfactory performance of troops under his command while others claimed his tenure was truncated because he refused to carry out an unrealistic order by his boss; yet others narrated how he was deliberately set up to fail by the powers that be in the army then who were either piqued by his assertiveness and independent mindedness or scared of his fast rise.
As the cacophony and dissonance of those largely uncorroborated reports about the General’s scorecard in his short spell at the theatre continued to buzz around the social media sphere that evening, it was not lost on those who are conversant with his career trajectory and leadership quality that his appointment to head the Army at this tempestuous period of our national life was a well-thought-out decision by the Commander-in-Chief.
The truth of the matter was that the security situation across the country was fast degenerating owing to the obvious lack of new ideas by the erstwhile service chiefs to surmount them, and Mr President needed capable hands and fresh ideas to steer the operations at the material time. Nigerians were genuinely worried by the upswing in internal security challenges in the country ranging from terrorism, banditry, kidnappings, farmers-herders clashes, cattle rustling, attack on maritime assets, separatist agitations, attack on federal agents and institutions, etc. The intensity, gravity and multiplicity of these internal security infractions, no doubt, posed clear and present threat to Nigeria’s national security and therefore demanded effective military operations strategy to stem the dangerous tide.
But Gen Attahiru came prepared. He had read the mood of the nation and needed no one to remind him that nothing short of a winning strategy is expected from him and his team. He knows that Nigerians and indeed the international community are unanimous in their high expectations of the new Service Chiefs, especially of him that superintends over Nigerian Army, the acclaimed linchpin in the entire internal security operations. The high hope on the new COAS was hinged on his track record of excellence as an accomplished infantry officer, consummate military tactician and former theater Commander in the north east, and that with the benefit of hindsight, he will bring new initiatives and usher in renewed enthusiasm in the various military operations across the country.
On assumption of office, Gen Attahiru quickly unveiled his vision for the Army which is, “A Nigerian Army That Is Repositioned To Professionally Defeat All Adversaries In A Joint Environment”; this corporate vision gave vent to his determination to stimulate a professional rebirth of the Nigerian Army repositioned to defeat all security challenges in conjunction with sister services and other security agencies.
He has a clear understanding of the internal security obligation of the military and have expressed the determination to work in concert with sister-services and other security agencies to flatten the curve of insecurity and violence wrought by terrorists, bandits and sundry violent criminal elements in the country.
Gen Attahiru was emphatic on the position of Nigerian Army in the escalating internal security challenges during his maiden visit to the epicenter of Boko Haram terrorist activities in Borno where he declared that “The next phase of our operation in the theatre will be massive and brutal against all elements of the Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists. What we are doing in this theatre will be replicated in other operations across the country in order to give a final and decisive knock to the insurgents and other forms of criminality in the country”. This profound statement defines the character outlook of Gen Attahiru’s tour of duty as Nigeria Chief of Army Staff.
Thus far, the Nigerian Army under his command has shown readiness to work in synergy with sister-services to confront and defeat the various security challenges confronting the Nigerian Nation. Of course the decimation of Boko Haram terrorists, Bandits, Kidnappers and other violent criminals remains the top priority since his assumption of Command and this has led to liberation of towns and release of captives from the terrorists group.
From Marte to Dikwa, Kirenuwa, Wulgo, Kirta and their environment, gallant troops of Operations Tura Takaibango and Fire Ball – both under the auspices of Op Lafiya Dole (now christened Op Hadin Kai), dismantled all the areas once held by Boko Haram. Several Commanders of Boko Haram /ISWAP Commanders were eliminated during the Operations and their informants rounded up and apprehended. Though there have been a number of setbacks and instances where the nefarious activities of local informants who snitch on troops’ movement and positions resulted to disastrous consequences, the gallant troops have remain resilient and resolute in their determination to stamp out terrorism in the country.
In order to effectively surmount the multiple security challenges in other parts of Nigeria, Gen Attahiru took special interest in reenergizing the various operations launched across the country. Some of these Operations include Operations include Operations Python Dance, Atilogwu Udo, Awatse, Hadarin Daji, Crocodile Smile and Sahel Sanity, and so on. With new Commanders in charge and far-reaching operational reforms put in place, these Operations have been repositioned to restore law and order across the country. The results might not yet be as visible as it ought to be at the moment but the focus and direction for successes are fast crystalizing. Since he assumed command, the COAS has continued to inject new ideas, introduce new reforms and game changing strategies in the ongoing fight against insurgency in the north east and other operations across the country.
A defining attribute of his leadership and command style is the special bond he deliberately creates with troops which has significantly reduced the psychological distance between him and the soldiers. In fact, within this short period he has been in the saddle, he has visited the epicenter of war against terror in the north east six good times where he makes it a point of duty to interact with his troops and to understand whatever challenges they may face.
Even as one hundred days are not enough to appraise his tour of duty, one clear thing is that the General has put his right foot forward and he is marching towards the goal which is to bring about peace and security not only in the country but in the West African sub-region.
But there are many obstacles and challenges on his way. Gen Attahiru inherited an Army that is almost overwhelmed by its commitment to internal security operations. Faced with a faulty internal security operation mechanism which has compelled it to inherit the obligation of becoming the first instead of last line of defence, the Nigerian Army has become the lead agency in almost all the internal security challenges in the country. The implication is that the Army is expected to respond to every crisis in the country and as such deployed to about 34 out of 36 states of the federation, leaving little or no room for its core professional duty of defending the country from external aggression (and internal insurrection).
A major challenge facing the Army is inadequate funding for the kind of duties and volume of deployments expected of it. As was corroborated by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Sen Ali Ndume, funding of Nigerian Army and its operations is something that the country must be deliberate about. It is hoped that government will expeditiously do something about this to enable the Army increase more boots on the ground, procure more weapons and equipment, train its personnel to handle the emerging security challenges in country and improve the welfare of military personnel and their family to ensure their high morale and fighting spirit.
Yet another formidable obstacle on the way of successful military operations is the nefarious activities of informants among communities where these operations are being carried out. These snitches give out information on troops’ movement and position which in many instances have led to troops being ambushed by adversaries with deadly consequences. Related to the nefarious activities of local informants are the equally reprehensible actions of fifth columnists and moles within the military circle who engage in internal sabotage.
The challenge of inadequate weapons and equipment including tanks, mines sweepers and other combat enablers are what Gen Attahiru met on ground. It is hoped that the government will definitely do something about them in order to bring out the best in this war-time Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ibrahim Attahiru.
*Chidi Omeje is the Editor-in-Chief, Nigeria Security Digest