Home Columns Some Random Musings on the Appointment of the New Army Chief

Some Random Musings on the Appointment of the New Army Chief

by Ahmed Yahaya Joe
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Ahmed Yahaya – Joe

“The last British Commandant of the Nigerian Army, then referred to as General Officer Commanding, GOC, but now named as Chief of Army Staff, Major General Sir Earle Christopher Welby Everard (1909-1996) was set for retirement in 1965, so the post of GOC was set to become vacant.

There were four candidates vying for the post. They were Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe (1924-1971) from Ago-Iwoye in Ogun state, Brigadier Zakariya Abubakar Hassan Maimalari (1930-1966), a royal Prince from Maimalari village in the present Yobe state, Brigadier Samuel Adesujo Ademulegun (1923-1966) from Ondo city in Ondo state and Brigadier General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi (1924-1966) from Umuahia-Ibeku in the present Abia state.

The four Brigadiers were commissioned in 1949. Brigadier Ironsi was NA/3, Brigadier Ademulegun was NA/4, Brigadier Ogundipe was NA/6 while Brigadier Maimalari was NA/8.

In his book on Sir Abubakar Tarawa Balewa entitled A Right Honourable Gentleman, Trevor Clarke, a British Colonial Administrator claimed that Major General Everard recommended Brigadier Ogundipe to succeed him while the former Premier of Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello (1909-1966), the Sardauna of Sokoto, wanted Brigadier Ademulegun. Senior officers within the Army favoured Brigadier Maimalari.

In the end the powerful Alhaji Ribadu, who was at that time, being referred to as ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ selected Brigadier Ironsi, a Congo war veteran and was later promoted Major General. The appointment according to Mr. Clarke was ‘contentious’ at that time.”

(See details in the October 4, 2017 edition of Vanguard newspaper)

During the First Republic, all the service chiefs and IGP were from the South and the sky did not fall. Lest we forget that between 1968 and 1983 there were 3 Air chiefs (Ikwue, Doko and Bello) all Christians. The Nigerian Navy set up in 1956 did not have its first Muslim chief till Murtala Nyako was elevated between 1990 and 1992.

 So why is it falling under President Buhari? It is all about a monumental deficit of trust despite his affirming, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody.”

That is why under President Shagari as at December 31, 1983 all GOCs were Northerners (Hannaniya, Jega, Buhari and Lekwot) and it was not an issue. So was the Defence chief Gibson Sanda Jalo including the Army and Air chiefs Mohammed Inuwa Wushishi and Abdullahi Dominic Bello respectively.

Being from the former Sokoto State, President Shagari ensured his Brigade of Guards CO Bello Kaliel and Second Division GOC Muhammadu Jega overseeing the nation’s capital and Lagos CP Mamman Nasarawa were homeboys. So was the DG NSO (now DSS) Aliyu Shinkafi and head of Directorate of Military Intelligence Mohammed Aliyu Gusau.

Meanwhile, other Northerners included the de facto number two at the Army HQ IBB and Military Secretary Tunde Idiagbon. For any coup to succeed 9th Mechanized Ikeja must be part of it. This is because in all failed coups so far in Nigeria Ikeja was never compromised. So, President Shagari entrusted that crucial unit to Sanin Nijeriya Muhammadu (later Sani Abacha)

Back then the only non-Northerners in President Shagari’s military and security architecture were IGP Sunday Adewusi and Navy Chief Michael Adelanwa.

If Northern preference could not coup proof President Shagari why is it seemingly working out for President Buhari?

The incumbent president has quantum experience in the skilful manipulation of patriotic fervor having actively participated in a series of successful coups between 1966 and 1983. He therefore understands the dynamics of regime protection better than President Shagari and indeed most Nigerians with the notable exception of the hilltop oracle at Minna.

The Daura warrior might be a fumbling politician but as an ex-soldier he understands through bitter experience the imperative of dominating one’s political environment. Unlike during the Second Republic our current politics is neither issue based nor ideologically driven.

Under the current dispensation our political differences are more opportunistic than fundamental.  Besides today’s generation of officers are more concerned with conspicuous consumption and primitive accumulation.

Simply put, there is no effective opposition which is the single most important pivot of any successful coup.

So why did Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu (1909-1965) then Defense minister also the grandfather of First Lady, Aisha Buhari prefers the appointment of Ironsi? It is because it takes more than seniority to make an Army chief if not Wellington Umoh Duke Bassey (1918-1995), NA/1 (pictured) would have been appointed in 1965. It does not therefore matter to me where any Army chief comes from as long as he can get the job done!

I wish Major General Farouk Yahaya a successful tenure as the 22nd Nigerian Army chief. May he learn to endure the whip of public opinion that Nigerians always use in mercilessly flogging public office holders.

“Most commanders are intelligent people. Not all of these intelligent people are smart commanders. That is to say, not all of these people make the best decisions for their commands.” – 4-star US Army General Fred Franks Jr. in page 48 of his memoirs; Into the Storm: A Study in Command (1997)

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