By Yochuku Ofoka Yobolisa, Editor in Chief
Almost two decades have passed since the Armed Forces of Nigeria have fought armed insurrections: on land, the army had fought the like a pride of lions; on warships, the navy had fought like daredevils; from the airspace, the aircraft branch had fought with a reckless disregard for their own safety. But despite using military power to bring down the rebellions, and maintain public safety and public order, civil disobedience in the country have interbred and multiplied since 1999, thus making the concept of AFN as a unified organization put together for purposes of strategic defence almost laughable.
But Chapter A20 of the Armed Forces Act of 2004 had duly set out the composition and functions of the armed forces which are not meant to clash or to be at cross purposes with each other; the three services of AFN are, from the outset, meant to be a highly compatible military force designed to work together for effective strategic command and defence cohesion. Perhaps, with total disregard for lessons learned during the 30-month civil war in this country when the services did not fight separately, but in harmony, members of the armed forces had played staccato or rather discordant tunes in the fight against terrorists and armed criminal gangs since Boko Haram first appeared in 2009. Since then, every one of the services had before now seemingly turned a blind eye to the stipulations in the Act and pursued separate agenda that were almost at variance with the general defence goal of the nation. This is not far removed from a gross misunderstanding of what the structure of the armed forces is – a system of interrelated parts functioning as a whole.
The present service chiefs seem to know it. For instance, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao, leader of the air force high command put this thus: “Just as it is obtainable in military organizations all over the world, the defence headquarters is responsible for the command and control of the entire Armed Forces of Nigeria.”
It may be interesting here to try to go back to the basics when cohesion in defence operations began to wobble. A senior ministry of defence official put it this way, “Starting from the days when Lieutenant General Luka Yusuf was Chief of Army Staff and General Owoye Azazi was Chief of the Defence Staff, service chiefs in the various services of the armed forces had found it difficult to subordinate themselves to the control of the Defence Headquarters. In those days, the high commands making decisions on strategy and tactics in their three headquarters did not see themselves as less important to the defence headquarters that had no standing troops to command other than playing a supervisory role over the fighting forces. The chiefs erroneously felt that it was enough for DHQ to just watch them perform their tasks and, perhaps report back, even though favourably, to the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces without due regard to how their operations were rated.”
The MOD official who wished to be anonymous said that at the time, the high commands seemed not to bother whether their tasks produced a firm military cohesion or not; that they did not seem to bother about presenting a unified, properly coordinated front against terrorist violence. He said that despite the multibillion-dollar-military-spending since Boko Haram emerged, armed insurrections have metastasized like cancers across the nation whereby Boko Haram has rather become a hydra-headed monster giving birth to masquerading aliens, diehard bandits, brilliant kidnappers, farmers/herders conflict warriors and all manner of transitional and domestic terrorists.
“All these have gone on for years without the service chiefs achieving worthwhile results in the counterterrorism operations,” the ministry official said.
Perhaps for better and more effective strategic command of their mobile troops for purposes of achieving worthwhile defence cohesion, the present service chief who had watched the past scenarios with a lot of chagrin came together recently and decided that henceforth, all their efforts must be channelled and coordinated from the DHQ. Perhaps, with a feeling of anger for allowing their upwardly mobile forces to be so humiliated in the theatres of operation by some inconsequential militia groups that could not stand a chance against them on a full, well-coordinated military canvas, the chiefs agreed to subordinate themselves under the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor; if not for any other thing but for the sake of achieving best practices in military affairs.
A skeptical military observer in MURG Plaza, Area 10, right opposite the Armed Forces Complex in Garki thought the chiefs’ decision was a ploy to justify their appointments. He said, “Can those military bigwigs ever agree to that kind of arrangement when every one of them wants to show how powerful he is?
According to the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Oladayo Amao who made the decisions of the high commands known to the press last week, the three services’ headquarters had ordered all commanders in their joint operations and task forces to begin to report straight to the CDS. The air force boss who is not new to the art of planning and executing wars and military campaigns said, “Just as it is obtainable in military organizations all over the world, the defence headquarters is responsible for the command and control of the entire Armed Forces of Nigeria, which also means that all the ongoing joint operations and task forces are directly subordinated under the DHQ, and their commanders shall henceforth report directly to the CDS.
To allay the fears of the public, and clear their doubts in the issue, NAF’s spokesman, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, revealed that the present service chiefs are not just colleagues, they have been close friends for long. They had worked together in different military operations.
“It may interest you to know that the chiefs had at different periods worked together. They’re friends. Though the CDS is a member of Course 34, while COAS and CAS are members of Course 35, and the CNS is a member of Course 38, they see themselves not just as colleagues but as close friends, and they mean every word of what they said.”
On the other hand, the present chiefs are not ignorant of the command and operational use of the armed forces as stipulated in Section 7 (1) of the Act, which states thus: The Chief of the Defence Staff shall, subject to the general direction of the President and of the National Assembly, be vested with the day-to-day command and general superintendence of the Armed Forces.
In making his disclosure, Air Marshal Amao, the air force boss, said the service chiefs have agreed to tow a new line to rally their efforts to bring the various security challenges to a speedy end.
According to him, “When we say we are members of the AFN, we mean the three services represent a single entity. When we accept the fact that we, the members of the AFN constitute a united entity, the need for rivalry will not arise.”
Of course, it is no gainsaying that rivalry – the fact of competing among members – had hitherto made it impossible for the army, the navy and the air force, in the past to present a united front against their common enemies. In a vox pop in the Gudu District, concerned Nigerians generally think that now that so many lives have been wasted, and so much money drained away if the military will wake up now under one command, all bare-faced common thugs, petty and brilliant criminals, homegrown terrorists and foreign militias destabilizing the federation would read the handwriting on the wall and know that the game is up.
According to Tunde Baderin, a public commentator, “Now that the defence headquarters leads the operations, let us hope that the criminal gangs would quickly back out from the shores and territorial boundaries of Nigeria before the erstwhile sleeping giant makes a mincemeat of them.”