Six days after the tragic death of the Nigerian Army’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant-General Ibrahim Attahiru, in a plane crash in Kaduna State, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a new COAS, Major-General Farouk Yahaya.
The announcement came after the Federal Government ordered public buildings to fly the national flag at half-mast beginning Monday in memory of Attahiru and the other ten military officers killed in the crash.
Prior to his appointment, Yahaya was the general officer commanding the Nigerian Army’s 1 Division and the incumbent theatre commander of the northeast counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency unit.
According to the curriculum vitae released by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the newly appointed army chief’s hobbies include cracking jokes, traveling, reading, and listening to local music.
According to her CV, Yahaya is fluent in four languages: English, Spanish, Arabic, and Hausa. In his career, the general, who was commissioned in 1985, has completed nine courses, including the National Defense Course in Chile. Prior to his most recent appointment, he served as military secretary and then as General Officer Commanding.
Following the emergence of Yahaya, a member of the 37 Regular Course, as the 22nd COAS, approximately ten Major-Generals may be forced to retire from service, as serving members of Regular Course 35, 36, and 37 in the army, airforce, and navy may be forced out of service. This is in accordance with military tradition, as the affected Generals cannot serve under a junior officer and must return home.
Although the exact number of Generals who may be forced to resign was unknown at the time of filing this report, it was also unclear whether the Minister of Defence, Major-General Salihi Magashi (rtd), would allow a number of senior military officers to leave in the midst of a terrorist war.
According to a senior military source, senior officers may be asked to voluntarily resign for administrative ease or be assigned to lead tri-service institutions at the discretion of the Military Council.
Attahiru was a student on Course 35. According to records, at least ten Major-Generals from the 35 and 36 Regular Courses are still serving in the Nigerian Army. Regular Course 35 graduates include the current army’s Chief of Policy and Planning, Major-General Ben Ahanotu of Anambra State.
Major General A.M. Aliyu of Regular Course 36, from Gombe State, is also the army’s Chief of Administration. There are also Yahaya’s coursemates, such as Major-General Ibrahim Yusuf of Yobe State’s Regular Course 37. He is the army’s Chief of Operations and the former Multinational Joint Taskforce Force Commander.
After years of mounting criticism over the spread of violence by Islamist insurgents and armed gangs, the late COAS, Attahiru, was appointed in January 2021, alongside other military chiefs. When Buhari appointed the current crop of service chiefs, he retired no fewer than 20 generals from the three services who were members of courses 34 and 35 to make way for them.
According to a military source last night, “with the appointment of the new COAS, there will be a significant shake up in the three services.” Another senior officer who did not want to be named put the number of Army Generals who will be leaving at more than 30, including two serving members of Course 35.
The President was previously advised not to go below Course 35 in selecting Attahiru’s replacement for fear of upsetting the army, but sources said the decision may be linked to a move to flush out old hands in the service to make way for younger officers who can reinvigorate the counter-insurgency war.
CRITICISM, ON THE OTHER HAND, HAS FOLLOWED THE APPOINTMENT OF A NEW ARMY CHIEF. The Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) blasted the Presidency yesterday, accusing it of worsening disunity, tension, and ethnic distrust among Nigerians. The apex Yoruba organization maintained that, while the presidency has always urged Nigerians to unite, its actions and utterances are diametrically opposed to what it preaches.
In a communiqué issued following the association’s meeting in Ibadan, Oyo State’s capital, the National President, Justice Demola Bakre (rtd), and the Secretary General, Dr. Kunle Olajide, took issue with President Buhari’s recent appointments.
“President Buhari’s administration is grossly insensitive and talks down on state governments that have the mandate of their people to govern them,” they said.
Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, the Board Chairman of the World Igbo Peoples Assembly (WIPAS), also stated that President Buhari is enthroning a dangerous legacy that undermines the country’s growth, development, and unity. According to the group, it was now clear that the President had something against Ndigbo.
Several Igbo have advocated for her people’s inclusion in the country’s security architecture over the last six years of the Buhari administration. They had urged Buhari to follow the principles of the Federal character in his appointments for the sake of justice and national unity. However, the president had refused the request on several occasions. He named another northerner to replace the previous Chief of Army Staff yesterday.
Ibegbu, who expressed sadness over the development, insisted that the president’s hostility toward Ndigbo was fueling agitation and unrest in the country, and that he was promoting a dangerous culture of hatred and ethnicism.
“The Constitution is very clear,” Ibegbu said. He is establishing a perilous legacy. In the last six years, he has refused to lead an inclusive nation. He has the right to appoint whomever he wants, but given the state of the country, I would have expected him to try to correct some of his nepotistic posture, but he has continued in a culture that tends to sideline a section of the country.”
Mr Goodluck Ibem, President of the Coalition of Southeast Youth Leaders (COSEYL), also expressed concern about President Buhari’s continued refusal to appoint a Southeasterner to the security architecture.
“The President has just told Ndigbo in no uncertain terms that they are not citizens of the country. The grand conspiracy to deny the Southeast its just rights is evil and tragic. His appointments smack of nefarious motives. In every sense of the word, Ndigbo has been treated unfairly. It is unthinkable to deny one of the three pillars upon which the country was founded.”
According to security expert Christopher Oji, this administration is solely focused on the north. “Anyone who believes President Buhari will act differently is not a student of history. This administration is solely focused on the north, and the benefits are only for the north. Examine all of the critical positions, including Customs, Police, Immigration, Military, federal ministries, and parastatals such as Civil Defence, EFCC, ICPC, NIMASA, and NNPC.
“All of the positions are for the North, so why should the COAS office be any different? This single act is causing us to fall behind, denying capable people the opportunity to serve.”
“There is nothing new or surprising in President Buhari’s choice to replace the late Attahiru with another Northern General,” said Ken Iwelumo, a Wall Street veteran and public commentator in the United States. With the economy in decline and a serious national security challenge, the administration is in a siege mentality. A leopard’s spots never change. With all of these factors combining, as well as persistent rumors of a coup, President Buhari has no choice but to delude himself into believing that the army would be kept in check by a General from his own ethnic group. The coup in Mali on Tuesday night has only exacerbated the situation. You resort to self-preservation when you have nothing to offer your country.”
Dennis Amachree, former head of the Department of State Services (DSS), stated, “Appointment of service chiefs remains the president’s prerogative.” However, this is yet another missed opportunity for the President to hear the yearnings of a section of the country that felt disenfranchised.”